She’s bold, fired up, and fucking rad. She’s also extremely passionate about social justice issues and has been sensitive to issues of inequality since she was a kid. Her moral compass has guided her to tackle regional and international projects, both in the world of outdoor recreation and beyond.
Jen’s list of accomplishments is impressive as fuck. She cut her teeth in the ski industry at the age of 18 as the only woman tuning skis at a resort. She launched her first company, Pantyline Productions, in her early 20; right around the time she was organizing and participating in anti-war protests during the George W. Bush administration. (including the infamous March for Women’s Lives protest in 2004). Pantyline Productions sold women’s underwear printed with “The Only Bush I Trust is My Own,” among other fun slogans.
After completing her masters where she conducted research in Nicaragua and Kenya and looked at bottom-up approaches to social change. After directing a learning and leadership program at UC Berkeley, Jen returned to Kenya to launch a micro-financing organization (more on that below).
In 2013 Jen co-founded Coalition Snow. After years of hearing women complain about gear that didn’t serve their needs, she decided it was time to for ladies to take matters into their own hands.
Not only is she the brains behind Coalition Snow but she continues to speak out for social change including this recent TEDx talk called “Rethinking the Paradigm of Poverty.”
Jen recently took a little time out of her daily life smashing the patriarchy to share her thoughts on Coalition’s greater purpose.
What challenges do you see with the outdoor industry and why are you working in it?
I never set out to work in the outdoor industry. I wanted to start a company that would do really fucking different things, cool shit for women, push boundaries, challenge the status quo, and connect women. I didn't start Coalition to be a part of the outdoor industry, I started it to do rad things for women. The stuff that’s really important to me has nothing to do with the industry at all. It has more to do with the people involved with Coalition and what we as a company, as women, can do for other women. The industry is secondary, or even tertiary. I don’t even know if it’s on our list.
What challenges do females in the world of snowsports face?
There are fewer opportunities for women in the sport. Most young girls are not encouraged in the same way as their male counterparts to be active in sports.
Things are changing, though, right? The way things are today are fundamentally different than they were when I was 20 years old, which are in turn fundamentally different from when my mom was 20 years old. Things are getting better, but I think being encouraged to be an athlete, or being encouraged to be athletic isn’t something necessarily that all young women are exposed to. That’s a challenge. A lot of times your physical ability or your mental endurance is challenged because you are a woman.
Female athletes do not earn as much as their male counterparts. They aren't featured in films. They don’t have as many pro role models. Whether you are on the professional side or just a recreationist, what we see in the snow sports industry is just a microcosm of the world we live in. And although things are getting better, by no means should we be satisfied with where we are at today. There’s a ton to improve.
What do you think about the future of women in the outdoor industry and what challenges are we facing today?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we’re in this really interesting time. We're seeing women as business owners and startup founders and women in the outdoors. We’re seeing their stories being told a lot more. It’s hard to say there’s more of us than there were before because I don’t know what the data is on that.
It’s a slippery slope, though. Are we entering into a time where women as female founders, lady bosses, or athletes are essentially becoming a currency? Are we being spent on behalf of other people who have recognized that they can further their own advances?
Instagram is full of a million profiles all centered on women. It’s really interesting to watch it all go down because I wonder at the end of the day, who is going to ultimately benefit from this. Are women being commodified in another way or are we going to actually be able to harness the power of our stories and leverage it ourselves? Or are other people going to benefit more from it? As women we need to be really conscientious of how our story is being told and who is telling it. I’m seeing businesses, whether it is multinational corporations or politicians or whomever really playing the women card. While it might appear on the surface that it’s a really good thing for women, if at the end it doesn’t lead to any sort of systemic changes, then we’re actually sort of just falling back into a cycle where we think things are changing but other people are just using us as a tool to further their own interests. I’m concerned about that for women and in particular women in the outdoors because it seems to be exploding right now. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing yet.
What’s one non snowsports industry thing that you are passionate about?
The one other big thing I am passionate about is another company I have in Kenya, Zawadisha. I feel like I lead two lives. I have a life here in Tahoe, in the US that is really heavily focused on Coalition and being in the outdoors. For the past 10 years, I have also lead this other second life. The two don’t really mingle much, there’s not a lot of crossover. I spend a lot of time in Kenya and have built up a small sized company there that is being run by Kenyan women, which is awesome. It’s a microfinance company and we specialize in clean energy and water products. I’m just really passionate about looking for innovative and interesting ways to help women gain more access to things that they need. When I’m not doing something with Coalition, I’m either sleeping or doing something with Zawadisha. If it doesn’t fit in with one of these two, it just isn’t even on the calendar (Ed note: Not true, she still manages to squeeze in pow days and bike rides).
If you were a Coalition product, which one would you be and why?
The things that I am imagining saying are just highly inappropriate and just making me laugh. I would be our Abyss ski. The biggest, baddest, burliest ski that we have--that really mirrors my personality If you know how to ride it, though, you know what it needs. You know it’s more than just that, that it’s not just about being 114 underfoot, big, beefy, fatty ski.
Anyone who really knows me knows these other sides of me. I’m really direct and I’m bold and I say what I think. But I have other sides, too. There’s not a lot of other people in the world who see that, but there are some who recognize that. The Abyss ski does more than you think it does. It presents itself in one way but has all these sides to it. I’m that way too.
As told to Jill Sanford