Living Her Adventure is a new blog series by Ambassador Justine Mulliez that profiles women in and beyond the outdoor industry who are living their fullest lives and pushing their limits. Our first installment features Kerstin Stock of One Wild.
Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up and the role the outdoors played in your youth?
I grew up in Connecticut with my younger brother and our parents. In the 60s, my father built a house on an island by hand that had no power and was only reachable by boat. So when I was born, in June, I came home from the hospital by boat with my mom and dad to that home. We spent each of our summers there, even up until last year, fishing, swimming, water skiing, and camping. There was no phone, no power. When you woke up, you’d go outside, and so my brother and I grew up in the woods and on the water.
Were you ever educated that you didn’t belong outdoors?
I wasn’t. I know a lot of women grew up differently but there’s something about having a brother and growing up being treated the same as him that is important. My dad was a wonderful man and an amazing dad and was a little old school. One time he did tell me that girls go to college to meet their husbands, so there was definitely an edge of having to work harder and prove myself more, which is probably why I ended up running my own business, proving that I’m capable of it.
What is the path that ultimately led to One Wild?
I went to college at the Rhode Island School of Design. I was always artistic as a child and had some mentors in high school that really pushed me on an art path. I received a BFA in Film from RISD and went on to move to New York City where I joined local camera union 600 and worked on feature films. After about two years, I realized that it was really not for me. I think that, again, I was working extra hard at it. As a girl in that environment, you were expected to work harder and there really was no place for weakness because it was a very male driven environment. I committed to a change in lifestyle so I taught myself some computer programs and got a job with Family.com which was owned by Disney during the dot.com boom. I had become the art department manager there when Disney laid everyone off since they were moving their offices to LA.
I had never lived out West and since my dad lived in Wyoming, I used the severance package from Disney to move to Jackson Hole and started my greeting card business. Being in Jackson Hole, with the Western culture everywhere, I started drawing cowgirls which weren’t being depicted how I saw them: A strong and feminine character, who was doing everything the cowboys could do. My greeting card company, Wyo-Horse, is based on that, and eventually transformed into a western jewelry line. That lasted 15 years, and it still going. After 15 years of successfully importing jewelry – in January of this year, we launched One Wild. It was was launched out of a place of wanting to give back, to make something in the USA, and to have a creative outlet for myself to design and use some of my illustrations. Our products are manufactured here in Denver, CO. We started with leather earrings and now do leather necklaces as well and we’ve partnered with charitable organizations that really support girls, in the outdoors and in the classroom.
I chose to work with these organizations because from a business standpoint, people are more connected and interested in purchasing products with a story and a message that give back. The reason I chose girls is because of the inequality in our culture in and most of the world and the patriarchal oppression that exists. I also have a daughter who is 4 and I’m hoping for a better world tomorrow than what I had, than what we have right now. I had a lot of opportunities in my life; I feel like I’ve really led a blessed life, and have had ample opportunities to travel, to go to an amazing college, to ski, and do all these others things that come with privilege. It’s not that way for everyone. And I know my struggles in the workplace, socially, and emotionally and coming from a life full of opportunities, being able to give girls more opportunities in really fulfilling.
Do you have examples of strong women in your life that influenced you?
We often joke that my daughter, even at 2 and 3, is an amazing project manager. She’s so good at telling people what to do and when to do it; she’s very communicative. The joke, of course, is that she gets it from me and my mom, her grandmother. It’s like she didn’t really have a choice as to whether or not to be a strong woman. My mom was born in the 40s, grew up in the 70s (came of age in the 60s and 70s), was one of the women who got divorced in the 80s, and it’s like she is a product of the changes of the 70s. She was a product of her time, and to be able to live in a time where I can have a child by choice, where I can own my own business and support myself and make my own decisions without ownership of father or husband, is really incredible. That said, I’ve always had tons of strong women around me.
What role do the outdoors play in your life now?
I moved out West to Jackson Hole and a few years later I moved to down to Colorado and was living in the mountains here in a town called Salida, Colorado which is not in Summit County. It’s a great town full of artists, forward thinkers who don’t drive their cars for months at a time; they ride their bikes everywhere. There’s a huge mountain biking community, a huge river community; I got very into the MTB and skiing communities, spending winters skiing at Monarch Mountain and summers on my mountain bike. I’ve been on a couple 24hr mountain bike competitions with teams of women and co-ed teams.
I think it really centers us to be connected to the environment and the land and I think that when we’re not, it brings anxiety, depression, and disconnect. I’ve seen that as the traffic in Denver has gotten so much worse in Denver, how much more edgy and anxious I get, the more time I spend in my car.
The experience of doing endurance races, inspired me when I was pregnant with my daughter. To know that your limits aren’t where you thought they were and to know what you’re capable of, as someone who doesn’t even think they can break pace into a run or someone who doesn’t think they can bike in the dark, your limits are not where you think they are and it pays off to learn that.
What wisdom have you gotten as an adult that you wish you had known as a teenager?
I think that’s a good one: that your limits are never where you think they are, ever. That you’re capable of so much more. The other thing that I, even in my 40s, am really tapping into is: you’re in control. I’m in control. There are all these things that happen in our lives, whether it’s the career we’ve chosen, the job we’re in, the marriage we’re in, we feel like “this is the path I’m on and I can’t do anything about it”. And we think “What would I do then, if I chose something different?” For me, you’re in charge, you’re in control. Obviously, when you’re a victim, you’re a victim, 100%. But there are a lot of self-imposed cages that we have the power to change and break out from. We’re seeing that as a society, we’re pushing back against cages that we’ve been comfortable with for a while. More people are speaking up and pushing back because we do control our own ‘everyday’.
What would you tell a woman who wants to go out on her own?
I’m the biggest naysayer because it’s hard. It’s really hard. It’s not for everybody, man or woman. It’s hard to juggle finances, inventory, sales, employees; it’s not easy and I would encourage people to find good partnerships, to find people to help you. I’ve found a great match with SCORE (Service Corp Of Retired Executives.)
Sometimes, you need the support of someone with more experience than you.
They’re primarily older white men who have knowledge to share and hopefully, one day that will be a group of retired woman of all races and ages who help other women and men run their businesses. I have an outstanding match who’s been an amazing mentor with all this knowledge. Sometimes, you need the support of someone with more experience than you.
What does success look like for One Wild?
Hopefully awareness for the charitable partners that I have chosen will grow as One Wild grows. I really enjoy doing retail shows where I set it up so that people can buy directly from me in a pop up environment and I always hand them back a dollar. They always look at me confused and I explain that it’s for the 3 jars representing Girls Inc, Girls on the Run, and The Cairn Project. Then I get to tell them what each group is. Some have more notoriety and recognition than others but when I get to tell them what each organization does, it’s really exciting for me. In addition to being able to support myself and my family, I love being able to support amazing work. I just keep thinking of when my daughter is my age in 35 years and what a huge difference all of this work is going to make. All this money, effort, and awareness, how is it going to change that world? Thirty years from now, when these 10 and under girls, how will the work that we’ve done change their outcome?
In March 2019, Ambassador Justine Mulliez set out to ski and splitboard the 33-mile Crater Lake Rim Route and find some extra elevation and good lines along the way. Read more Justine’s experience on her blog, Just A Wild Thought.