Chelsea Rizzo and Allison Levy on Community, Representation, and Reimagining Women’s Hiking Gear
Chelsea Rizzo and Allison Levy set out to reimagine women's hiking gear as sustainable and durable but also as embodying the feeling of authenticity that they have while hiking. So, they founded Hikerkind.
The signature piece from their first capsule was a performance pullover made in New York City from Polartec Power Air called Midlayer_01. Not only is the material 92% recycled, but many design choices were made to enhance the piece's longevity. Buttons, for example, are functional and easy to replace - even on the trail.
But Hikerkind is more than a clothing brand. With the Hikerkind Hike Club, Chelsea and Allison lead group hikes in the greater New York City area to bring people together who share a common interest in the outdoors.
As we wait eagerly for their upcoming collection, we spoke with Chelsea and Allison about their love of outdoor spaces, inspirations behind their gear, and representation within the outdoor industry.
Could you talk about growing up and your relationship with the natural world when you were younger?
CR: I haven’t always been into the outdoors, in the traditional sense. I didn’t grow up camping or hiking although some of my clearest memories from childhood involve nature. Picking blueberries in the yard from a neighboring overgrown tree with my brother, laying on the roof of the family van stargazing with a friend, going on snow walks with my mom. A very informative summer was spent running around a small town off the coast of Long Island without shoes on. For a long time, I chased the feeling from that summer, of being so comfortable with yourself and your natural surroundings that you become completely present. I found it again thru-hiking the Colorado Trail.
AL: Outdoor recreation has always been a part of my life. I grew up going on family hiking and skiing vacations. I have been privileged enough to hike the Canadian Rockies, the Cinque Terra, Iceland, Cornwall, the list can go on. I started skiing when I was 9 and I have gone almost every winter season since. I feel the most at peace in nature. There is nothing more freeing than skiing down a mountain on fresh powder or pushing yourself up to the summit of that next peak. I would never have classified myself as outdoorsy in the traditional sense because I was always under the impression you had to dress a certain way or lead a certain life in order to fit into the mold, but as I got older I understood that life doesn’t need to be so one dimensional. I can love the outdoors and still want to get my nails done.
Finding “your thing” is such a wonderful experience. Was there a moment when you knew hiking was your thing? What does that feeling mean to you?
CR: I had been working in fashion since graduating from FIT and began feeling like a shell of myself, I had to make a change. I thought when was the last time I felt truly happy and that was hiking in the Catskills. I set out to explore that feeling. I was looking for something to prove to myself, I am capable of more than steaming a Celine shirt and so “my thing” became hiking. Feeling like I’ve found “my thing” brings my restless brain a sense of peace which, until I’d found it, I’d never known was possible for me. The feeling is more than a feeling, it’s a gateway to a way of being.
AL: The first time I felt like ‘this is something I love to do’ was when I was 18. I was on a school trip and we had been hiking and camping for the past 7 days. It was the last mile of what was probably a 15-mile day and our guide said ‘if you want to run the last mile go for it and I just started to run. I remember feeling so alive, so present, and so happy to be where I was. It was at that moment I knew I wanted to hike as often as I could, to capture that feeling over and over again.
On of the barriers people face when getting into hiking is the way we define "the outdoors" and "nature." You've talked about hikes in New York City. What is a hike according to Hikerkind?
CR: A hike is setting out with a plan to put one foot in front of the other.
What was the idea behind the Hikerkind Hike Club? Could you talk about what the Hikerkind Hike Club is now?
AL: The original intention with Hikerkind Hike Club was to be the friends who always wanted to go for a hike. When we launched last spring we offered a reliable schedule of recurring hikes and what we found was that the time spent getting to know each other, was what kept people joining week after week. It’s difficult to make friends as an adult outside of work or your already existing friend groups, and Hikerkind Hike Club provides you the opportunity to meet new people that you already have something in common with that under any other circumstance you probably wouldn’t have met.
CR: I must admit, a small part of me was trying to recreate the sense of community I found on the Colorado Trail if even just a little because it’s always the shared experiences that I remember most. Hiking in NYC isn’t as front-facing as in other cities. It’s challenging to find a community here, and the pandemic exacerbated the situation. With Hike Club we wanted to bring people together at a time when connection is what we were all looking for.
You often introduce the Hike Club as being women-led. Could you talk about why it is so important to you to make that distinction?
CR: It’s important for us, as women, to create space for other women. We wanted Hike Club to encourage women to come out on their own, or with their partners and know either way there would be a community of like-minded hikers to meet them on trail. The outdoors are for everyone.
Are there memories from your group hikes last year that embody what the Hikerkind Hike Club seeks to provide to people?
AL: So many memories! Like playing two truths and a lie at the Mt. Beacon fire tower and learning about one another through funny anecdotes from each other's lives. Or the TikTok we filmed that documented how the club grew from a small group of 8 to over 65 on our last hike. The most vivid memories involve watching a group of women start out as internet strangers and after spending the day hiking together, board the train home as new friends.
What was the impetus for starting to make women’s hiking gear? Was there a moment you knew you really wanted to realize this idea of a women’s hiking gear company?
AL: Hikerkind was founded out of a mutual frustration Chelsea and I shared. We didn’t feel that we looked like ourselves in the place where we felt the most like ourselves. We wanted to create gear that fit us well, that performed well and wasn’t in pink, purple, or teal. During quarantine, with Chelsea’s PCT attempt canceled and the fashion industry at a standstill, we started to daydream about taking an idea we had previously discussed more seriously. Starting Hikerkind we feel, for the first time, we are exactly where we are meant to be and with that feeling guiding us in October 2020 we created a business plan for what is now Hikerkind. Of course, not in any way as easily as that just sounded, but we’ll save the long version for another time.
When we talk about Hikerkind gear, you talk about gear that imparts confidence on the wearer/user. It sounds like Hikerkind gear seeks to address more than physical obstacles. What greater purpose does Hikerkind gear serve?
CR: You know that feeling when you put something on, and you immediately feel secure, powerful, and ready? That’s the motivation behind Hikerkind gear, to evoke that feeling before you’ve even set out for the day. We want women to feel confident and prepared on trail knowing that the gear they are wearing is designed for them and the exact activity they are doing. We believe that when you look good, you feel good and when you feel good, you perform with confidence.
What are major shifts that you’d like to see in the outdoor industry? How do you see Hikerkind as a solution to those changes?
AL: A shift in the outdoor industry that is already starting to happen, is towards equity and inclusion. There need to be more voices represented and not just on social media but as part of the big conversations amongst the people making the big decisions. While all our efforts with Hikerkind and Hikerkind Hike Club break down barriers of entry for women they aren’t a solution but one small part of the movement towards change. Founders like Raquel from Alpine Parrot, Jen and Liv from Allmansright, Jade, Brandon and Rhea from Ita Leisure, Eve from Hike Clerb, and so many more that we have yet to meet officially are pushing the industry to reflect the outdoor community in actuality not as how it’s been defined, by others, for so long.
What are three other women-run brands/groups in or adjacent to the outdoor world that people should know about?
Explore Hikerkind here.
Photographer: Jonathan Tasker / Imprimere