In the 1930s, serious mountain climbers in America needed access to high-quality equipment--most of which was being manufactured in Europe. In 1938, Lloyd and Mary Anderson founded REI as a cooperative effort to import ice axes from Switzerland and Austria. The founders created an open membership model that split up ownership of the overall company among anyone willing to pay a one-time joining fee. The entire endeavor was a bold and experimental business model that took several years to become a success. REI opened its first retail store in 1944, but it didn't hire its first full-time employee until almost a decade later.
REI finally began its first real expansion in the 1970s, though it faced a rocky road when company leadership couldn't agree on the best way to sustain the co-op model. The brand found solid footing in the '80s and '90s by shifting its focus from extreme outdoor sports to a broader selection of camping and hiking equipment geared toward the whole family. Today, REI operates more then 130 stores across the country, as well as maintaining thriving catalog and ecommerce divisions. In addition to supplying major international brands of outdoor gear and apparel, REI also manufactures and distributes items under its own private label. The company is still a cooperative, and anyone can pay the $20 lifetime membership fee to join.
You can find all sorts of outdoor apparel for both kids and adults at REI. Children's sizes include options for infants, toddlers, and older boys and girls. Jackets are among the brand's top sellers, and you can choose among styles like fleeces, raincoats, windbreakers, ski jackets, and down jackets. Base layer options include long underwear, thermals, and more. You can also find sweatshirts, activewear, convertible pants, hiking pants, shorts, and swimwear. Cold weather accessories are built to withstand the elements, and they include hats, gloves, scarves, snow pants, and thick socks.
The women's collection from REI branches out a little more into everyday casualwear--though the bulk of apparel is still for outdoor use. Tops include tees, camis, tanks, and button-down shirts. Pants are also available in a range of styles, including roll-up pants, sweats, and rain pants. Jacket types and accessories are mostly the same as those for kids, and they help protect against all the different types of weather you might face. Beyond general apparel, the brand also has clothes and gear for specific outdoor endeavors. You can find clothes and shoes specifically designed for running, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, biking, climbing, and more.
Many of the best brands are created out of necessity, and REI is no exception. The company's co-op model was a unique way for its founders to import the gear they needed, and it continues to work for the retailer today. The REI brand of apparel tends to offer more affordable options in essential categories than some of the other major brands the store sells, though it maintains a reputation for quality. Since the company is essentially synonymous with the outdoors, it also makes efforts to protect the environment and support nature via its philanthropic division and non-profit REI Foundation. We give REI 4.5 stars out of 5.