Yellow Wood Shares Stories of Outdoor Gear with
Sep 30, 2015 01:36PM
By Sheila Julson
Marty Stilling and Moshe Katz
Yellow Wood, a new store specializing in outdoor gear produced by small companies committed to ethical labor and responsible environmental practices, is the latest endeavor of Milwaukee businessman Moshe Katz and Chicago native Marty Stilling. Yellow Wood is dedicated to not only bringing environmentally and socially sound camping and hiking goods to the Milwaukee area, but also to engaging the community and fostering partnerships with nonprofit organizations.
Stilling, who now lives in Milwaukee, founded Erehwon Mountain Outfitter stores in 1972. He continued working in the sporting goods industry and eventually sold the stores and retired. Ten years later, he came out of retirement to open and manage an Erehwon location in Milwaukee. While there, he met Katz, who was a regular customer.
Katz has worked in real estate since 1989, managing apartments for his family’s business. He’s always been active in the nonprofit world and serves as a board member for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. He also teaches parttime at the Milwaukee Jewish Day School and is active with the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center. Katz and Stilling realized they had the same vision of creating a company that puts social responsibility ahead of profits, which led to the September opening of Yellow Wood, in Whitefish Bay.
The name Yellow Wood comes from the first line of Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken. Katz says the line embodies their values of venturing down roads less traveled. At Yellow Wood, customers will find more than 80 brands of backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, hiking boots and outdoor clothing such as hats and gloves—all made by companies that place humane treatment of people, animals and the environment first. “Any time that we can buy American, we do,” Katz says. “And if we can buy a story, we do.”
The stories behind the products are important to Katz and Stilling, and they’re eager to share those tales. Customers will find refillable water bottles from a company called MiiR. For every bottle purchased, MiiR guarantees a donation toward providing clean drinking water for a child in need. Canada Goose, a maker of winter coats, has partnered with Polar Bears International and donates toward polar bear conservation. Sherpa, a company in Nepal, offers hats and gloves hand-knit by village women that have no job experience, but can now make money to support their families. All wool products carried at Yellow Wood are sourced from humanely raised sheep.
In addition to offering ethically crafted goods, Katz and Stilling are committed to having a positive presence in the community. Before Yellow Wood even opened its doors, Katz and Stilling partnered with Surfrider Foundation Milwaukee, a group of surf-centric environmentalists committed to protecting Lake Michigan. They’ll also encourage customers to volunteer.
“We’re guys in our 50s, and we’ve come to a point in life where we’re satisfied with where we’re at,” Katz says. “Now we’re looking at employing people and bringing more fair-wage jobs into the community. Giving back is more important than accumulating wealth. We want to make sure that every product we sell has a story, a purpose or a story and a purpose.”
Katz, Stilling and their spouses currently operate the store. Yellow Wood also employs two full-time employees, or “Pro-Testers”—Heather Darbo and Tony Smith—who test the products carried in the store. Katz says they hope to hire high school and college students to train in the world of outdoor gear.
While Yellow Wood is still building inventory, they will happily advise customers to wait to make a purchase, and instead return to see all options in order to make the ideal choice. That philosophy embodies their customer service model of making sure customers are happy, rather than making a quick sale. “Exclusive doesn’t mean expensive,” Katz notes. “Our smaller brands are just as good as pricey, well-known brands, if not better.”
Both men have visions for the store’s growth. “But the most important thing now is partnering with other like-minded businesses and organizations,” Katz emphasizes.
“Our number one partner is really the customer,” Stilling adds. “We need to find out what they want. Our next few months will be dedicated to understanding the community we’re working in.”
Yellow Wood is located at 401 E. Silver Spring Dr., in Whitefish Bay. For more information, call 414-332-3636 or visit YellowWoodGear.com.
Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.