Mobilizing Gen Z Women in National Parks
The Free People brand invites young women who are smart, creative, sustainably-minded, and comfortable in all aspects of her being to be free and adventurous.
The national parks’ 420+ sites and limitless stories provide a meaningful way for Free People to engage its core consumer—Generation Z and Millennial women who love nature, are environmentally conscious, and passionate about the outdoors. Through four years of partnership, the National Park Foundation (NPF) and Free People have succeeded in building excitement for the brand through innovative activations while inspiring the next generation of passionate national park stewards.
Free People’s CEO Meg Hayne always believed in a natural connection between the brand and America’s national parks. Meg saw the parks as an important tool in creating deeper engagement with the company’s employees and customers. Working with the Free People brand marketing team, Meg set out to formalize a partnership with NPF that would deliver on its brand values and excite key stakeholders. “Our employees and customers are mindful of the environment and their surroundings,” said Julie Verdugo, the Brand’s Director of Sustainability and Social Impact. “National parks are special to our community, and our customers travel to Zion, the Grand Canyon, and other national parks whenever they get the chance.”
To increase loyalty with Generation Z and Millennial-aged consumers, NPF and Free People developed a strategy that empowered women to protect our parks by making critical investments and inspiring action among Free People’s key stakeholders. Engaging Free People’s core customer in their commitment to parks and the environment helped drive brand loyalty and mobilize new audiences as life-long park stewards. The strategy employed the following key tactics:
- Investing in Women in Parks: In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment in 2020, Free People supported NPF’s Women in Parks initiative by funding an all-women service corps. This investment served as a proof point to Free People’s deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to the national parks among its key stakeholders. Service corps are locally-based organizations that train and deploy crews of young adults to address recreational access, conservation, disaster response, and community projects. This partnership provided critical funds to a four-person, all-women crew working on the ground in Great Basin National Park led by the Great Basin Institute (GBI). Free People has broadened its support of service corps crews—adding an LGBTQ+ crew, a Native American crew, Latinx crew, and a Hawai’ian crew— providing crew members with a safe and inclusive space to nurture their passion for conservation and public lands.
- Engaging Customers to Shop and Give Back: To kick-off the partnership, Free People piloted a fundraising model that has become increasingly popular with retailers: a giving day. Free People announced they would donate 10 percent of profits earned through its ecommerce site to NPF. In one day, Free People raised $40,000 in support of the national parks. The retailer also experienced a spike in business. “When we looked at numbers for our giving day, we saw a 20 percent lift in sales,” said Verdugo.
- Encouraging Employee Engagement through Sustainable Actions: Throughout 2020, Free People donated 10 cents to NPF every time a customer declined a bag at one of its 135 stores, diverting over 180,000 bags from landfills. This program helped the brand raise $100,000 for NPF. “We wouldn’t have raised as much if it wasn’t for our employees,” said Verdugo. “They were the ones who explained to customers the environmental impact of not taking a bag and how the customer’s action would benefit NPF’s mission.”
- Mobilizing Key Stakeholders to Clean Up Communities: During the pandemic, Free People tapped into the universal desire to get outside and its community’s passion for environmental stewardship by inviting its employees, customers, and partners to volunteer to pick up trash in their own neighborhoods in celebration of World Clean-up Day. Participants were asked to upload photos of their Clean Up Day on social media, and for every post shared and tagged @freepeople with #CareFP, Free People donated $5 to the NPF. The results were clear:
- $15,000 was donated to NPF.
- People from 47 different cities in two countries participated.
- 590 bags, totaling 3,000 pounds of trash was collected.
- 70 percent of Free People employees participated.
"From the photos shared online, we saw clean ups taking place everywhere: at beaches, along rivers, in neighborhood parks and along city streets. As a community, Free People collected a grand total of 590 bags, totaling an incredible 3,000 pounds of trash! It was nice to dedicate time and energy just helping the earth and NPF.” - Julie Verdugo, Director of Sustainability & Social Impact
Insights from the Experts
- Show that national parks touch every citizen: “Truthfully, we didn’t realize how many national parks were really out there,” said Kristin Dougherty, the retailer’s Brand Senior Partnership Manager. “They are in the cities and in the suburbs and are literally accessible to everyone. That is what makes this partnership so easy and applicable,” she added. “Regardless of which store a customer visits, there’s a park nearby that’s directly benefiting from their support.”
- Meet in-person and collaboration will come naturally: While the Free People team was a fan of NPF from the beginning, the partnership deepened their understanding and appreciation for the national parks. Both Julie and Kristin participated in NPF’s three-day 2019 Corporate Summit in Death Valley National Park to connect with NPF and NPS and hear from other corporate partners. This time together helped uncover new opportunities for collaboration.