What happens when business, art and philanthropy intersect? Vail Symposium takes a look

Artist Pat Milbery applies upcycled aluminum cups as clouds to a custom mural created for the inaugural Climb It for Climate event. Milbery is the creative force behind Zeal Optics’ Open Hearts Collection.
Dominique Taylor/Courtesy photo

Doing good isn’t just common sense, it also makes financial sense. At least that was the case for Zeal Optics, which partnered with pro-snowboarder-turned-artist and mental health advocate Pat Milbery to design Zeal’s Open Hearts Collection.

Thanks to the collaboration, the Open Hearts line is the bestselling product in Zeal’s entire catalog, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Eagle County’s SOS Outreach. Thursday, Milbery, along with Zeal’s senior director of global marketing Mike Lewis and executive director of SOS Outreach Seth Ehrlich, gather at Donovan Pavilion to provide a blueprint for collaborating successfully.

The in-person discussion, which will also stream over the web for free, presents a case study in how business, art and nonprofit collaboration and innovation can benefit corporations and nonprofits, creating a ripple effect “far beyond their initial investment,” according to Vail Symposium’s website. The talk bucks current ideas that economic gain only comes to those who remain self-interested and highlights how partnerships can help everyone involved prosper.

The concept for Zeal’s Open Hearts Collection came about at the beginning of 2023, when Milbery was painting a mural in Boulder behind the Zeal offices and was also partnering with the Colorado Rapids to raise money for mental health through a jersey he had artistically designed. Lewis and Milbery began brainstorming about how to start a conversation revolving around mental health in the outdoor and action sports space — particularly around the healing attributes of spending time in nature.

However, the pair’s initial collaboration began nine years ago — and was partially responsible for expanding Zeal Optic’s vision. It all occurred when Zeal added patches to goggles for Milbery’s So-Gnar camp, which took place primarily in the Midwest.

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“We modified a line with patches and textures, and it opened us up to unique possibilities,” Lewis said about the goggles, which the general public couldn’t purchase. “You had to come to camp. They became hugely popular. People wanted to buy them, but it was exclusively for camp participants.”

So, last June, Zeal Optics modified two of their most classic frames — the Windsor and Crowley — with geometric landscapes produced in uplifting colors. The exterior of the frame showcases a small heart, and as you open the frames, Milbery’s nature-inspired artwork is revealed.

“When you open it up, it’s a reminder to open your heart up to life,” Milbery said. “We get caught up in all the things (in life). Can we just have that moment to pause? It’s a daily exercise when you open up the sunglasses. … The open heart message is important because it’s easy to get cold and close yourself off.”

Now, with every purchase of the Open Hearts Collection, $5 goes to SOS Outreach, which offers outdoor experiences and fosters strength, leadership and mental health among youth.

“We are honored to be the beneficiary of the Open Hearts Collection, which not only is raising money for our programs but also spreading awareness to the power of community and collaboration. All donations we receive from sales ensures there are no financial barriers to youth accessing our programs,” Ehrlich said.

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Meanwhile, Zeal builds relationships with its customers.

“It’s relational versus transactional,” Lewis said. “Customers are looking for that more and more. “The emotional side (of business) was put on fast-forward with the pandemic and the emphasis on social justice, health and mental awareness … companies are sharing their values and making a stand, and small companies can do that more readily.”

Sports have also supported mental health discussions as more and more athletes talk about their struggles.

“It’s a catalyst for being much more open and discussing mental health, and it’s a good opportunity for brands,” he said.

Since launching the Open Hearts Collection, Zeal has continued to offer the series in other countries. Meanwhile, Milbery is working with other brands like Smartwool, YoColorado, Remind Insoles, Icelandic, Wolfgang and more.

“The ripple effect has been wild,” Milbery said.

Next winter, he will collaborate with Zeal on goggle designs, as well.

“As a snowboarder, we’re always taking risks,” he said. “The more risks you take, the more you get used to taking them.”

And, apparently, the more they pay off. Hear more Thursday night as the collaborators share their stories — and enthusiasm.

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