This Woman Is Reconnecting Black People to Nature and Heritage With ‘Outdoor Afro’

A woman with many hats — designer, entrepreneur, hunter, author — Rue Mapp brings the swag to nature and extends the invite for other Black folks to do the same.

The Oakland, California, native began her journey with a blog called Outdoor Afro, where she candidly documented her personal nature experiences and proudly represented Black people in that space. Since then, she has built a national not-for-profit organization and a for-profit business called Outdoor Afro Inc. 

Photo Credit: Bethanie Hines

This enterprise celebrates and inspires Black community connections and leadership in nature through product design, manufacturing, sales, and premium outdoor experiences.

“It has always been about lifting up and celebrating my life experience that was passed to me by my parents, who were stewards of farmland,” the founder and CEO told BLACK ENTERPRISE. “I later came to recognize that from a young age I had benefits in my life that I wanted all people, especially Black people, to benefit from as well.”

“Outdoor Afro has been deliberately about a reconnection to nature and heritage,” she added.

Mapp told BLACK ENTERPRISE that her Outdoor Fro Inc. made history as the first Black-owned business to co-create an exclusive hike collection with outdoor retailer REI Co-op.

Additionally, Mapp’s new book, Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors, will be on sale on Nov. 1. Published by Chronicle Books, Nature Swagger will ultimately showcase a compelling representation of what Black joy looks like in the outdoors.

Photo by Cam McLeod

Rue Mapp spoke further with BLACK ENTERPRISE about her entrepreneurial journey. She also dropped some advice for those seeking to start a nature business.

What does “Nature Swagger” mean to you? 

 It’s the embodiment of confidence and knowledge found through a life lived in harmony with nature.

Tell us the story behind the transition of your Outdoor Afro blog to a national “not-for-profit” organization.

To evolve the organization from an individually led social enterprise in 2009 meant that I had to dedicate all of my efforts to build a brand and, eventually, a business. I learned so much from those early blogging days, sharing my experiences and observations of Black people’s connection to the outdoors, and discovered an audience relating deeply to the cotent and the conversations. The engagement online grew quickly in a short time. So I knew I was onto something and felt it was the perfect time to take all my ideas and experiences to inform a new kind of business and national movement.

Describe your experience as a Black woman in the natural space. 

 I feel that when I’m in nature I can take a break from the “isms,” the bias, and the prejudices that can exist in everyday life. The trees don’t know that I’m Black. The birds are going to sing no matter how much money is in my account. The flowers are going to bloom no matter who I voted for. The beauty of nature is that we can just be. And by extension, nature can teach us how we can be with one another.

In what way has collaboration amplified your business efforts for the better? 

Even as a blog in 2009, Outdoor Afro was born through collaborations. Our network has always valued meaningful partnerships to increase our capacity and impact in conservation, education, and recreation. All of Outdoor Afro’s collaborations help solve problems and amplify opportunities for people to have deeper connections to nature. 

How does Nature Swagger inspire entrepreneurship in the natural world? 

The one thing I’m proud of with the book is that it features a number of businesses based in nature. There’s tremendous opportunity in the outdoor industry that makes way for so many “new frontiers.” When I think of my decades’ worth of work, there’s still plenty of runway for entrepreneurs, land owners, and creatives to do their work and be successful in this category. I hope my book will inspire imagination and others to contribute their unique voice and perspective to this industry.

What is some of the best advice you’ve shared with your volunteers or young people who aspire to start a business in this capacity? 

Leadership matters, and it starts at the design level. It’s one thing to participate in a project, but it’s a completely different experience to actually inform the design of programs and products. Because those design insights will be replicated and scaled. So you have to pay close attention to design as it will inform outcomes.

Secondly, connect with a learning community to understand better and network with your chosen field. Trade associations and their conferences are incredible resources. No matter your expertise, trade associations allow you to test concepts, learn from market insights, and build community with other professionals who may become lifelong friends and thought partners.