Close-up texture of rock

2018–19 MEC annual report

MEC exists to inspire and enable everyone to lead active outdoor lifestyles. As Canada’s largest retail co-op, we do things a little differently than other stores. MEC members – over five million and counting – own this Co-op, and our success depends on giving members what they need to play outside.

The annual report is an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve achieved over the past year. Some of the stand-outs from 2018–19 include a major investment in systems to keep things running, the diversity and inclusion initiative, multiple store openings and the announcement of a change in leadership. See our messages from the Board Chair and CEO for their thoughts on the year.

About this report

For the fiscal 2018–19 year, we’re trying out a new format and giving the report its own page on mec.ca. We want members to see what their Co-op has been up to, and we hope this shift helps members easily find information.

This is an integrated report that includes our business operations, financial performance, and social and environmental impact. For the scorecard results linked to the goals the Co-op sets each year, check out the links below:

See our archived reports page to see the 2019-20 financial statements and annual reports from previous years.

1. Diversity and inclusion

Group of campers on a sunny day, one of them holding a paddleboard

MEC recognized that we haven’t always been representative of the diverse outdoor community in Canada, and we set out to change that. In October 2018, MEC launched a campaign to highlight the lack of representation for people of colour in the outdoor industry. Some of the steps we took:

  • Drove awareness through a diversity landing page that busted myths and gave people a way to share their ideas with MEC.
  • Signed the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge to advocate and advance the representation of people of colour in the outdoor industry.
  • Presented the Diversity in the Outdoors panel at the Banff Mountain Film Festival – close to 260 people filled the room, and CBC picked up the story.
  • Screened our documentary series at film fests around the world. The aim of these highly personal short films is to foster dialogue about the lack of representation in the outdoor industry, and they played everywhere from Vancouver to New Zealand.

We understand that addressing representation for people of colour is just the start. To increase inclusion and address the broad spectrum of diversity, we also:

  • Created a committee made up of staffers from across the Co-op. For 2019, the committee’s focus areas will be: people of colour representation; LGBQT2S+ inclusion; Indigenous allyship; and all abilities, ages, sizes and genders in the outdoors.
  • Continue to support groups that make the outdoors more accessible to everyone, like Power to Be & Canucks Autism Network climbing program and accessibility workshop.
  • Celebrate Pride and inclusion for LGBQT2S+ communities through universal products like the MEC Cross Wind Pack and MEC Travel Light Anorak, and placing rainbow stickers on our storefronts.
  • Took steps to recognize the Indigenous lands we work and play on. In Toronto’s new flagship store, we installed a land acknowledgement at the entrance paired with Indigenous community partner storytelling in store.

2. Transformation in progress

Screenshot of current ERP system

Screenshot from MEC’s current ERP system

MEC has been putting a significant focus on behind the scenes systems and processes, and this year was the midpoint of implementing major transformation projects to get us ready for the future. We’ve been taking a phased approach to update our technology systems (some are 27 years old and no longer support our business needs). Modern systems are critical to improve functionality and make data-driven decisions, but changing for the future requires more than just tools. It also means a close look at processes, team structures and how to be forward-looking in a Co-op with nearly five decades of history behind us.

Have these transformations been easy? No, but they’re necessary. In 2018–19 we did a deep dive into the flow of work, from what we decide to sell to how products get to members. We also rolled out another phase of our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and our human resources system, piloted online rentals, reorganized teams, developed a new way to receive staff feedback, and kicked off our point of sale update project (just after fiscal 2018–19). We’re looking forward to finding more ways to improve processes, decommissioning our old ERP system in 2020, and setting up MEC to serve members for another five decades.

3. MEC Label’s time to shine

Three people on a rock near the ocean, one of them holding a camera

Your Co-op’s been making gear and clothing since mid-1970s, and big visions for the MEC Label are coming to life. The redesign work we started last year continued in 2018.

“Everything made by MEC Label is designed with three pillars in mind: value, quality and sustainability,” said Wendy Youds, MEC Senior Director of Product Design. “Members have trusted the durability of our gear for decades, so it’s a must to maintain that. Our goal is to keep retail prices as accessible as possible for members and keep the design, fit, performance features and construction intact – it’s not about one or the other.”

Sustainability is also a constant consideration. “The MEC Label has been an industry leader in this area since the 1990s,” said James Brittain, MEC Design Manager. “Over the last year, we’ve realized how incredibly humble we’ve been. Moving forward, we have a duty to not just continue our product sustainability work, but also to help members understand what goes into the things they’re buying.”

Keep an eye out for new MEC Label products showing up in stores and online in 2019, and see the scorecard for updates on responsible sourcing, Fair Trade Certified products and bluesign®-approved fabrics in MEC Label products.

