Boundless Mission: In Conversation with Evelynn Escobar-Thomas

vor 1 Jahr

The activist talks about the power of nature, the transformative act of hiking, about her mission to fight for equity for women of color, and why the feminine side of the otherwise hyper-masculine street & outdoor world should not necessarily be pink and girly.

Born and raised in Northern Virginia to a Guatemalan mom, Evelynn moved to LA to follow her creative path as a social activist, model and – above all – as the founder of Hike Clerb, a physical (now turning digital) hiking club that encourages women from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and upbringings to reclaim their space amongst nature, and to redefine the image of what an outdoorsy person looks like. It is a space that has its roots in inclusivity and accessibility and equips women of color with the tools, education, and resources they need to collectively heal in nature. Driven by the mission to get more black and brown women outdoors and hiking, to make them understand the healing power of nature that the 29-year-old herself discovered later in her own life, she offers new perspectives and creates a strong, cultural statement .

The history of the exclusion of people of color from the outside space has a long history that is still messing up the United States, all leading back to the uprooting of Indigenous people from their land, to the slavery era where outdoor spaces were turned into places of trauma, danger and violence for BIPOC. It wasn’t until the late 1940s that one of the national parks in Virginia was finally integrated. So it is only natural that the generations following had to be taught and re-educated, understanding that the outdoor space is for everyone, and not only for white people. Although there is both a conversation and attempt to diversify the outdoors, there is not much that the industry has done so far to support this essential movement.

The former First Lady White house intern dedicates herself not only to social justice. A passion for streetwear and lifestyle has been part of her life for a while, especially when working as a Social Media Manager at the streetwear brand Undefeated Inc. It is no wonder that also Nike ACG, the sportswear brand’s outdoor line, is in love with her and started collaborating. For the presentation of the new ACG Holiday 2020, Nike organized a virtual field trip with design director Nur Abbas and Evelynn Escobar-Thomas, presenting her very own vision.For Fräulein Magazine, the activist talks about the power of nature, the transformative act of hiking, about her mission to fight for equity for women of color, and why the feminine side of the otherwise hyper-masculine street & outdoor world should not necessarily be pink and girly.

Sina Braetz: Tell us a little bit about your background. What do you particularly remember of your childhood? What are your best and your worst memories?

Evelynn Escobar-Thomas: I grew up in a multicultural household in Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington DC. Being a multiracial Black kid, I did not grow up going on camping trips or hiking trips, but obviously I sought that out for myself as I got older.

What kind role did nature play in your life growing up?

I grew up playing outside like most kids and seeking nature as I grew older and closer to it, in terms of access. It was my relationship with hiking that inspired me to move to Los Angeles.

What was your first major striking experience of „discovering nature“ and feeling a true connection to this planet?

I would say visiting my first National Parks- Zion and the Grand Canyon- when I was in my early twenties. To say I was awestruck is to say the least.

How does this „connection“ feel to you today? What does nature mean to you today?

Nature is my biggest reset and a regular reservoir of energy that I tap into when I’m feeling depleted, burnt out, or simply in need of inspiration. It has opened my eyes to new perspectives and reaffirmed how interconnected everything really is.

When did you do your first real hiking experience and where was it? How did it change you?

I would say my toughest challenge to date was hiking up Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. It truly pushed me to my limits in every way but it was also such a great reminder that I truly can accomplish anything I set my mind to.

Have you hiked in Europe?

I actually have not hiked in Europe yet! I visited for the first time earlier this year just before everything went into lockdown. I hope to return and hike once it’s safe to do so!

What is your dream destination for a hiking / mountaineering trip?

I would love to summit Mount Kilimanjaro and hope to realize that dream in the near future!

The best thing about exploring nature in the US versus in Europe?

In the US, we very much have a road trip culture, which has only gotten even more popular because of the quarantine. Going across the country and taking in all the sights and sounds is a common bucket list item here.

Do people undervalue the power of hiking?

I think people do overlook hiking for how transformative of an act it can be. At the end of the day, most hiking is just a walk in a natural environment, but that doesn’t minimize the effects it has on your physical and mental health.

Do you observe a bigger interest within people for nature, now being challenged with our pandemic?

Absolutely! Now that it’s one of the few safe things we are allowed to do, you see more and more people turning to nature.

In terms of clothing: what would you recommend a „hiking beginner“ to wear?

I always recommend dressing for function, so whether that’s cargo shorts with tons of pockets or performance shirts etc. It’s about knowing what you need to comfortably accomplish your hike.

What are your thoughts on functionwear for women? Do you feel we need a more unisex approach? 

100%! I find myself often wearing men’s cuts, especially when it comes to pants and tees. I personally like the loose and comfort of men’s clothing in a size that fits me. That’s my general rule of thumb across the board from functionwear to streetwear.

When and why did you found HIKE CLERB? What is your mission behind?

I began Hike Clerb in 2017 as a way to get women of color seen, represented, and supported in the outdoors. Our mission is to equip women of color with the tools, education, and resources they need to collectively heal in nature.

What was the most unexpected experience you’ve had with HIKE CLERB?

I think just seeing how it has organically grown has really taken me by surprise. When I formed the group it was simply out of a place of passion and necessity. To see it take off the way it has, has been amazing.

Why are the freest places of our countries, the outdoors, not really free and accessible for everyone, particularly WOC? How can we reclaim these spaces as inclusive for everyone and not just a privileged few?

One issue that we face in this country that is truly a global issue, is that colonialism has really created such a mess in terms of land rights etc. We in the United States exist on stolen land and the systems we have in place were not made for us, people of color, to be supported by. Showing up for ourselves in these spaces that were created under a white privileged lens and reclaiming that land, so to speak, helps us to reconnect and break these stereotypes. 

Who can join the HIKE CLERB?

Anyone who is aligned with our mission to center women of color in nature is welcome to join Hike Clerb!

How are you dealing with the circumstances and limitations caused by COVID, when it comes to HIKE CLERB events now?

We are implementing social distancing protocols, like limiting the amount of people we have gather. As well as using our platform to educate and facilitate conversations in our community .

When and how did you start to collaborate with NIKE ACG?

I began collaborating with ACG for Holiday 2020, but I have been in touch with the team for quite some time. Whether it was the work I was doing with Hike Clerb or as my last role as Social Media Manager at Undefeated, I’ve been in touch with the team for quite some time.

What do you like most about NIKE ACG?

I love that it is a bridge from the outdoor centric world to the everyday kid who cares about shoes, clothes, etc. It offers a range of items from super technical gear to also more casual light wear. I love that it is a brand that reinforces how multifaceted we are and can be.

What is your favorite piece from the new Nike ACG Holidy 2020 collection?

I absolutely love the Mountain Fly’s. They are my favorite all-around hiking boot.

Since its launch, Fraeulein magazine’s mission has always been to support smart, bold, and talented women who contribute in a particular way to make this world a better place. No matter which field.   How would you describe your very own mission? And what are your biggest wishes and dreams?

My mission is to be a champion of representation and equity for women of color. To help lift and open up doors for other women of color and to breakdown the limitations that exist to hold us back. My biggest wish and dream is to leave my mark on this world for doing just that.

What would be your message to all women?

That we are boundless and have the potential to succeed, create, and exist in any space we want to. As long as we lead with authenticity and passion, there is no stopping us!

Interview by Sina Braetz
You can find more info on Hike Clerb here
And check out the new Nike ACG collection here

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