As an avid climber and hiker, Alexia Cohen found herself interested in examining the role of women in the great outdoors. When she started climbing three years ago, she attended an event organized by Flash Foxy—a group of women dedicated to celebrating and empowering women climbers. Through this event, she met her climbing partner Janice, who as Alexia recalls “quickly became a friend and a mentor. Her guidance and support helped me develop my climbing technique and become more comfortable in this new space.” She also began to understand the importance of community and women mentors in traditionally male-dominated spaces.
As she delved deeper into the subject, Alexia discovered that while the experiences of women in the outdoors were analogous to those of women in other male-dominated spheres, the women making headway in the outdoors were shattering norms by pushing away fear and caution— as author Carolyn Paul points out is an attitude that is not present in the way girls are raised. They also bravely embrace risk—a trait that is not typically “female,” as it is rarely inculcated in women at a young age. The above characteristics—combined with the challenges and benefits of spending time outdoors—are what allowed these women to build the confidence and self-awareness needed to break barriers.
She Ventures Club
Further research and rich conversations with all sorts of people—including women engaging in the outdoors, women in business, as well as psychologists and designers—revealed common threads and themes, which Alexia decided to distill into a set of design principles to drive her design thinking forward.
Using principles 1, 2 and 3 as inspiration, Alexia created the She Ventures Club, an organization that enables women to self-organize around outdoor activities and learn from each other in a supportive environment.
Gatherings like the kick-off event she organized this past March allow avid outdoorswomen to teach less experienced women outdoors techniques through a set of designed objects that facilitate the exchange of knowledge. For example, the She Ventures Club bandana and compass/comb were used to teach basic trail and compass navigation to build up confidence and resilience. By creating branded wearables and useful tools, Alexia saw an opportunity to also provide the participants with a sense of belonging—something they can bring with them on their next adventure.
Event participant Kris Kim revealed, “I would never in a million years have imagined myself hiking up a mountain in the snow with walking sticks and crampons. It's still hard to believe I did that! I’m proud of myself for venturing out of my comfort zone, and excited to share what I've learned with my friends, i.e. reading trail markers, how to use a compass, ‘rules’ of hiking and good practices.”
To amplify the She Ventures Club mission, Alexia also created a digital platform to compliment the website and enable this community to come together more effectively and facilitate the further exchange of valuable knowledge.
The “Gather” section of the app encourages community building by providing users access to groups, which can be formed based on attitude, locality, and/or preferred activity. Once groups are formed, they can organize outings and engage with members of the larger community. The “Share” section facilitates the exchange of knowledge to build collective confidence. By clicking on the FAQ around periods, users are able to access the list of questions that others have asked, read answers, offer a response, or even ask their own question. Finally, in the “Log” section, users can see their stats, browse their history, and set goals for the future.
Alexia mentioned, “while designing the She Ventures Club experience and its supporting tools and platforms provided me with a great opportunity to tap into community building, I also wanted to push further on the design of tools for women in the outdoors to serve a functional needs, and challenge the ‘shrink it and pink it’ attitude to design for women in this space.” Despite the existence of campaigns honoring women’s role in the outdoors, such as Force of Nature by REI, as well as efforts to make better design for women’s real needs, Alexia still thinks that there is a long way to go.
To truly expand the typology of tools for women beyond the superficial and to fulfill functional needs, Alexia decided to turn to a Facebook group called All Women All Trails—a vibrant community of around 25,000 women who turn to each other for gear reviews, to share tips and tricks, and to look for hiking partners. Alexia asked the community what they did when they had their periods while outdoors. "In a matter of 48 hours I had almost 200 answers to my question” she exclaimed. While some of the women were big advocates of the menstrual cup, a lot of them were still using tampons and pads. To collect the used products, they hacked empty wipe containers or ziplock bags covered with duct tape to conceal the contents. Researching further, Alexia discovered that there is nothing on the market designed specifically for this purpose, and with women engaging in outdoor adventure in greater numbers, this became her opportunity.
To truly understand the challenge, Alexia carried and collected all of her period products and waste for one cycle using a box created by gluing two plastic containers together. During this experiment, Alexia learned that her solution needed to be a bit bigger, as well as soft and collapsible. To build an articulated structure, she experimented with soft technical fabrics embedded with rigid patterns cut using a laser cutter. After much iteration and material testing, Cara was born.
With Cara, everything is now encapsulated into one object—unused menstrual products, the used products, as well as toilet paper and wipes—which saves having to dig through a backpack for all these different items. Most critically, Cara celebrates women’s place in the great outdoors by conspicuously recognizing that women menstruate, that it is part of our inherent being, and that we will not let it stop us from doing what we love.
Bivvi, Blaze and Spark
To address women's basic needs further, Alexia devised Bivvi, Blaze and Spark—a collection of vibrators specifically designed for women engaging in outdoor adventuring. Alexia stated, “Vibrators provided the perfect platform to continue exploring what women-specific items for the outdoors might look like. The collection provokes thinking of pleasure as an essential for women. And by making them have a double function as flashlights, they become part of the basic kit for outdoor exploration.” The forms are soft, delicate, and curved, contrasted with a variety of colors and textures that make them look rugged and powerful, just like the women they are designed for.
To learn more about Alexia Cohen’s work and to see some more exciting projects, visit www.alexiacohen.com. If you would like to ask a question, or you are interested in working with Alexia, send her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.