First-ever vendor summit

We have great relationships with factories and mills that make gear and clothing for MEC (we’ve worked with some factories in Vietnam and Taiwan for over 30 years). To share industry insights and challenges, MEC brought our global supply chain together for our first-ever vendor summit in Hong Kong in May 2018.

Partners from 40 factories and mills attended the summit, and came from Cambodia, Central America, China, Hong Kong, India, the Philippines, South America, Taiwan, Turkey, the USA and Vietnam. Over two days, we discussed how the MEC Label is evolving, gave updates on our supply chain strategies, and supported our partners to develop a deeper understanding of social and environmental best practices. It was a valuable opportunity to hear feedback, work together on solutions and create stronger relationships. After the summit, the MEC Label team created an action plan to improve our ways of working with factories and mills, and we’ve shared what we’ve achieved so far with our partners.

4. Plastics are a big deal, no matter the size

Small bits of plastic and fibres suspended in water

The world’s oceans are awash in plastic pollution, and compounding the problem are microplastics and microfibres. We know that virtually all clothing – synthetic or otherwise – sheds fibres through washing and regular use. To help understand this complex issue, MEC provided Ocean Wise with a grant in 2017 to study microplastics and microfibre pollution. Arc’teryx, Metro Vancouver, REI and Patagonia also signed on as partners to help study this issue.

Phase one of the study happened in 2017–18; it investigated microfibre shedding from household laundry, how wastewater treatment plants filter these out, and how microfibre particles weather in the environment. Ocean Wise publicly shared preliminary findings in February 2019 and a full report is coming to MEC. Our hope is that the data and insights from studies like these will eventually help us make decisions around materials for future products.

To build and share microfibre knowledge in the textile industry, MEC and Ocean Wise presented to leaders at Planet Textiles 2018.

Disposable plastic is another concern. Over the years, MEC has taken steps to cut out single-use plastic – eliminating shopping bags in 2008 and adopting “sushi-roll” packaging in 2010. In 2018, MEC supported Ocean Wise’s #BePlasticWise pledge to help Canadians break their disposable plastic patterns. Plogging videos, MEC run crews doing plogging events, and social posts spread the word.

What’s next? We’re excited to announce that MEC is the first retailer to commit to funding for phase two of Ocean Wise’s critical microplastics and microfibre research. We’re also participating with the AATCC to develop an industry standard to assess textile shedding, which could become part of fabric specs to help make better decisions in the future.

5. Introducing: MEC All Out

MEC’s social purpose is to inspire and enable everyone to lead active outdoor lifestyles, and one of the ways we do that is through our community programs. In 2018, we continued the work that we started in 2016 to focus our efforts around our social purpose. The evolution of community programs at MEC officially took its next steps in early April 2019 when we introduced MEC All Out to staff and members.

MEC All Out wraps community events and investments together into a single program that’s focused on connecting people to the places to go, the people to go with, and the skills they need to get there. The big goal? To make Canada the most active country in the world. We created an MEC All Out blog post to give people the background about what’s new, what’s changed and what to look forward to in 2019.

Starting in 2019–20, our community investment budget will be set in the same way as any other budget in the organization. It will take into account the prior year’s performance, our priorities for the year ahead and how effectively we can scale our impact in communities from coast to coast. It will not be based on a calculation in relation to our revenue. Moving forward, we’re excited to be able to measure our community programs against our purpose and find more ways to get Canadians hiking, camping, biking, climbing, paddling and moving outside.

For more info on our community investment for 2018–19 and the ways we’re changing our approach and measuring impact, check out our scorecard.

6. New stores across Canada

Bouldering wall at the MEC Toronto Flagship store

Brand new stores: In fall 2018, the new Calgary South store opened in the Seton Urban District. This was the first store to have an open-concept bike shop, and it joins our other Calgary store downtown as an outdoor community hub. Planning for the new Calgary West store continued in 2018, and construction is now underway. When it’s complete in 2020, Calgary West will be our third location in the city.

Two flagship relocations: This was a major construction year for store relocations in Toronto and Vancouver. The new locations are designed to be flagship stores, which means more features for members, including Basecamp (community spaces for workshops and how-to events), open-concept bike shops, plus bouldering walls for members to use. MEC Toronto opened its doors in April 2019, and MEC Vancouver is set to open in late 2019.

Store announcement: Members in Saskatchewan got some big news in 2018: MEC Saskatoon is on its way. We plan to open the doors in spring 2020.

7. MEC Adventures takes off

Group of hikers in Patagonia

Your Co-op’s been helping members choose gear for adventures since 1971. What if we could help lead them on adventures too? We know members like to travel, based on sales of travel-related products, and in early 2018 we did a survey to see how members would feel about MEC offering trips. Results were positive: 75% of members were very likely or somewhat likely to consider MEC for small group adventure tours. We decided it was time to offer travel experiences to members.

