Michele Orr advances gender equity in the outdoors


IAS Alum Michele Orr (’94) is REI’s general merchandizing manager for apparel, and one of her most exciting projects is championing their Force of Nature campaign, a public effort to advance gender equity in the outdoors. Orr and her team are working within the co-op and with brand partners to level the playing field by offering more sizing options for more women. As a co-op, REI is in the unique position of harnessing member feedback to influence brands and expedite change. For example, in 2018, REI doubled its sales of apparel in extended sizes, and in 2019, increased clothing choices for core activities like hiking, swimming, running and yoga by 50 percent.

Orr has always enjoyed the outdoors and integrated this passion with her career. After completing two years of college, the California native took a “semester off” to move to Vail, CO to pursue her love of skiing while waiting tables, working in a gift shop, and eventually becoming the skiwear buyer for Performance Sports in Lionshead. Ultimately, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest lured her family north, and Orr was ready to finish her bachelor’s degree.

Orr chose UW Bothell for its small class sizes, evening schedule, and top notch faculty. Her daughter was 4-years-old, and like the other Bothell students, she juggled multiple priorities. She recalls how committed and passionate the faculty were - and how high their expectations. The rigor of a liberal studies education built Orr’s confidence and made her feel she could do anything.

“Interestingly, UW Bothell’s mission to educate students to prosper in the burgeoning Puget Sound area corporate boom set me up to be a solid team player when I returned to the work force,” says Orr. “But it’s the comradery of my cohort, paired with the support (if at times, ‘tough love’) of the professors, that I value the most.  A big learning from my two years at UW Bothell is that people can truly persevere and succeed in a nurturing and supportive environment.”

Since graduating, Orr worked as a merchandise manager for Eddie Bauer and as division director of product life cycle management at Michaels, before joining REI in 2010. 

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