As someone who went to a high school with a culture that was not at all interested in the outdoors, it always excited me to arrive at camp every summer and bond with my friends about going on trips, not showering, and having gnarly Chaco tans. It’s interesting to think about—having an odd tan line is just not something that makes sense to be proud of.
However, at the time, it felt like a “f**k you” to the sterile uniform-clad institution where I spent most of my year. It wasn’t until I came to Colorado College that I realized that the love my friends and I had for Chacos was not that unique. This is because, besides camp, I was separated from outdoor culture—the same culture that has taken something kind of ugly but very functional and made it into something cool and desirable.
I remember at the beginning of the school year I was walking with a small group of students during New Student Orientation, and I noticed that everyone was wearing a pair of Chacos. After pointing this out to someone in the group, she shrugged it off and said something along the lines of how the entire school owns Chacos.
I haven’t thought about that conversation in a while, but with spring arriving in Colorado, Chaco season has returned, and I’m back to thinking about Chacos, capitalism, and the exclusivity of outdoor culture.
For example, the comment that a student made to me in the beginning of the year—which is not an uncommon statement to make—suggests that CC’s outdoor culture is more universal than it actually is. Obviously, not everyone on this campus owns a pair of Chacos. Some students hadn’t heard of Chacos before they came to CC, and some students probably still don’t know what Chacos are. These could be students that haven’t participated in outdoor culture, as well as people who have.
On the other hand, for people who have spent a lot of time in places that would be ripe for Chaco culture (outdoor communities, probably warmer places in the US), the fixation may seem very real and widespread. And it is—in those spaces.
Earlier this week I was talking to some students about how I was going to write this article, and the conversation evolved into a passionate exchange about Chacos. We talked about the fact that they can be used comfortably in water and on land, that they have a good enough grip to hike in, and they’re snug enough to wear casually, in hot as well as cold conditions.
They’re really a versatile and comfortable shoe, and I’ll probably continue to be proud of my Chaco tan for many years to come, but it’s important to recognize the exclusive and frankly privileged place that a lot of common interests or popular products like Chacos come from. It’s very easy to talk comfortably about how great an experience or product is, but it’s harder to realize that access and experience is not universal.