Partnr Profiles: Jenna Vanni of Woods + Waters Gear Exchange
Updated: Apr 16
Jenna owns Woods and Waters Gear Exchange in Brunswick, Maine. The shop prides itself in offering great affordable deals for people looking to get outside through its consignment program. Jenna sat down with us to chat about her experience in the outdoor industry and what it's like to run a store!
When did you become hooked on the outdoors?
We had a field next to our house growing up that we were always exploring, but very basic, nature stuff. I also grew up camping a little bit but we weren’t a big hiking-mountains type of family. My grandfather also had a lake house in New Hampshire so he taught me how to canoe at a young age.
I got more into outdoor sports when I went to college at UVM. To survive winter in Burlington you have to enjoy being outside all the time. I got to take a gym class that was downhill skiing. It’s a really cool place to learn how to be outdoors. Aside from trails, Lake Champlain is more like an ocean--there are so many water sports you can participate in!
I still have those days when I don’t want to go outside. I’m not a die hard outdoors addict. I like to camp. I like to go on hikes and trail runs with my dog. I ski with my family in the winter. But I think that's why running the store works for me--I don’t need to be outside every second of the day, but I want to help those people who do.
What piece of gear have you owned the longest?
My grandfather was a skier, both nordic and downhill. He has all these really cool old school 70s wool hats with poms. Classic designs. I still have a bunch of those at home. It’s the oldest piece of outerwear that I own. You can fix them up super easily because they’re wool, and may have created my love of hats. Maybe.
Why did you start Woods + Waters?
The Outdoor Gear Exchange in VT was my mecca in college. It was the only way I could afford getting outside on these new adventures. That idea of my own store was always stuck in my head. I went out west for a while and was always looking for stores like OGE. I got into product development and I worked for an outerwear company called Aether Apparel and learned a lot from them. But I realized LA wasn’t for me, so I came back to Maine and got a job at LL Bean.
I did outerwear and accessories and then moved into regular apparel--knits and denim. I got to go to Asia and South America and see factory production.The brands I worked for have really high standards for their factories, but it could always be better. It’s not a secret that the apparel world is yucky. Seeing that first hand--it gets to you, morally. I realized I was done with the larger scale apparel industry. My mind never left the store idea.
Over the years, I have been collecting products, so it was kind of a no brainer for me to open a shop because my basement was full of inventory. About two years ago, I finally pulled the trigger. It felt really good to stop obsessing about the idea and actually do it.
Why did you decide to go consignment?
I’m a huge consignment shopper and I just love the model. Consignment feels like you are always getting a deal. I always consigned my clothes--it was just cool to drop them off and have credit at a store to use. It makes it feel like buying “new” clothes is free!
Now that I have kids I really appreciate the circular economy piece of it as they grow out of things every year. It also gave me flexibility in starting out the business--I didn’t have to spend a bunch of money on buying inventory before knowing what people wanted. I could say yes to everything, and then see what actually sells. Consignment gives me flexibility which has been particularly important with Covid. Now that people have shifted to solo sports I can stock more of that gear.
What were some of the greatest challenges of opening your store?
Going from a cushy corporate job to a totally self employed business person was crazy! All these little pieces came up that I had no experience with--social media, accounting. That’s also what I really like about it too--you couldn’t say what every day was going to be like. I was working 6 days a week with 2 little kids at home, but fortunately the pandemic knocked that back to 5 days so the balance is better.
What do you see as the role of the independent gear shop today?
I still like the fact that every gear shop is different. They are all laid out differently and stock stuff based on what people bring in from the area. Gear shops also can really anchor the community. I have people in need looking for donated jackets, which I keep in back for people who don’t have much. Or I can put out messages into the social media universe if someone needs something specific. I have also started working with more non-profits that help with getting kids outdoors on trips, outfitting schools, or if they need help obtaining a bicycle.
Small shops can make a big difference in people’s lives, whether it’s teaching them how to rock climb, offering guiding services, or repairing gear. The community piece is just huge to me. I hope every independent gear store feels welcoming to everyone--I picture Woods + Waters as a place where people can hang out. If I had more room I’d have couches and coffee.
What would you like to change about outdoor culture?
It’s still based on white male centric outdoor egos. Even when I was in corporate, I would go to the Outdoor Retail shows and it was always me meeting with a bunch of white guys. It’s always been male dominated, which is slowly starting to change, as more female athletes get in the spotlight, and more CEOs are women. There are some big pain points, as we have seen this year, with the lack of BIPOC in the outdoors, and in marketing. We try to knock down any financial barriers with stores like mine, but if you aren't being represented in the outdoors, then the desire to participate may not grow. The outdoor community is based on this huge network of people, which is so great, and if everyone could be involved and feel safe it would be amazing!
Browse some great deals and support Jenna by checking out her listings on Switchbackr!
All photos courtesy of Jenna Vanni.