MEC Adventures fully launched in January 2019. This collection of active guided trips includes 18 international trip itineraries, from trekking in Patagonia to biking in Vietnam, and all with responsible travel values in mind. We’re excited to learn what places and activities spark the most wanderlust for members. Next up? We plan to offer Canadian trips too; if you have ideas, let us know at adventures@mec.ca.

8. Rentals go online

MEC has offered gear rentals since 1976 (we were way ahead of the sharing economy). Rentals help members get into outdoor activities without making a huge financial investment or worrying about gear storage.

In 2018, we kicked off a project that allows members to book rental gear online. Three stores – Vancouver, North York and Montreal – piloted the new rental software in late 2018. After key learnings, we officially declared the pilot a success in early 2019, and are rolling out online bookings, for all stores that currently offer rentals, to coincide with the busy summer season.

Being able to book rental gear online is more convenient for members, is a huge time-saver for staff, and brought our previous paper-and-Excel-sheet process into the modern age.

9. Expeditions: MEC in the wild

Climber on snowy summit in Karakoram range. Photo: Alik Berg

Expedition in the Karakoram Mountains. Photo: Alik Berg

MEC’s expedition support program officially started in 2002 and is now one of the most established expedition programs in Canada. In 2018, we awarded grants for canoe trips in Canada’s north, a first ascent attempt in the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan, paraglide-camping in the Rockies, bikepacking across Mongolia, hiking from the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, backcountry ski treks in Canada and more.

We also took our first steps to better represent the diversity of the outdoor community we love. We helped fund Karen Lai’s kayaking trip to cultivate a sense of inclusion on the water, and James Lovasz’s bike trip across Canada to raise awareness about the challenges facing trans folks.

In 2019, we’ll be putting efforts into redefining the criteria for expedition support to ensure more members get the chance to enjoy the outdoors in ways that work for them.

10. The return of Rad

Four people wearing MEC Rad Pants, styled to look like a 90s catalogue

Throughout 2018, MEC staffers had a secret they were keeping under wraps: Rad Pants were about to make a triumphant comeback. After years of member feedback (including online tributes, poetry and discussion with members through our social media channels) our team decided to release a special run of Rad Pants. All the work to create the pants quietly happened in 2018, and we announced their return with a hefty dose of nostalgic fun on April Fool’s Day in 2019.

It was a huge hit. Members scooped up nearly the entire run of MEC Rad Pants in about a day and a half.

Will they appear again? Only time will tell – but rest assured, we’ve seen that members’ stoke for Rad Pants is very real.

11. Signed on for responsible recruitment

Factory workers in a Fair Trade Certified factory

MEC Label gear and clothing is made in factories around the world, and our suppliers must uphold standards for workers’ rights. In part, these standards eliminate conditions that could lead to forced labour. To proactively address this issue, the American Apparel & Footwear Association and Fair Labor Association announced the Commitment to Responsible Recruitment in October 2018, and MEC signed on immediately. We commit to working within our supply chain to ensure no workers pay for their job, all workers keep control of their passports and can come and go from work, and all workers know the terms of their job before they leave home.

MEC also partnered with seven other brands in 2018, to share our raw material facility list and see where we have overlapping suppliers. We’re collaboratively working with shared suppliers to eliminate recruitment fees that foreign migrant workers pay (a form of modern-day slavery) by 2020.

As part of our transparency to members, we publicly disclose our supplier code of conduct, the names and addresses of factories that make products for MEC, and report on social compliance as part of our annual KPIs.

12. Piloted Higg BRM tool

A quick refresher

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is the clothing and footwear industry’s alliance for more sustainable production. Their vision: an industry that does no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on people and communities. MEC shares that vision, and we’ve been a proud member of the SAC since it started.

The Higg Index is a suite of tools the SAC is creating to measure environmental and social impacts of brands, retailers, manufacturers, factories and products. Organizations will be able to use these tools to find out how they can improve, and can share their results with consumers. The complete set of Higg modules aren’t complete yet; MEC has been actively helping to develop them to move the industry forward.

Where we’re at now

In fall 2018, MEC was part of a pilot group that tested a beta version of the Higg Brand & Retail Module (Higg BRM). This is the main Higg Index tool for measuring an organization’s overall sustainability, so it’s a big deal – research shows the overall sustainability score is the one most people are likely to care about when they shop. As leaders in the industry, we had the opportunity to use the Higg BRM and provide feedback. The SAC has incorporated MEC’s feedback and the official release of the Higg BRM is expected to happen at the end of 2019. It will be a major milestone for the Higg Index.

We’re also making progress on last year’s target for 100% of our Tier 1 and strategic Tier 2 suppliers to adopt the Higg Index.

We want to hear from you

Your feedback matters. We want to make sure we’re serving members’ needs in the activities we support. Let us know how we’re doing at info@mec.ca.