You might pronounce this outdoor retailer’s name in one of three ways: “MEC”, “M-E-C”, or in full, Mountain Equipment Co-op. No matter which way you say it, MEC has cemented its place in outdoor brand history thanks to 43 years of expertise. From the Canadian company’s grassroots beginnings on the West Coast to its ongoing innovative product developments, MEC shows no signs of stopping.
Six mountaineers from Vancouver started the co-op in 1971 to sell gear for rock climbing, ski mountaineering, and hiking. Since then, one has been able to acquire a lifetime MEC membership for only five dollars, about the same price as a large latte. For the first three years, the company was run solely by volunteers. A support store with regular hours and stocked gear didn’t open until 1973 in Vancouver, and four years later, a second location opened in Calgary. Since those early days, MEC has launched an in-house product development department (1988), an online brochure of backcountry information (1997), an e-commerce site (2001), and an iPhone app (2012). Today, there are 18 stores across the country.
As the business developed, so did the products. Originally focused on selling backcountry gear such as Gore-Tex parkas, backpacks, and panniers, MEC has evolved to appeal to a wider active lifestyle. The spring 2015 backcountry collection introduces the award-winning Women’s Obsession Jacket (the similar Men’s Obsession Hoodie is available for winter 2014), designed for everyday wear. The brand has gone even further to carve out a space for an urban lifestyle collection. “Over the past two years, the first changes have started to show but the real overhaul will be for fall 2015,” says MEC’s senior apparel designer Natasja Parlee. “[This collection] will feature leather trim and chambray lining in [select] jackets.”
The MEC lifestyle is carried over to the co-op’s new headquarters in Vancouver, designed by Proscenium Architecture & Interiors. This month, approximately 300 employees moved from their cramped head office to the expansive new building where they have access to a bouldering cave, a rooftop patio with fruit trees and vegetable gardens, nap room, and multi-purpose room for yoga and fitness classes. Upon entering the space, it is immediately apparent how the building’s use of elements like wood and natural light are mixed with high-tech amenities to inspire movement and a healthy lifestyle. “We’re lucky either way, but this is amazing,” says Parlee. “All the collaborative spaces, all the meeting rooms to mingle, and the openness are good for collaboration and to become better colleagues.” MEC’s dedication to sustainability is evident in the building’s LEED Platinum certification, which has exceeded Vancouver’s requirement for LEED Gold, making it 70 per cent more efficient than standard commercial buildings.
While the co-op’s spirit of improvement and adventure has brought about innovative changes over the years, its values remain the same. Whether you grew up camping in Ontario or rock climbing on the West Coast, MEC continues to lead the way for outdoor enthusiasts in Canada.