Wow, that was fast! Our third year in business is now behind us, and as we look ahead to a whole new decade, it’s good for us to reflect on the highs and lows of the past year, and everything we’ve learned. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t emotional at times, that there weren’t times we wanted to give up. I’m sure a great many of us are happy to have 2019 in our rear view mirror, and are looking to find new reason to hope in 2020! That being said, we do our best growth through facing challenges and coming out the other side with renewed resolve. We spend most of our lives trying to avoid pain – who wants it?! But pain is a teacher, and it has its purpose if we trust enough in the big picture, and then learn to lean in.
Barefoot Eco Outfitters was founded on pain. Struggle, heartache and loss can lay you flat, and then inspire intense gratitude. As a serious empath, my way of experiencing life is with the volume turned up full blast. I have learned a lot about myself in recent years – why it is I prefer the solitude of nature and the freedom of space, why crowds of people can be exhausting for me, and why one sad news story can set me back for weeks.
Extreme empathy can definitely make life challenging, and though I may be frustrated by how my brain processes experiences and information, I have also come to see it as a superpower. I was born this way, and though I sometimes hate how acutely my heart can hurt, I can also look back with some amazement at how pain has never leveled me; rather it has always pushed me to want to do better and make a difference. Somehow, it has made me feel that I can.
Our desire to protect and preserve our wild places and waters is an act of supreme gratitude for the safety, refuge and restoration my children and I received in the embrace of the evergreens, the protective benevolence of the mountain sentinels and the sacred blessings of the blustery ocean winds. My connection to nature is in a word, spiritual, and for me, everything is alive; in it’s perfect order, there is a harmony and joy inherent in the lifeblood of our flora and fauna. I say all this because one trait of extreme empathy is the need for authenticity, and in growing this business, I have found it increasingly hard to toe certain lines.
In my life, I have been betrayed by powers that be and lost faith in institutions. I have little patience for trying to have it both ways. My daughter/business partner is cut from the same cloth and we have walked this road as a family; for better or for worse, our life experience has helped shape our attitudes and our mission. So what does that mean?
We have been proud to partner with various organizations over the past several years and have enjoyed volunteering our time and designating them as recipients of the donation money we set aside from each purchase made of our apparel. This is a point of great pride with us! But also, it has presented us with situations that may not feel authentic to our mission. For example, we are lovers of the great outdoors, but to be clear, we are not supporters of hunting and fishing. For us, it’s hard to reconcile celebrating or appreciating the beauty of nature and its wildlife and then killing it for sport. With few exceptions, it is far past the time that these activities are necessary for survival. I understand how controversial this statement is, but speaking personally, I do not understand how you can profess to love something and then seek, for your own enjoyment, to cause it suffering, take it from its home, end its time on earth. In our commitment to being as transparent and authentic as possible, this is our truth.
The thing is, environmental conservation organizations often depend on support from many diverse interest groups. It’s not lost on us that successful outcomes come from collaboration and compromise. Healthy dialogue and consideration of other points of view is respectful and important. But what if you just can’t justify the collaborations? What if they seem counter-intuitive, counterproductive or are just painful to your soul? What if you feel like the time has passed to be able to have it both ways? It does not make sense to us for an organization dedicated to preserving our waterways and marine wildlife to have a seafood feast for their gala fundraiser. We have overfished and our oceans are struggling; in our opinion this is simply irresponsible as a message. Partnering with aquaculture when our shorelines are in trouble and our waters are polluted also seems wildly incongruous. We understand that non-profits are committed to accomplishing their goals, but at what cost?
In 2019, we decided to embark on our own waterways cleanup initiative, and it was an exciting and successful year for trash removal in our state’s lakes, rivers and ocean beaches. The following are some of the locations where we spent time by kayak or on foot, removing hundreds of pounds of trash:
Lake Sammamish State Park
Sammamish River Trail
Ebey’s Landing, Whidbey Island
Seawall Park Beach, Whidbey Island
South Beach, San Juan Island
Lake Washington various locations
Lake Sammamish various locations
Dyes Inlet, Silverdale
In 2019 we were also proud to have provided with your help, not only financial donations to a local sealife organization, but to have provided free design services for their earth-friendly t-shirts and tote bags, donated free shipping on those designated items, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting their cause, and to have jump-started collaborations that will impact their goal. Our customers make these things possible, and we offer our heartfelt thanks to you for supporting our business, our mission. We truly cannot do this without you, and you should feel good knowing that your purchases are having a very real impact!
This past year has driven home for us that we must be true to ourselves, and we have adjusted our mission accordingly. This year has taught us to listen to our hearts and we’ve come to trust our ability to make a difference on our own terms. I hope we can prove that everyone has the ability to affect change – that you don’t have to wait for the right moment or a scheduled event. It’s important to be discerning, and to go with your gut. There are some wonderful organizations out there doing amazing work however, and a quick Google search for volunteer opportunities will set you on the right path. We do need to find our way to restoring the health of our planet together, but we must be mindful that the ways of the past have not always been effective, and that success will require intention and renewed focus.
In 2020 we are acting on what we’ve learned in 2019, and fine-tuning our giving back mission. We are excited to move full steam ahead on our cleanup initiative, and are committed to supporting select organizations that clearly align with our vision (more to come on that). We are running out of time to restore the health of our planet and its ecosystems. While we will always land on the side of hope, we are clear that toeing a line or having it both ways is a thing of the past. It takes courage to take a stand, and we will push forward in support of the wildlife, wild places, marine creatures and watery worlds that define the beautiful Evergreen State. Our new mantra? Local impacts Global. We may be small, but we are determined and we are powerful. Pain has taught us that, and we are grateful.
Let’s do this!
Tracy Strandness, Owner/CEO