My Vermont family “sugared.” That’s what we call a maple syrup operation. This meant time in the woods during winter and muddy spring months. The rest of the year, my parents ran a standing seam roofing company. My mom, like many mothers, never stops. Not only was she determined to raise my brother and I, single handedly (sorry dad!). She grew and cooked the food we ate (within reason, but why did she have to grow so much zucchini?). And, she dragged us to the construction sites to pitch in. My mother stood on roofs and ran the metal sheets that clipped together. As kids, we needed to contribute. Or, at a minimum, we weren’t allowed to complain. At a young age, I realized there can be plenty of fun had while working.
I attended college in Missoula, Montana. My friends were getting hired by Forest Service crews for summer jobs. Since I like to swear, dig in the dirt, and work long days, it seemed like a natural fit. My first Forest Service job was on a trail crew in Girdwood, Alaska on the Chugach National Forest. I built gravel turnpikes, pounded spikes into boardwalk and yes, saw bears walk through our worksite. In the fall, I continued my microbiology degree. I planned to apply to pharmacy school. While I interned at a pharmacy, the pharmacist recommended I should apply to become a doctor or physician’s assistant. His job bored him. I did not waver and applied to pharmacy school.
As the swift fist of fate decided, I did not get into pharmacy school. My C’s in Organic Chemistry told them, and me, that I’d have better things to do. Though I did graduate with the Microbiology degree, I never took that job in a medical lab. I took a job on a wildland fire crew. The office could wait. I’d get to it...someday.
And yet? Fire fighting is fun. I loved it. But, by the end of my second season, I began wondering about my Nomex fire resistant clothes. They were unisex. Which is code for “made for men.” I saw the opportunity. I could make nomex clothing that fit better. Because I’m not the first woman in the forest service, nor am I going to be the last. Can’t I look competent if I feel competent? I felt like I was wearing hand-me-down boy clothes.
My boyfriend from the fire crew became my husband. We grew our shared knowledge into a forestry and tree care company. We had two kids. We expanded the business to work across four states, with thousands of private and public clients.
All the while I search (order, send back, repeat) for workwear that is nailing it. I think of my first summer with fire. And thinking of that summer always leads me back to the desire for my next adventure. I think, “Can the pants fit this time?” I continued to search for the right clothing to enable me to comfortably and professionally do my job. But did it matter?
As life does, it had other plans for me for me. My beloved brother, the one that understood me unlike anybody else does, received a colon cancer diagnosis at age 34. I rushed back to Vermont to be with him, to share his last months alive, to live in that muddy spring once again. He died by the time he reached 36, and left a wife and two small children.
Grief left me in a fog.
But it left me asking, too. What matters to me?
It matters to me how my clothes make me feel when morning hits and I slip them on for my next adventure. It matters to me that someone recognizes my problems are not trivial. They are a business opportunity. It matters to me that people without the privilege of growing up working outside can see themselves as leaders in the outdoor space - Agriculture, Earth Sciences, Biologist, Horticulturalist, Foresters, Trail Crew members, and on and on. We need to let them in when they knock on the door for a job.
What woman is saying “no” to their dream job because they don’t see themselves in the marketing, they don’t see themselves, quite literally wearing the pants.
We should look like the gender we want to look like and that includes outdoor work too. (Plus, Can we get a pocket that can fit a plus size iPhone up in here?!). Let’s design, source, and build clothes to reflect the bodies we have, the work we do, and the fun that follows us.
It took a long time to say yes to this idea. The time has come.
It’s time for us to follow careers that make us shine.
It’s time for us to Glow this place up.