Our series on Outdoor Allies profiles rad outdoor advocates and their approaches to protecting public lands. Jen Taylor is Brand Manager and Creative Director at Mountain Khakis, and a certified badass on the trail and in the world of advocacy. Here, Jen shares her philosophy of being rooted and fearless in both her advocacy work and her outdoor pursuits.
Tell us a little bit about what you like to do outside.
I’m a dirt girl. Single track is my favorite place, and mountain biking is where my spirit soars. I think of the trail as the place where everything detangles.
Trail running is probably what I do more often out of necessity and soul recalibration. Some of my clearest thoughts come when I’m running. My motorcycle is where it all comes together. My helmet becomes an echo chamber of what I need to hear in myself. I also love to telemark. I’m a down low knee banger.
What led you to your work at Mountain Khakis?
I went to University of Denver, where I studied environmental science and wasn’t much into business. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family - my grandfather had dozens of patents to his name, and he was an incredible person in the age of necessity and creativity. I started an auto detailing business before I could drive and by my senior year I had an employee. I ran the business through college and moved it to Telluride while I raced the NORBA mountain bike race circuit. As much as I thought I was avoiding business, I had it in my blood all along.
I worked in the cycling industry for a while, and then for a company that made outerwear. As a full-on tomboy, I’d never thought of touching a sewing machine growing up, but I moved to Grand Junction and this company hired me to be their apprentice. Within a year I was running their production facility. Eventually, my sisters and I bought the company and re-launched it as Mountain Sprouts. We were one of the first brands to focus on outdoor apparel for kids. We were rooted in a philosophy of trying to get more kids outside.
In 2003, Mountain Khakis came into the outdoor industry and in 2006, we sold Mountain Sprouts to Mountain Khakis. When the bottom fell out of the market, we made the difficult decision to shut down the kids’ division and I moved into Marketing & PR at Mountain Khakis.
Mountain Khakis has been impressively involved in public lands advocacy. What is your general philosophy around advocacy work as a brand?
I’ve always been involved in community nonprofits, and I’ve always thought you should run a business like a nonprofit, and a nonprofit like a business. You have to know your mission and your purpose.
At Mountain Khakis, we started the MK Fund.
We focus on the 50 or so nonprofits in the MK Fund, many of which are grassroots. When we think about grassroots organizations within our communities, they are often the thankless ones getting shit done. Instead of pumping money into huge nonprofits and barely making a scratch, we like to find the passion driven, small organizations that might not be on the radar of huge brands. We like hanging with the real people, and being part of the real stories.
We make apparel but what’s our purpose in this industry? We have a responsibility to give back. This is our platform to do good. And why should we? Because it’s our legacy.
What are the advocacy issues that you’re most invested in right now?
Access to public lands is the current key issue for us as a company. When the whole privatizing public lands issue hit, we started having conversations about whether this was really a threat. Conservation Colorado got Mountain Khakis involved in those conversations and helped us to leverage a voice on behalf of our brand to speak out about keeping public lands in public hands.
That started a dialogue in our company over the years about how we wanted to have an effect. Ross [Saldarini, Mountain Khakis’ President] was nominated to the OIA’s Recreational Advisory Council (he’s now chair) and he put together a committee to advocate for an outdoor recreation office in North Carolina. It was approved just as we were coming to Outdoor Retailer this summer. We are proud to be involved and use our voice.
What do you wish other brands knew about getting involved in advocacy?
If Mountain Khakis can have a voice at the table, then there are no excuses for other brands not to be involved. We should all understand the issues and policies that regulate our industry and make sure we’re involved. Our world doesn’t begin and end at Outdoor Retailer – we have the opportunity to work globally. The Outdoor Industry Association launched the campaign, “Together We Are a Force” and we are thankful to be a small part in banding together the efforts to engage.
Favorite MK product: The Genevieve Jean, it’s a rockstar.
Next destination on your bucket list: My next destination will be Indonesia, by myself for some quiet time.
Outdoor skill you wish you had: I’m not a big climber, I wish I was more bent that way.