Making Nature Fashionable: Apparel Company Benefits National Parks

Each clothing item helps fund a park project.
(Photo: Parks Project/Instagram)
Oct 3, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

“Leave it better than you found it,” instructs a tank top that allows buyers to do just that, fusing pride in nature with an opportunity to preserve America’s national parks.

California-based apparel company Parks Project sells T-shirts, caps, key chains, and jewelry featuring the company’s preservation motto or iconic park images, such as Joshua Tree’s yucca tree and the Everglades’ alligator, and donates a portion of profits to the park each shirt features.

“The original vision was to get friends volunteering in our parks so we could make a difference and support our favorite places,” cofounder Sevag Kazanci told Backpacker. “We thought it would be cool if people could wear this cause, so the project evolved into T-shirts.”

Kazanci previously worked for TOMS and knew firsthand how apparel could successfully raise funds for people, or nature, in need.

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The national parks could certainly use some support. While attendance is at a record high, federal funding has dropped in recent years, leading to a decline in park rangers who help preserve the parks and answer visitors’ questions. Parks Project picks up some of this slack, with its proceeds benefitting education programs, volunteer patrols, and environmental conservation.

Before designing a shirt, workers at Parks Project talk to superintendents to determine the park’s greatest needs, according to LAist. That’s why the Denali top features a bear, with the profits funding the purchase of bear-proof food containers in the Alaskan park. The Muir Woods T-shirt features redwoods, with the funds raised fueling tree-planting initiatives.

But the outfitters at Parks Project don’t just sling gear and rely on others to do the heavy lifting; they organize events and get their hands dirty planting trees and ridding parks of invasive plant species.

“Now, we think it has come full circle,” said Kazanci. “We are still driving volunteer events but using apparel as a way to tell stories that need support across all our favorite national parks.”