Outdoor spaces are my home. They nurture me, teach me, and calm me when I feel down. The richness of the experiences I have in nature shows me how to move, breathe, and be. We all belong in nature, and if our minds quiet down for long enough, we will find that nature is not all scary or something to be conquered. It is a part of us. We are human, we are animal, and we are part of the earth.
I didn’t always think this way. I didn’t grow up close to nature, though my family had taken me camping a handful of times as a child. I wasn’t too fond of camping back then, and had a lot more fun reading books or painting. I learned to love the outdoors as an adult, largely thanks to rock climbing. For me, climbing started indoors, but it eventually took me to places I perhaps otherwise never would have visited or even known existed. Small towns in the Sierra’s, the backcountry, and rural Wyoming all became vivid memories that I would delight in over and over again. Climbing outdoors helped me rebuild my connection with nature. Revisiting the same areas and seeing how they changed over time, or seeing how different the geology was from California to Utah all showed me how wonderful, weird, and unexpected Mother Nature could be.
My relationship with nature has definitely changed over time. Years ago, I was a motivated backpacker and climber who really craved the endorphin hits from weekends spent outdoors, and I’d drive myself to chronic injury trying to climb my hardest all the time. Now, at 35 years old, I prefer a more balanced approach. I try to get outside at least once a day, even if that means taking time off from work. Bit by bit, I’ve restructured my life so that I could live in a way I felt good about. I used to work forty hour weeks, work on my own freelance or art projects at night, and try my best to make time for the climbing gym and for climbing trips. But I was burnt out, and the lifestyle was unsustainable. My job was really stressful, and I could see my health degrading the more I worked at my desk.
In 2015, I quit my job as a graphic designer to set out on my own. I had been creating art about life and climbing for local art shows and I had an idea for a rock climbing apparel brand. I wanted to create a brand that was inclusive and featured fun and insightful designs that weren’t about being strong or the best. I wanted to capture the spirit and feeling of climbing — taking in the cool air after a long day of climbing, sore fingers, and high fiving your friends after sending your project. I called that brand Dynamite Starfish. Dynamite Starfish is the name of a climbing move where all your limbs are outstretched, and you are trying desperately for upwards momentum. I thought it was the perfect metaphor for climbing and the way I had lived my life. It was also a reminder to myself that sometimes life is silly, and even though you may feel awkward when you start something new, you’ll eventually get through it.
Empowered by my new remote work capabilities, I traveled around to climb, freelancing and creating art about the places I climbed at. Whenever I could, I’d take time off and go on a road trip to see a new place and get inspired for more art. For five years, I tabled at events and festivals and met people from all around the world. I brought my humble tees with me and hoped that climbers would like them enough to wear them. In these climbing towns, I often found hyperlocal organizations that did conservation work on the ground. I’d make art to honor that place, screen print my art on tees and donate some of the profits from any sales to those very organizations. I felt like it was my responsibility to give back to these organizations if I was going to make any money by making climbing tees. My first two t-shirt designs were in honor of Bishop, CA and Joshua Tree, CA. I do very few place based designs now, but hope to bring those back someday if I can.
Operating my first startup, Dynamite Starfish has been an impactful and important journey for me. Not only have I been able to express my unique creative voice in the world of rock climbing, I have also embarked on an unforgettable journey of self discovery. Having a business pushes the limits of your communication skills, confidence, and ability to create a worthy product. I don’t think it's for everyone, but it is a great way to really test yourself. It’s allowed me to learn so much about myself and the world around me, and has connected me to some really amazing people.
One of those amazing people is Austin Smith, who is now collaborating with me on a limited edition series called Exist Ethically. Austin is a climbing guide that reached out to me about wanting to work together, and after some lengthy conversations about everything from book recommendations to ethics to climbing techniques, we decided to design a tee together. Exist Ethically is inspired by practices like Leave No Trace that remind us to minimize our impact outdoors, but also includes a personal and social element that asks climbers and outdoor enthusiasts how we treat ourselves, our fellow humans, and our environment. We believe these pillars are all connected, and we can't ignore any of them. Exist Ethically is also a community effort — we are listening to our community and asking them what Exist Ethically means to them. We share the responses so our community can see the diversity of perspectives that are out there. We’re also offering a limited edition series of Exist Ethically tees, tanks, and long sleeves that are printed on 100% recycled materials. The tee will be offered until September 19, after which we will print only what has been ordered. That way, we won’t have any wasted tees or space used up for inventory.
To find out more about Exist Ethically, you can see what we’re up to at https://dynamitestarfish.com/pages/exist-ethically. Please write a comment on our blog post or find us on Instagram @dynamitestarfish to tell us what Exist Ethically means to you! Your responses will be shared with our community, and you’ll also be entered in a giveaway to win a free Exist Ethically tee if you do. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org to participate or to chat with me any time.
Thank you so much for joining me on this journey, and I hope you’ll keep up with my upcoming projects!