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Milwaukee outdoor gear shop wants consumers to shop sustainably

For John Cameron, trying to be part of the solution left him feeling like he was actually part of the problem.

The industrial electrical systems consultant lived on the road using infrared and ultrasonic tools to tell companies how to save energy.

“My passion was sustainability and reducing energy loads,” said Cameron. “It’s amazing. It’s like changing 500 lightbulbs from compact fluorescent to LED. It’s a big deal.”

Then one day, he reflects on his lifestyle — driving 1,000 miles a week; staying in five hotels a week, flying, and eating out constantly.

“Those numbers made it to where I wasn’t being sustainable,” he said, realizing that another part of his job was actually negating his sustainable mission.

So, Cameron stepped away from the work. And in August, he opened MKE Outdoor Indoor Exchange, Wisconsin’s ‘Cradle-to-Cradle’ gear store, as it’s called on his website.

The exchange sits at the intersection of Delaware and New York in Bay View. Cameron carries a large variety of name-brand outdoor clothing, tech, and other gear — almost all of it used or recycled.

“And I have to say my wool section is amazing. These are all handpicked, mostly vintage,” he said.

Cameron is part of an exploding second-hand market. It’s expected to more than double by 2026 to $82 billion, according to GlobalData, as reported by online consignment ThredUp.

Online resale is driving the trend, especially after the pandemic forced more shoppers to the web and to apps.

“When you think about the production of a new T-shirt, it uses about 2,700 liters of water,” said Marissa Jablonski, a sustainability expert and the executive director of UW-Milwaukee’s Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin.

“I think in the US we’re decreasing the stigma of buying used clothes, finally, because we are such mass consumers. And it’s helping decrease our water energy, impact on planet earth,” she said.

Other research from GlobalData via ThredUp shows more than 40 percent of all consumers now think second-hand first, with Gen Z and millennial buyers leading the way.

Cameron has already outgrown his brick-and-mortar and offers products online as well.

He wants to scale and envisions stores someday in places like Ann Arbor or Duluth.

“I dreamed this up in March this year. I woke up at 3 am and wrote a business plan. And I’ve been going about 110 mph ever since,” said Cameron.

For Cameron, it took a big risk to find a solution that fits his mission.

“I took my credit cards and maxed them out. I just paid one off last night, officially. I’m crawling out of the whole,” he said.

The exchange is located at 3044 S Delaware Ave in Milwaukee. And, Cameron said, they’ll be open on Black Friday.

You can find products online you won’t find in the shop at: https://www.mkeoutdoorindoor.com/

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