Katherine Donnelly | 07.03.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Gloria Hwang.

Long-time cyclist and now founder and CEO of her own business, this Women In The Wild is revolutionizing the way people approach head protection - one well-designed and comfortable helmet at a time. Get the full scoop below.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Gloria Hwang is.

Gloria Hwang: I’m the founder and CEO of Thousand. Prior to starting Thousand, I spent the previous five years at TOMS working in social impact.

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Gloria Hwang: Since I was a kid. From anything to camping to exploring my neighborhood. I always feel more myself whenever I’m outdoors.

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

Gloria Hwang: Y’know, I rarely think of myself as a “women in the outdoor industry.” I’ve designed products for a usage perspective, rather than a gender perspective. I will say though, one thing I’ve noticed about the outdoor industry is how supportive women are of other women. There’s a lot of camaraderie there; it’s not something I’ve always found in other industries, including biking, sometimes.

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Gloria Hwang: From the beginning, we wanted to find tangible ways to give back to the outdoors. We’re partnered with 1% For the Planet, and we give back a minimum of 1% of our sales every year to environmental initiatives. Beyond that, we’re part of a carbon offset program to offset our emissions from shipping containers, and I put in a lot of time to make sure we’re designing products that don’t create unnecessary harm to the planet.

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think outdoor brands - and outdoor enthusiasts, in general - should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Gloria Hwang: I think whenever you are in a position of influence, you have an obligation to leverage that influence to advocate for people or places that don’t have a voice. And that can look like a lot of things. It can be as bold as Patagonia’s #ThePresidentStoleYourLand campaign, but also can be as quiet REI’s sustainability goals it’s setting forth with all their suppliers. Advocacy takes a lot of forms, and they’re all important. I just think it’s important to find a way to create change in any way that feels authentic to you.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Gloria Hwang: From an environmental perspective, Sally Jewell has done awesome things in the policy and business world for our planet.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Gloria Hwang: Some weeks it’s climbing a new mountain or exploring a new country, but other weeks it’s walking around a neighborhood I don’t know, or waking up early for a morning surf.

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Gloria Hwang: Someone who’s not afraid to zig when everyone else is zagging.

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors?

Gloria Hwang: With a lot of luck, support, and unrelenting (physical, emotional, and mental) work!

OP: And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?

Gloria Hwang: To trust yourself and your perspective. And then to go get 'em. As a women, it’s a tough, because I think we’ve been taught that’s it’s culturally more appropriate to be led than to lead. So breaking that limiting belief is the first step.

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (sexuality, gender identification, etc.), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Gloria Hwang: For me, it’s just having a different perspective and sharing that perspective. And because we’re all sharing our unique perspectives, people who didn’t feel represented 5 to 10 years ago are looking into the world and outdoor industry and saying, “Hey that looks a lot like me," and that’s killer. It’s building inclusiveness. And that’s awesome.

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Gloria Hwang: If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies, such as Outdoor Project, do better to help get us there?

Gloria Hwang: That the outdoors is for everyone. You don’t have to hike Mount Whitney or Kili to be an outdoor enthusiast. Just get outside, and find ways to give back!

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?

Gloria Hwang: A few podcasts (or audiobooks) downloaded and in queue.

OP: Let’s talk gear - what are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Gloria Hwang: Yowza, what a question. There’s a phrase in the bike and outdoor industry, called “pink it and shrink it." It's when companies just decide to make smaller and traditionally feminine colors to sell product to women. And that phrase and methodology feels really limiting to me.

My philosophy is to just make high quality product for everyone regardless of gender. That being said, I’d love to change/widen my perspective on this one. If you guys know any kickass brands making product specifically for women, let me know!  

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received, and what’s the story behind it?

Gloria Hwang: It’s a lonnnnggg story, where I ended up booking a one way ticket to Asia, living at our factory for two months, and spending five figures to fix a mistake, but trust your gut. Deep down you always know the right thing to do.

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with Thousand Helmets, what would it be?

Gloria Hwang: For me, it was to trust myself. The funny thing about entrepreneurship is that the hardest part isn't even the numbers, the network, or the strategy. It's really about learning to trust your mission and vision and staying focused when there are so many competing priorities and voices.

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media, and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Gloria Hwang: I’m kind of a Stone Age holdout on this one, but I don’t have active personal or professional social accounts. I understand that it’s important to create a personal brand for yourself-- especially as a women trying to lead in a male dominated industry, but gender or company roles aside, having an online version of myself, isn’t something that I can see making me happy. So I’ve kinda abstained. I’ve always been more of a sit down face-to-face type of person.

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Gloria Hwang: Building best-in-class products to get more people riding!

OP: The title of your autobiography would be...

Gloria Hwang: Always trying.

OP: In your next life, you will come back as...

Gloria Hwang: A sea lion. Fingers crossed.

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows.

Gloria Hwang: But what’s life without a little mystery?

Learn more about Gloria and her work with Thousand Helmets online, on Facebook, and on Instagram.


Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.