Katherine Donnelly | 07.25.2018

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 aim 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 Nailah Blades.

Outdoor adventure has recently played a huge role in shaping this Woman In The Wild, and she has made it her mission to share her newfound love of nature with those around her while advocating for and working toward a more diverse and inclusive outdoors. Get the full scoop below.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Nailah Blades is.

Nailah Blades: Hello! I’m a coach and consultant and the founder of Color Outside, which is a travel and coaching company dedicated to helping women of color create passionate, joy-filled lives through outdoor adventure. I live in Salt Lake City, Utah, with my husband, and I am a mother to two tiny adventurers. I love hiking, swimming, laughing, reading and drinking good red wine!

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

Nailah Blades: I didn’t grow up as an outdoorsy person, but I’ve always been a try-anything-once type of person. It actually wasn’t until moving from Southern California to Utah that I really began to embrace the outdoorsy side of myself. At the time, I was experiencing a ton of huge transitions — being a new mom, moving to a new state, building my marketing business — and getting outside and exploring was what helped me to reconnect with myself at my core so that I could begin living a more vibrant life. So I’m relatively new to the outdoors, which just underscores my belief that the outdoors is for everyone and you don’t have to be a life-long outdoors person in order to enjoy it and benefit from it. You can start now, wherever you are.

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

Nailah Blades: Like many of the industries in our society, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of diversity and inclusion within the outdoor industry. It makes me proud that I can be one of the people working to make the outdoors more accessible to everyone and also demonstrate that we’re already out there in the wild, even if that’s not fully being represented just yet. I want my young daughter to grow up knowing that she belongs in any and every space she decides to be in. It’s tremendously important for women and girls, and especially for women and girls of color, to occupy space in places that have not been traditionally for them. And so I think about the legacy that I’m helping to make in my community just by being outside, being seen, and not shrinking.

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

Nailah Blades: The outdoors helped me to reconnect with my true self. Before becoming more outdoorsy, I was feeling unmoored. I had a young baby and had moved away from all of my friends and family. I was also working in a business that I built that was beginning to feel stressful and restrictive. Getting outdoors really helped me to slow down and listen to what my heart and gut was trying to tell me. It helped me to uncover the parts of me that were laying dormant so that I could feel happy and passionate again. It helped me reconnect with my body and show me that I was strong and capable and could do hard things. I pay it back by fighting for conservation efforts so that I can ensure that there is an outdoors to be had by future generations. I also share my story so that others can get out and have their own experience with the outdoors.

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 enthusiasts should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Nailah Blades: This is something that we should all be concerned about. There is no outdoor industry if we don’t make significant changes to the way we’re treating our public lands. I think that oftentimes people shy away from being an activist because they have a certain picture in their mind of what that means. But if outdoor enthusiasts don’t speak up and make some noise, then we run the risk of all of this disappearing, and soon. We can make a difference in all types of ways, whether it’s donating money to conservation and protection efforts, marching in protests, contacting our government representatives, or getting out and helping to clean up our lands and oceans.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Nailah Blades: I think that the words "adventurous" and "outdoorsy" vary for everyone. For some, adventurous might mean jumping out of an airplane, for others it might mean getting out on the hiking trail. For our purposes, adventurous means wanting to push yourself a little harder than you have before and being open to new experiences.

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

Nailah Blades: When I first started getting into the outdoor space, I was totally intimidated by the people who were out there doing things. I felt like those people were badasses and there was no way I could ever keep up with them. The outdoor industry, in my opinion, does a lot of marketing to the badass, which can make the outdoors feel like a super exclusive club. But as I started on my own personal journey with the outdoors, I realized that being a badass doesn’t necessarily mean that you can do the most extreme things but that instead you’re out there doing your own thing with courage and integrity and strength.

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

Nailah Blades: Jump in. Feet first.

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you?

Nailah Blades: It would be reflective of how our world truly is. Filled with people of all sizes, shapes, orientations, ethnicities, genders and abilities.

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

Nailah Blades: Chapstick! I only use Burt’s Bees, and I always have a lot of it on hand.

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? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Nailah Blades: I think it’s important to have women specific gear. We’re built in different ways than men, and our gear should reflect that so that we can feel comfortable when we’re outside. As a new mom to an infant, something I've been thinking a lot about is gear that makes it easier to breastfeed while out on the trail. There might be some brands out there doing that, but I haven’t found them yet. If it doesn’t exist yet, then I hope someone runs with the idea soon!

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

Nailah Blades: “Stay on your own mat.” Meaning that we’re all on our own journeys, and it doesn’t do us any good to compare ourselves to what someone else is doing. I find that it applies to all aspects of my life, whether it’s remembering not to compare my physical strength or endurance to someone else to not getting sucked into the compare and despair cycle that happens with social media.

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

Nailah Blades: Build the community that you need. When I first started out, I was really concerned about making sure that I could be all things to all people. But once I started just creating the community and brand that I needed but couldn’t find, things started to fall into place.

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?

Nailah Blades: I worked in social media marketing for a long time, so I always remind myself that most of it isn’t real — it’s just the highlight reel. Or if it is real, then it is only part of the story. I try not to get sucked into it too much. I also make sure that I’m enjoying the moment when I’m in the outdoors instead of thinking of all of the ways I should be posting on social media.

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

Nailah Blades: I’m working on building a travel collective for women of color that combines amazing adventure travel, transformational coaching and community. It’d be a year-long program, and the women involved would have built-in adventure buddies as well as support.

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

Nailah Blades: Jump in. Feet First: One woman’s journey of completely underestimating all of the hard things she’s ever done but somehow they work out anyway.

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

Nailah Blades: A human! Maybe from a different country so I can gain a different perspective

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Nailah Blades: If there’s something you’ve been thinking of doing and hesitating, go do it! It’ll probably be easier to get done than you think it is. And even if it’s hard, it’ll be well worth the effort.

Learn more about Nailah and her work with Color Outside online, on Facebook, and on the 'gram.


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