In a recent Outdoor Afro Facebook discussion about African-Americans in the outdoor retail industry, a comment from Angela Medlin especially caught my eye when she mentioned her role as a clothing designer for The North Face. As much as I love sharing the many Outdoor Afro adventures in the field, I also think it is important to shed light on the brown faces behind the scenes who make a big impact on the gear we depend on, and also learn what inspires them. Here is my interview with Angela, who brings a “city inspired” twist to The North Face brand:
Angela, tell us about what you love about the outdoors?
It’s an amazing space to gain genuine perspective. A few years ago on a trip to Africa, I remembered saying to myself: “look how small I am, compared to the vastness of the Serengeti” and then later feeling so majestic while sitting on a rock, overlooking tree tops in Yosemite. It’s fascinating. Calming. Invigorating. Spiritually enlightening. Freedom.
Was it an important part of your childhood?
Yes! I grew up in the south (in “the country”, as they say), spending very hot summers mostly outside from dawn to dusk, often barefoot, racing through plum bushes and and backroads with my cousins. It was pure freedom! At the end of the day, we all proudly wore clouds of dust and could barely stay awake through dinner (I miss that feeling!). The only way to keep me indoors was to give me an art project to complete (that’s still the case). Otherwise, I was exploring the outdoors through abandoned buildings, nearby pastures, and overgrown dirt roads. That was my first introduction to urban exploration! There were a few sprained ankles and skinned knees but all of that was just part of the adventure! A clean band aide and half of a pb&j sandwich later, it was business as usual! The outdoors fueled my imagination. Even on the rainy days, I would sit outside, waiting for the crack of thunder and lightning to light up the trees!…And then there was the amazing smell of the first summer rain hitting dust …or the smell of firewood burning in the cold winter air! Great memories!
Angela’s East African Safari Experience:
How did you begin working in outdoor equipment/clothing?
Hmmm, somewhere between “by accident” and “on purpose”… I’ve been an apparel designer for 20 years. Most of my career was spent designing active wear for companies like Adidas and casual sportswear for companies like Levi Strauss, Inc. One of the growing trends and focus in the apparel industry is urban exploration. The North Face, found my background and fashionable twist on performance apparel well suited for the direction they were taking their outerwear. So, I was hired to create a new category for them – city inspired outerwear. Off the mountain fashion worn by celebrities and professional athletes alike.
Our forebearers did not have Gortex, so why is the gear available now important for outdoor activities?
True, some of the most impressive outdoor athletes reached the summit of Mt. Everest without the new technologies and lived to tell about it. However, technically advanced materials allow athletes and novice to perform better in extreme weather conditions. Today’s engineered materials/garments allow for healthier exploration. Clothing is made to be lighter weight yet durable, waterproof and breathable, weather blocking and ventilated, protects against microbials, keeps the body warm and dry, cool and calm, and can be customized to fit specific activity needs. Some material technologies can actually interface with your electronic media. This allows for better communication and safety when you need it….and who wouldn’t want a faster, better, easier way to protect yourself on or off the mountain!
How might people outfit themselves affordably? Any tips?
Choose quality over quantity! Purchase a couple of great pieces from brands that have a reputation for lasting, durable materials, and construction. Gauge the brand’s innovations against their competitors. Tip: look for the outlet stores of your favorite brand! You may find exactly what you are looking for in the price range that is affordable…and who cares if it’s bright purple!
What is on your bucket list for outdoor fun?
If you had asked me this question 7 years ago, I would have had several items in the bucket! Being a designer in the outdoor industry has introduced me to ways of being in the great outdoors that I’ve never experienced before! From mountain biking and rafting in the La Sal mountains of Utah to ice climbing in Banff, Canada, my bucket list is getting shorter. For now, especially after this interview, I really just want to kick off my shoes and run barefoot down a dusty road….and wait for the rains to come! 😉
To learn more about Angela’s outerwear designs, here is her website — click the DESIGNER tab.
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