When Janice Tennant joined Merrell, the footwear brand known for hiking shoes, last year as chief marketing officer, one of the most startling things she realized was the lack of representation of women in outdoors spaces. Since then, she’s made it one of her missions to make the outdoors more inclusive for both women and people of color. Merrell has been testing women-oriented campaigns and storytelling in its marketing—now, the Outdoor Industry Association reports that 58% of new outdoors participants are female, up from 49% in 2019.
“We played a huge role in resetting and reclaiming the outdoor spaces for women,” Tennant says.
A marketing veteran, the Toronto native spent time in stints at Kimberly Clark and PepsiCo before joining Wolverine World Wide-owned Merrell.
As Merrell turns 40 this year, Tennant is already looking ahead. “We want to engage and drive change not only in the brand and business but in greater and broader communities,” she says, noting partnerships with Big Brothers and Big Sister and the National Parks Association.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Every day is a new day. Sometimes as a younger kid, your sense of the ability to restart or take a new path feels limited. Something I’ve started to embrace in my life is, ‘Yes, I make mistakes today but tomorrow is a new day.’ It’s a chance to reset and restart and through that I’ve been able to overcome the fear of failure and the fear of making mistakes.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
When I first started in marketing, I was in brand management and I had set my career path that I was going to be an assistant marketing brand manager then a senior manager—that’s what I was going to do. I had a very myopic focus on just brand management. I was asked to take on a role in new product development and innovation. That wasn’t the plan I had for myself. It was the best and scariest decision I ever made. I knew nothing about it but I realized in my heart-of-hearts that I tend to have an innovative mindset. I was always thinking about how to do things bigger, better, bolder. I realized sometimes taking a step into something different unlocks new learning and new growth in things that might create new experience that you enjoy. From that time, I’ve never mapped out my career. When a new opportunity comes along I ask, ‘Am I going to learn something new? Am I going to grow?’ and if so then I’ll take that step.
If you weren’t doing your current job what would you be doing and why?
I would probably be a pool cleaner somewhere in the Mediterranean skimming pools and reflecting and daydreaming all day long.
What should the industry do to encourage more women and people of color into its ranks?
I’m part of BECA [Black Executive CMO Alliance] and we’re having a lot of conversations around this. The challenge is giving them the chance and opportunity to grow. I think we need to acknowledge they are there. They come with different skillsets, it’s going to look different. How can we make sure we are not overlooking them because they are there.
Which campaign or other piece of work have you seen in the last year that you wish you had done?
As a woman of color who has dreadlocks for hair, I was inspired by the work with Dove on the CROWN Act. It spoke to me on a personal and emotional level. It sparked dialog in really interesting ways with response to getting more people aware of the challenges different people experience day-to-day.