Growing up in London, Nigerian-Brit Jade Akintola didn’t spend much time in the great outdoors. She was very much a city girl, and that theme continued when she moved to Brooklyn. But during the pandemic, Akintola—who has a background in branding and marketing, and is a founding member of the creative studio Matte Projects—began finding solace in going to the beach or hiking. But when she started shopping for these outings, she began to notice a troubling pattern. “I was very surprised at the limitations of the product offerings, and just what the landscape looks like in terms of outdoor goods [for people of color],” says Akintola. “I wanted something that wasn't Australian, bohemian, or nautical.” She decided then and there: She wanted to launch her own brand.
The result is ITA Leisure, launching today. Its first release, the Beach & Park Collection, includes outdoor chairs and tables, blankets, towels, and bags. Akintola's aim is to create fun, vibrant products for those who have long felt ignored in the outdoor space. “It's not a given that people of color can see themselves in that [world] because, for the longest time, the industry has had a predominantly white, male narrative,” Akintola says. “I wanted to bring more of a relatable connection to the things that we do, and the tools that we bring outdoors.”
The brand’s first campaign is dedicated to “making people feel seen.” Akintola worked with BIPOC creatives on both the cast and crew to create images that change the narrative around who enjoys spending time outdoors. “The campaign is called ‘Radical Acts of Leisure,’ because there is something radical about seeing people of color in the outdoors not engaging in sports, just doing everyday leisurely activities,” Akintola says. She adds that the marginalization of people of color has created a false narrative that they don’t enjoy doing outdoor activities for pleasure. “The idea of leisure is really specific to people that are free, versus people that have lived a restricted lifestyle,” she says.
Aesthetically, Akintola wanted ITA Leisure's products to have a heritage feel that POC could relate to. She worked with BIPOC designers and creatives for all of the products to do so. “The design foundation comes from looking more into our heritages, taking inspiration from a mix of places,” she says. The outdoor chairs and the tables, for instance, were both designed and produced with Veta studio in Mexico City. The towels and blankets reference traditional Ghanaian kente cloths. “We wanted to bring in more craftsmanship, and a sense of authenticity,” she says.
The brand will eventually launch camping, hiking, and gardening gear. Akintola will also be curating a community index, where consumers can find other BIPOC-owned outdoor organizations. “There have been so many outdoor organizations that have been working to create more diversity in the space,” she says. Akintola adds there’s still much more work to be done within the space. “I was in Rhode Island a couple of days ago and we went into an outdoor store, and every single poster only featured white faces,” she says. “It's still pushed as this white experience, and that's really what has to change.”