Disaster Prep Kits Get a Makeover

The climate crisis has spawned an unlikely new area of fashion entrepreneurship.

By Whitney Bauck

Before last year, Whitney McGuire hadn’t seriously considered stashing an emergency survival kit in her home. But as 2020’s record-breaking fire season descended on the West Coast, the attorney, sustainability strategist and mother, who lives in Brooklyn, found herself considering what she might need to prepare if climate change-related disaster were to strike closer to home.

“I was feeling an incredible amount of anxiety about everything, and I wanted to feel like I had some agency in whatever the apocalypse is going to look like for me,” she said.

Ms. McGuire, 35, started to shop online for supplies, and stumbled into the burgeoning world of stylish emergency preparedness brands.

According to Aaron Levy, director of FEMA’s individual and community preparedness division, recent surveys indicate that the country is in the middle of “a tidal wave of culture change” when it comes to disaster prepping.

“I think we’re starting to see a shift in the assumption that ‘this can’t happen where I live,’” said Mr. Levy.

Though government agencies like FEMA and nonprofits like the Red Cross have long sought to prepare people for the possibility of disaster, the rise of for-profit companies working in the same space reflects just how big that shift actually is.

There are companies in this category that have been around for years, catering to survivalists and ex-military types, such as Uncharted Supply Co. (which sells streamlined backpacks containing small shovels, stormproof matches and water filters), and My Medic (which sells extensive first aid supplies packaged in utilitarian bags). But as far as Ms. McGuire was concerned, these brands target “outdoorsy, cis white men,” with marketing materials that often feature muscular white guys wearing flannel shirts in the forest.

As a result, a new wave of emergency preparation companies has arisen: ones that cater to a more style-conscious clientele. Foremost among them are Preppi, a Goop-approved brand that sells disaster supplies in minimalist backpacks, and Judy, which has tapped celebrities like the Kardashians, Chrissy Teigen and TikTok sensation Addison Rae to promote its portable generators and waterproof supply packs.

Indeed, it was Judy’s approachable branding that caught Ms. McGuire’s eye a year after she first tried to build an emergency kit, and was overwhelmed with so much dread she abandoned a half-full shopping cart.

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