Ope Outdoors, an emerging apparel company based in St. Louis, wants to help build a diverse outdoor community in the Midwest while creating a sustainable, clean environment for everyone to enjoy.
Founder Juno Musonda made his first shirts in 2018 but then “doubled down” in 2020 when he rebranded as Ope and started producing artwork based on area parks. The company currently offers approximately two dozen designs featuring locations like Johnson Shut-Ins, Starved Rock, Castlewood, Hawn, Don Robinson, and Shawnee Forest. It sells these T-shirts and sweatshirts on its website (opeoutdoors.com) and at Big Muddy Adventures Guide Shop.
Musonda, whose family hails from Zambia, says he felt the barrier to entry for the St. Louis outdoor culture was “kind of high” as he was growing up. But as he got serious about hiking after a college soccer injury, he fell in love with the local scene and wanted to make it his mission to change things.
His approach consists of three strategies. First comes education, which Musonda also calls representation. “It starts with teaching people where to go and what to do,” he said. “There’s plenty to appreciate and discover here. Ope is a celebration of all the quirky things that make us unique as well as a source of inspiration for others to get outside.”
Second is building community. “This goes hand-in-hand with representation,” Musonda said. “The community can seem disjointed here, especially if you don’t know where to start.” In response, Ope has created a series of monthly park clean-ups as well as social hikes designed “to do good and to just get together and hang out.” (Check the Ope website for a calendar of events.)
Third is sustainability. Along with hosting clean-ups to keep our parks and trails pristine and healthy, Ope is dedicated to using high-quality, long-lasting materials that move away from the “fast fashion” model of the apparel industry, which Musonda says is the fourth largest producer of waste in the world. He hopes to shift to using fully recycled fabrics once supply chains recover from the current pandemic issues.
One thing that won’t change: Musonda promises to remain Midwest at heart. So much so that he based his brand’s name on it. Ope, a word many of us will recognize, serves as an interjection of surprise, as in, “Ope, sorry! Didn’t mean to step on your foot.”
“People on Twitter swear it’s a Midwestern thing. You know you’re from [here] if you’ve been saying ‘ope’ for anything inconvenient since the womb,” Musonda joked. “For us, it says that we’re proud of where we’re from. We’re a Midwest outdoors company and appreciate all there is to discover in America’s heartland.”
Author: Brad Kovac is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.
Top Image: Ope Outdoors crew, including founder, Juno Musonda (seated), on a park cleanup.
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