Staples InTents encourages people of color to safely explore the outdoors to heal and connect

Staples InTents is an outdoor and overlanding business founded by the Atlanta-based wife-and-husband team Sonya and Necota Staples. (Brody Leven)

Cooler temperatures and fall weather provide ideal conditions for spending time outdoors – long walks to see leaves in peak color, hiking, outdoor meals with s’mores by the fire, and for the adventurous, camping. Recent statistics show the number of Black campers is growing, and outdoor industries are taking note. One brand, in particular, is looking to cater more toward a diverse customer base. Staples InTents is an outdoor and overlanding business founded by the Atlanta-based wife-and-husband team of Sonya and Necota Staples. The Staples joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about how their company teaches people how to plan for their next outdoor adventure. 

Interview highlights:

How navigating a rough patch together revealed an opportunity:

“We were spending a lot of time with our marriage counselor, and she gave us this advice to try saying ‘yes’ to each other for a few weeks and to see where it took us,” Necota recalled. “Along that journey, Sonya asked if I wanted to go camping, and I was like, ‘No, not really,’ and it was this immediate recognition that, over the course of our relationship, I had been saying ‘no’ to her in so many different ways… I quickly turned and decided that that was the right thing to do was to say ‘yes.’ And we went to an event that was out in South Carolina, and over the course of that weekend, we both fell in love with what camping offered as a place of serenity, as a place of healing, and a place to connect with each other.”

Sonya added, “When we went online and tried to search for ‘how to camp,’ you know, different products, we quickly saw that there weren’t many people that looked like us. So we were called fairly quickly to share our story and our experiences on YouTube and Instagram, to be that visual representation of Black and brown people thriving outdoors to other people. And that has, over the few years, evolved from camping to off-roading to overlanding, and now we travel full time, and I’m planning outdoor events to create safe space for other people to explore the outdoors.”

Opening up space in the “overlanding” hobby for new adventurers:

“Overlanding is based on traveling by some form of mode of transportation, but being dependent on that mode of transportation for food, clothing and shelter, water systems. So it’s vehicle-based dependent travel, and the emphasis, we think, is embedded in exploring other cultures and learning about how other people live and the environments in which they thrive,” explained Necota.

“Although we go to overlanding events and we do feel welcome, we still tend to feel a bit of a disconnect because we are in the minority. The overlanding events that exist don’t necessarily talk about issues that affect Black and brown people, which is why Necota created the Gathering, so we could… create that safe space that doesn’t necessarily exist, and help people to feel safe coming into an area and learning, which is, I think what’s missing in the overlanding community – is that it’s not really a place for true beginners. You kind of have to come already slightly ready.”

Making camping attractive for those who don’t love to “rough it:”

“Like making a fire,” said Sonya. “Fire, I think is the most fundamental thing that people think of when they think of camping, is a campfire. But as a kid,  and most of my adult life, I thought of camping and making a fire as rubbing sticks together or using a flint, and there is nothing wrong with using a firestarter log, using a cigarette lighter. There’s nothing wrong with that, making it easier to do the things that make it convenient to you.”

She added, “When Dakota and I, we first started our outdoor journey, we considered ourselves ‘glampers.’ And to some people, glamping is staying in the big canvas bell tents with a full bed, and that is absolutely glamping. But for us, we like to create our own setup, and we consider glamping bringing whatever it is that we need to create a comfortable environment to be happy… whether it be cooking lobster tail over your open fire, or setting up your hammocks and enjoying a nice, relaxing evening with your book or Kindle, whatever you need.”

 More information about Staples InTents, and their group destination experience, the Gathering, can be found at Outdoor Afro is another organization, with an Atlanta chapter, that reconnects African-Americans to outdoor spaces. Rue Mapp, the founder, and CEO, recently wrote a book called “Nature Swagger,” which encourages Black communities to reclaim their space in nature. You can find out more information about their upcoming events here.