SEATTLE—Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), the nation’s leading retailer of quality outdoor gear and clothing, has announced its 2002 Vendor Partnership Awards, including the selection of Smith Sport Optics, Inc. as REI’s Vendor Partner of the Year.

“REI is fortunate to work with the best companies in the outdoor industry,” said Matt Hyde, REI’s Senior Vice President for Merchandising and Logistics. “Strong partnerships are key to REI’s success, and these winners set a leading example. Smith has risen out of a crowded marketplace of sunglasses and goggles, growing sales while also finding ways to give something back to the community and the industry.”

The annual awards program recognizes three key vendors and one overall Vendor Partner of the Year for efforts that have built a strategic and successful relationship with REI. REI’s three merchandising divisions — Camping/Travel, Action Sports and Outdoorwear — nominated companies based on several measures, including financial performance, community and industry involvement and product quality, among others. The nominees are reviewed by REI’s retail stores, and the stores then determine the final award recipients.

The top 2002 vote recipient was Smith Sport Optics, Inc., earning the REI Vendor Partner of the Year Award. Based in Sun Valley, Idaho, Smith Sport Optics, Inc. was founded in 1965 with the creation of the first goggle featuring a sealed thermal lens and breathable vent foam. Today, Smith is as well known for its diverse line of fashion and performance sunglasses as it is for its goggles. From Smith’s distortion-free Tapered Lens Technology to the versatility of the Slider Series, with its patented, interchangeable lens system, the devotion to excellence, innovation and style is what has made Smith goggles and sunglasses the choice of action-sport athletes worldwide. Smith products are sold in more than 50 countries through sporting goods and specialty stores.

The other 2002 REI Vendor Partnership Award winners were:

Camping/Travel Division Winner: Black Diamond Equipment Ltd. (Salt Lake City) is an employee owned, global leader in the design, manufacture and distribution of innovative equipment and Performance LightWare for rock climbing, alpinism and backcountry skiing. Black Diamond’s family of brands including Ascension, Bibler Tents, Franklin Climbing Equipment, Beal Ropes and SCARPA Mountain Boots encompass product offerings which run the gamut from indoor climbing to year round outdoor pursuits.

Action Sports Division Winner: Thule, Inc. (Seymour, Conn.) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Thule Holding AB, which is owned by the Swedish investment company EQT. Founded in 1942, Thule develops, manufactures and markets load carrier systems for vehicle owners worldwide.

Outdoorwear Division Winner: Superfeet Worldwide, LLP (Ferndale, Wash.) is the original footbed company founded in 1977 serving the specialty retail industry. Superfeet’s product lines include: Trim-to-Fit, DressFit, and CustomFit. Superfeet is dedicated to providing good foot health to all walks of life.

Other nominees included Brunton, Columbia Sportswear Company, Ex Officio Inc., Merrell, Mountain Hardwear, Mountainsmith, Oregon Freeze Dry Inc., Patagonia, prAna, Seattle Sports Company and The North Face.

REI was founded in 1938 as a consumer cooperative by a group of Pacific Northwest mountaineers seeking quality climbing equipment. While anyone may shop at REI, members pay a one-time $15 fee and receive a share in the company’s profits through an annual patronage refund based on their purchases. A portion of REI’s profit is set aside each year for support of conservation and recreation causes. REI has given more than $9 million since 1976 to such efforts around the nation. In 2002, REI awarded more than $1 million for conservation, outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship projects. REI operates 63 retail stores in 24 states; two online stores, REI.coom and REI-OUTLET.com; and an adventure travel company, REI Adventures.