February 17, 2023 | OPINION | By Leigh Walden

Growing up in rural Colorado and then attending Colorado College has been a culture shock in more ways than one. From time to time, mid-way into my sophomore year, I still find myself caught totally by surprise when my peers talk to one another. Upon first coming here, one of my initial culture shocks was what everyone wore. Among the unofficial uniform of CC students is one signature, recognizable staple—the “Melly.”

For those unfamiliar, the Melly is a waffle-texture hoodie with a mock neck hood and elastic band top closure. It comes in a variety of bright colors, appropriately dulled down as to indicate that they are, in fact, serious outdoor goods. On their website, the Melanzana company (from which the “Melly ” gets its name) doesn’t explicitly state that they are a technical product, but all of the photos on their site show people partaking in high-intensity outdoor sports.

From my observations, Mellys are not all that spectacular or unique. And, in my quest for understanding their popularity, I have come to the opinion that Melanzana makes unremarkable products and that people who buy them are supporting a larger culture of commodifying the outdoors.

I will be blunt in my assessment that Mellys are mediocre midweight layers. What you spend $80 and two trips to Leadville on, you can find for $5 in a Goodwill bin around the corner. These layers are little more than the outdoorsmen’s equivalent of a Supreme hoodie. The value of the product comes from the association to a larger group that connects solely on the experience of buying something.

The practice of acquiring a Melly in and of itself is ridiculous. As it has been described to me, Melanzana customers make an excursion to Leadville, Colo., to a store that will not sell you the good that you want to purchase. Instead, you are there to pick out which design and colors you want and, if it’s not available in the recently returned or mis-produced section, you’re expected to return on another occasion to actually purchase and take home your item.

The ideology and practices of the Melly company are admirable. They make their products in store and are opposed to branching into large scale manufacturing. I think those practices are epic. I think mass production has reduced the quality of products, exacerbated human rights issues, and created unnecessary waste. This is the point in the piece where I tell you that the idea behind Melanzana is super appealing to me; however, the broader culture surrounding the brand is what gives me serious pause.

Being a wilderness person has become commercialized. As more young people become united around the importance of the outdoors, we become a group with shared interests and values. And what is a group with shared interests and values if not a prime audience to be exploited by people hoping to sell you things?

Everywhere we see new-and-improved-lighter-weight-higher-quality-warmer-more-effective outdoorsmen style gear. And it’s SO MUCH better than all that other gear you have. You mean to tell me you’re still climbing a mountain without a hydro-boost 747 pulse monitoring mountain lion detection backpack? (Some people really do make search and rescuers’ lives harder.)

I will acknowledge that, for extreme athletes, these products can save a life. For people whose livelihood is exploration, they might very well be useful. Though for the average CC student (yes, probably you, stay humble), these products are just another thing to spend money on. We have the things that will accomplish the jobs we need done – we have an old school bag, we have comfortable tennis shoes, we have a hoodie.

Part of loving the outdoors is wanting to protect it. Part of protecting the outdoors is refusing to let companies convince you that they know better about what you need to explore it.

I know it’s appealing to buy an item from a good company, and if you were going to buy a similar item no matter what, then yes! Buy from the better brand! But if you’re going out of your way to buy a Melly to keep all your other midweight layers comfortable in your closet, skip it. You are not changing the world for the better by buying a product that you already have because this one is made with better vibes.

It would be naive to dismiss the importance of shared interests and levels of homogeneity in community building. In general, it is important to have factors that make you relate to those around you. (Duh) “Mellys” can and probably do serve an important role of building a sense of home for some students. However, they also serve to reinforce existing barriers. They are a status symbol on a campus where talking about status rarely happens in comprehensive and blunt ways.

Ultimately, the Melly is an article of clothing. I really don’t give all that much of a shit. However, I also see Melanzana as an interesting point of possible introspection for CC students. How do we reinforce the idea that the outdoors is something that needs to be bought into? Why is it that we so often get distracted by the pursuit of out-competing one another to be more outdoorsy?

And, most importantly, how can we get to the point where we celebrate what’s truly remarkable here: that so many people around us love the world we live in enough to want to become more connected to it?

1 Comment

  1. I sew these products for a living. They are “expensive” because they’re not made in a sweatshop overseas and the company pays its employees a living wage in an increasingly expensive town and world. The culture surrounding the demand is not built by the company but rather by the customers. We started requiring appointments because people were acting like it was Black Friday every day once we reopened after COVID and our employees did not feel safe, and also because we would be sold out and people who made the trip were unable to get anything. Now we can plan better for the demand and most people can leave happy.

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