MEC Returns to the Mountain for its 50th Anniversary
Red maple leaf aside, few symbols have been more iconic in Canadian culture than the MEC logo and after 50 years of retail experience in the outdoor space, MEC is revisiting its roots. Any Canadian born in the 70s, 80s, or 90s would be instantly familiar, comfortable and assured by the original MEC green mountain silhouette. That’s right, the mountain has returned and just in time for MEC’s 50th year in business. This refreshed identity has been ever so slightly refined by Canadian graphic design agency, Hulse & Durrell, which specializes in brand identity. They were tasked with marrying the historic and visceral connection that Canadians held for the original MEC identity with the brand’s new name, which also incorporated a new custom typeface.
As you can see below ‘Mountain Equipment Co-op’ is now ‘Mountain Equipment Company’ as they are no longer a co-operative. They do, however, still keep many of their core values the same. Their mission is to get people into the outdoors while keeping sustainability as an important pillar of the business. MEC was founded by a group of west coast mountaineers in 1971 who could not easily purchase climbing gear in Canada, so they decided to start a business that would be a consumer collective and that existed to benefit its members. From these humble beginnings, the original Mountain Equipment Co-op was born. Since then MEC has been a large supporter of community initiatives in outdoor recreation and conservation, donating over $45 million to non-profit organizations to date.
History of the MEC identity over the years
As you can see above in the image, the new identity is very similar to the original, except for the new name which is now in upper/lower case rather than all caps as in the original. This new format helps convey that there is not only a new name but also that things are different at MEC, one can see that they are striving to be more approachable and less corporate. They are not only selling high-quality apparel and equipment but provide expert advice and firsthand experience through staff that actually adventure outside participating in a wide range of activities including camping, snow sports, watersports, cycling, climbing, hiking, running and general travel.
In 2013 MEC introduced a new identity that was a simple square with a refined all capital MEC in the centre. This somewhat nondescript identity was not without its critics and the identity could be considered cold, corporate and without much emotion or heart. Over its eight-year reign, the square MEC logo was never fully embraced by customers and the rally cry to bring back the mountain—which was for so long the heart and soul of the company—was never drowned out.
The succession of the beloved mountain logo in 2013 was not the only challenge and controversy that MEC has had to endure over the past decade. As most know, recently MEC was facing huge financial challenges and was ultimately acquired by the US private investment firm, Kingswood Capital Management. The new owners went to work and trimmed expenses, placing MEC on a new path toward profitability with leaner operations and a goal of maintaining the majority of existing stores and staff. Under the leadership of the new CEO and Chairman, Eric Claus, MEC now has a new direction for the coming years and sales are up—way up. As Eric put it “The symbolic peaks represent MEC’s unwavering commitment to inspiring and enabling people to get active outside by providing trusted outdoor gear and advice. We’re also working toward aggressive goals for product sustainability and supporting changemaking outdoor organizations while ensuring we have the best team to deliver exceptional experiences across our business”. He went on to say “Over the last 12 months, we’ve invested time, energy and resources into re-organizing the company around our core values and staying laser-focused on what makes MEC unique, and I am proud of what we have achieved. We moved the needle on all we committed to and we’ve seen a very positive increase in membership numbers.”
MEC is bringing back a few of their beloved programs in addition to a few new ones such as MECAdventures which is a program that provides employees the chance to take extended leave from work, along with financial support and gear to enable them to make their personal epic outdoor adventures a reality. In addition to this MEC’s Outdoor Impact Program has been made a priority in MEC’s 50th anniversary year with a $1M commitment to investing in outdoor organizations. To date they have committed to supporting the following organizations and initiatives with impressive results:
- Help Spirit North reach 2,700 Indigenous youth across 40 communities
- Help Protect Our Winters (POW) Canada expanded its educational programming and training across the country, growing its membership to 21,797 climate action advocates.
- The release of the first CPAWS Report Card for Canada
- MEC Avalanche Safety Grant
Sustainability is of course still at the top of MEC’s agenda and they are committed to reducing their environmental footprint across all operations. MEC is currently in the process of building a climate action plan in collaboration with the Outdoor Industry Association’s Climate Action Corps to address climate change. This means that MEC will align its action plan with the International Panel on Climate Change and science-based targets (warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius). In addition to this, they have increased their commitment to Fair Trade and are striving to have 50% of MEC labeled clothing made in a Fair Trade Certified factory by 2025. They are also looking at the barriers to a closed-loop textile recycling system in Canada and have joined a recycling pilot program with Fashion Takes Action. They have also been part of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) since 2005 and have helped to improve the lives of millions of workers worldwide.
MEC is well prepared to succeed over the next 50 years and is committed to its core values: providing the best technical gear, offering expert advice and helping to build outdoor communities. So, whether you say “MEC” like here on the west coast or “M-E-C” as I did growing up in Ontario, the one thing that is consistent is that MEC will be a Canadian icon well into the future.
Happy Birthday MEC.