UPDATE 2/6: prAna President Russ Hopcus has issued a statement included at the end of this article. 

UPDATE 2/7: prAna has since removed the image of the climber and replaced with the image at the end of this article. 

Carlsbad, California-based clothing brand prAna is facing backlash from cavers after printing a photo in their Spring 2019 catalog showing a man climbing a cave formation in flip flops.

The two-page spread in prAna’s Spring 2019 catalogue. The caption reads “Sure, prAna Ambassador @chris_sharma could map new routes with his eyes closed. But can he do it in the dark, in a cave, in flip-flops? Spoiler alert: Yes, he can.” Just because you can do something, does not mean you should. © prAna 2019

Cavers around the country were quick to notice, taking to groups like the National Speleological Society (NSS)’s Facebook Group. Cavers have already started to contact the company to express their frustration via email, phone, and Twitter. The outrage is particularly acute because one of prAna’s marketing messages is “Clothes With A Conscience,” and their website states, “No detail is too small when it comes to running our business in a responsible way.” While ethical practices are weaved into their production line, it is clear some details are too small. What’s more, the man, Chris Sharma, is one of the world’s most idolized climbers.

Brands who promote sustainability, conscientious living, and corporate responsibility but do not put them into practice are literally profiting off consumers’ good will, which makes mess-ups like this all the more alienating for their customers. In 2017, a company in Colorado posted photos of models violating posted signs protecting the delicate ecosystem at Hanging Lake, CO, which sparked outrage across the state. This is also not the first time climbing has been poorly cast in a clothing shoot. In 2016, GQ published a sexist photo shoot that explicitly stated women were brought on the trip just to be a “couple of cute friends” while the men in the shoot climbed. Outdoor Research stepped in with a viral response, flipping the genders in a photo shoot of their own to highlight the ridiculous and sexist logic behind the shoot.

What is prAna to do? Everyone messes up. The basics would be to issue an apology, emphasize the importance of delicate ecosystems, and collaborate with the NSS to promote ethical caving practices. We all know Leave No Trace (LNT) — but do you know how to leave no trace when you’re in a cave? For many, the answer may be “no.” So, there could be a silver lining here: prAna could become a champion for caving LNT principles. But, for now, they’re the opposite.

Elsewhere in the catalogue, prAna shows responsible climbing practices. They clearly know climbing, and they sponsor some of the best climbers in the world. This is all the more reason for them to recognize the potential damage of portraying irresponsible and damaging recreation in print and featuring many peoples’ climbing idols. It begets a sense of, “If they can do it, why is it wrong if I do it?” In the age of digital media and viral distribution, this principle is more important than ever. © prAna 2019

Thank you to Milo from Adventure Milo for making us aware of this story. Interested in caving responsibly? Go to Caves.org to find a community near you.

UPDATE 2/6: prAna President Russ Hopcus has issued the following statement provided to The Dyrt courtesy of prAna’s PR Firm JAM Collective:

In one of our Spring 2019 catalogs, a photographer that we hired took a photo of one of our ambassadors, Chris Sharma, climbing in Mallorca, Spain. Many cavers and conservationists understandably expressed outrage after seeing the photo, concerned about the impact on the formation pictured as well as the behavior modeled.

We know that responsible caving and care for fragile cave environments is critical to cave conservation. It was a mistake to shoot this photo and to share it in our catalog, and we deeply regret that this occurred. We are reaching out to cave conservationists to learn how we can make amends for our mistake and be part of the ongoing solution.

Moving forward, we will conduct a more detailed review of all of our creative processes to ensure that we tread lightly in delicate places during photo shoots, location scouting and other business activities to have a minimal impact on the environment. We will also partner closely with our ambassadors to ensure their practices align with our values.

We count on our customers to let us know if something is wrong with our products, our service, or the way we represent ourselves. We’re grateful that our customers freely share their tremendous depth of knowledge with us, and that we can learn and move forward in a positive, proactive way.

UPDATE 2/7: prAna has since removed the image of the climber and replaced with this image:

prAna has since removed the image of the climber from their digital catalog and replaced with this image.

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