Up-and-coming women’s outdoor brand Hikerkind wants its products to fit into the everyday lives of its customers, and what they want is not a simple answer.
To help create a sense of community around the brand, Hikerkind hosts weekly hiking club meetups across the country as well as a range of events at its Brooklyn, New York studio that aren’t solely outdoor-focused.
“The women we’re speaking to are so multi-dimensional and so multifaceted that they want to make smart investments where they’re buying something that is not only for one activity,” said Allison Levy, co-founder at Hikerkind. “We really pride ourselves on being able to appeal to this consumer that doesn’t necessarily want to invest in only outdoor clothing, they want to have it for different parts of their life.”
Levy founded Hikerkind in 2020 in New York City with Chelsea Rizzo. She spoke with The Daily about big-picture trends in the industry, how holding events can be a useful tool in brand-building, and Hikerkind’s plans for expansion.
As a brand offering outdoor apparel by and for women, Hikerkind is well-positioned to understand what its core demographic is looking for.
“What we’re seeing is that the women coming to the brand have discovered hiking, they love hiking, but that’s not their entire lives,” Levy said. “They’re writers and mothers and artists and have a lot of different things they’re interested in.”
Prices for Hikerkind products range from $78-$188. Levy said the brand considers style as part of the function of its products, and they equally value fashion and form.
“Our gear functions and looks just as good in a city as it does on the trail,” she added.
Hikerkind doesn’t have any plans in the near future to add a men’s line to its product mix, as women are “currently underserved,” Levy said.
Levy and Rizzo founded Hikerkind after working in the luxury fashion industry for about 10 years. They’re both graduates of the Fashion Institute of Technology as well as hikers.
They decided to start their own brand after getting bored with what was available when they wanted to hit the trail.
“We were tired of wearing a ‘hiker costume,‘” Levy said. “The only options available were clothing that didn’t fit us well, didn’t perform well, and was in ‘girly colors’ like pink, purple, or teal. None of these options made us feel comfortable, confident, or prepared for hiking.”
Hiking Club As Tool
To cater to its core demographic, Hikerkind also hosts events such as a book swap, a drag show, and a flower-arranging event.
“Let’s all do these things together and build a community around that,” Levy said.
Hikerkind hosts a different event in its Brooklyn studio every third Thursday of the month, as well as a book swap on every third Sunday of the month.
The hiking clubs Hikerkind organizes, where they gather like-minded beginners and outdoors enthusiasts, help to develop that sense of belonging.
The club meets every Saturday in different locations, including the Seattle area, Southern California, the New York area, and a fourth location that varies.
Levy said they view the hiking club as a business tool to familiarize people with the brand. About 10% of its hiking club members shop with them, and they draw on the feedback from the club to help make business decisions.
“There’s this really amazing, circular, feedback loop of being able to hear from our customers and create really informed products,” Levy added.
People might come to the club via Instagram, then see Hikerkind products in action, and it works the other way, too. Hikerkind shoppers also join the hiking club.
“We really see this as a tool to build customer interest, but also build the community around it,” Levy said.
Social media also plays into their marketing strategy, but Levy doesn’t see it as the only driver of success.
Bigger Picture Trends
At this stage in the business, Hikerkind has been less affected by some of the broader negative trends the industry has seen, including softer consumer demand and inventory overhang.
“We’ve been on an upward trajectory,” Levy said. “It’s easier for a smaller brand to continue to see progress, because more and more people are finding out about us. We’re seeing more customers, more interest.”
Like other businesses in the industry, the brand is benefiting from the return of travel.
“A huge part of our business is people coming and saying, ‘I’m leaving on a trip to the Dolomites in a week,’” Levy said. “’I want to get some pieces to go hiking.’”
At their Brooklyn studio, customers will schedule appointments to get outfitted for a trip.
While some outdoor retailers have said people stocked up on gear during the pandemic so have slowed purchases this year, that is not the case at Hikerkind.
Some of her customers were new to the outdoors and tried hiking for the first time during the COVID-19 crisis, for example, and bought basic clothes and gear. Having decided they like the activity, they’re now looking for better options and coming to Hikerkind to invest in them.
“They’ve been hiking for the past two or three years. Now they’re going to invest in some hiking gear, some hiking clothing that they can have for a long time,” Levy said. “That way they can feel confident that what they’re wearing is going to perform and do all of things they need it to do on the trail.”
Levy mentioned that the participation data for outdoor activities shows continued growth.
“We’re seeing this trend of people continuing to engage in this activity, then also inviting other people to engage in the activity,” she said.
The brand is working with a few retailers across the country, including Seed People’s Market in California, where they have a pop-up installation in the store and run a hiking club through the business. They also have a pop-up installation at Field Theory in St. Louis, Missouri, among others.
Earlier this year, Ian VanDam, founder of Field Theory, mentioned Hikerkind as a good example of a brand that is intentional and thoughtful in its design.
“It feels really authentic,” VanDam said. “It’s really exciting to see an entrepreneur duo out in New York making crazy things happen.”
Until this point, Hikerkind has been focused on its direct-to-consumer distribution as well as in-person sales with its wholesale partners.
“With us hosting pop-ups with Field Theory and Seed People’s Market or other retailers, we saw such a huge response to in-person sales,” Levy said. “We see the traction. We know that people like to see and touch the clothing in person.”
That’s pushed the founders to expand into an omni-channel business strategy, including releasing fewer new products this year and instead doubling down on the pieces that are selling the best.
“We’re working on laying the groundwork to move into more channels of distribution,” Levy said.
On the wholesale front, the brand is looking for specialty retailers that align with their vision, have a well-curated selection, and don’t necessarily focus only on hiking and the outdoors, but fill a specific need and may be more fashion focused.
“Sometimes things can get lost on racks,” Levy said. “We’re taking a lot of intentionality with merchandising and being able to have a presence in the stores and not just being another sweater on a rack.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.