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Meet The Cyclist Who Set Out To Make The Outdoors More Welcoming To All

Kristine Thomason
mbg Health & Fitness Director By Kristine Thomason
mbg Health & Fitness Director

Kristine Thomason is the health and fitness director at mindbodygreen.

woman biking up mountain
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When was the last time you had a change moment—an "aha" realization that set you down a new path? This April, in honor of Earth Month, mindbodygreen is hoping to inspire these moments through thoughtful storytelling about our planet. Welcome to The Change Moment, where you'll find personal stories, expert-backed tips, and thoughtful primers that will change the way you think about what sustainability really means and how to put it into practice.

As an avid mountain biker, skier, and adventurer, Cassie Abel has long appreciated the power and importance of the outdoors. So when she realized there was a gap in the market when it came to approachable, inclusive, and accessible gear for women-identifying nature lovers—she knew she had to contribute to the necessary culture change. Here, we chat with Abel about how she's making outdoor adventuring more accessible to women, regardless of age, background, size, or skill level—all while putting Mother Earth first.

What inspired your love of the outdoors?

It was really because of my family and the example both of my parents led by. I grew up on a little island outside of Seattle. My family did a lot of gardening and growing our own vegetables—basically learned about composting as early as I started to walk. They were both teachers, but once my dad retired, he was very involved in working with the state to preserve land, to protect wildlife preserves, and to have open spaces for the community. 

Other than that, I just played outside all the time—running around the backyard or playing make-believe near our creek—it felt like most of my childhood was outside.

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Was there a point when your love of the outdoors shifted to a drive to protect it?

I really think it was when I started my women's apparel and gear company Wild Rye six years ago. During that process, I got to see behind the curtain regarding what goes on in the apparel and gear industry. Before that, I always cared about the environment, I recycled, and whatnot. But now it's become just so abundantly clear to me how much businesses need to be responsible when it comes to their impact on Mother Earth.

What was your "aha" moment when you realized women weren't being served by the outdoor industry? 

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While I was working in PR for a different active brand, I went to a trade show in Vegas. While I was walking around, I noticed there were a lot of women modeling products in the booths—but very few that were actually on the business side of those products. At that moment, I thought: that's why there are no products that fit me properly, and that's why I can't find outdoor gear I actually want to wear. It occurred to me the industry was objectifying women rather than actually employing women to make decisions for their own products. So that was a huge impetus for me—I knew I had to do something.

Of course, I didn't exactly know how to do it. I knew nothing about the supply chain; I knew nothing about apparel design. But from there, I teamed up with my business partner at the time, and we decided we were just going to figure it out. We made a lot of mistakes along the way. We had a lot of things that really could have stopped us—but we knew an outdoor brand for women, by women, needed to exist. That's when the idea for Wild Rye was born.

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As someone so connected to the outdoors, what's your business approach to sustainability?

I feel like a company's commitment to sustainability shouldn't be something that's celebrated—it should be baseline. That said, we are climate neutral, we're members of 1% For The Planet, and we're committed to a really clean and recycled supply chain.

I'll be very honest: Producing anything is not sustainable. However, every step we take, we're looking at recycled fabrics, we're offsetting our carbon emissions, we're donating to planet-friendly charities, and continuing to seek new programs to support our efforts.

Of course, all of these things are hard work—for instance, we built 1% For The Planet into our budget from day one, and there were certainly some panic moments about whether we could afford it. But ultimately we knew it wasn't an option—we couldn't afford not to.

Why do you think it's so important to advocate for women getting outdoors? How does it translate to other aspects of life?

For me, the outdoors have always been such a safe space. It's one of those places where I can breathe deeply and slow down a little bit (while also sometimes speeding it up). 

I also think it just builds confidence. Spending time in the outdoors gives women a huge sense of competence, freedom, and independence—all of which can translate back into the business world or everyday lives. 

I also think women introducing other women to the outdoors, along with the threats impacting the Earth, can make a big impact. Personally, I think women are going to be what saves us. So giving them firsthand access to what's going on out there is really important for the protection of our planet. 

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Could you share some of the ways you're helping women get outdoors?

The first thing is creating an approachable brand for women. It's no secret that bike shops and outdoor shops can be intimidating for those that are beginners. And so for here at Wild Rye, we're definitely trying to celebrate women at any point in their outdoor journey, whether they're just getting started or are super experienced. 

Our ambassador team, for example, includes women who are pretty new to the outdoors because we want that representation. 

We're also the official apparel for Ladies AllRide, a nonprofit that works to empower women through mountain biking. Plus we've partnered with SheJumps, which creates safe, educational outdoor experiences for girls and women. 

Another thing: We launched Women Led Wednesday—similar to Small Business Saturday, we celebrate it the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and it's a holiday that encourages people to discover women-led brands. This is another way we're hoping to elevate women in the outdoor space and beyond.

Any advice for other female entrepreneurs or other Earth-loving entrepreneurs who want to try to break into this industry and do some good as well?

I have to give credit to Missy Park, the founder of the women's outdoor retailer Title Nine, for this advice: She says business is a team sport, so bring in your community, ask for help. 

From my standpoint, I also think it's important just to try. Don't let perfection paralyze you. Of course, you're going to mess it up at some point—but as long as you learn from your mistakes, you're going to start moving closer to where you need to be.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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