Katherine Donnelly | 07.30.2018
As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person.
In this feature we talk to Heather Mullins.
A life-long lover of the outdoors, this Woman In The Wild has found her niche within the industry through merging her passions for skiing, creativity, sustainability, and woodworking. She now runs two businesses, Apres Ski Jewelry and Relevant ReUse, while continuing her journey to ski as much as possible! Get the full scoop below.
Photo by Maliha Mannan.
OP: Give us the skinny on who Heather Mullins is.
Heather Mullins: I am a curious person, lover of life, artist-designer-builder-skier-hiker-biker, mountain woman.
OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?
Heather Mullins: I grew up in the mountains of Colorado climbing on rocks, jumping in puddles, making mud-pies and hearing mountain lions outside my window. I have always known that nature and mountains are humbling, inspiring and make me happy. When I did move away from the mountains, only once to Chicago for grad school, I experienced a strong pull back to them and realized the good they do for my soul.
OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?
OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think outdoor enthusiasts should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?
Heather Mullins: I think all outdoor enthusiasts, including myself, should never take for granted where they get to spend time outside on our public lands. We should be sure to take care of the land while using it and make an effort to be involved in political conversations (especially with our current administration) in saving these lands and our precious environment.
OP: Who has inspired you along the way?
Heather Mullins: I have always been inspired by nature because I grew up in the mountains playing outside all the time. My parents are a good mix of teacher, entrepreneur, and designer, and they have always had a very "you can do it" attitude that is very inspiring. They taught me to swing a hammer when I was 2 years old and also let me build forts and foam cushion ski jumps out of whatever materials we had laying around. This led to a very creative, hands-on, do-it-yourself way of life. I have always been an observer and have a unique way of looking at the world and everyday materials, and I am constantly inspired by them. I see a lot of value in materials, both for their initial design function and for what they can become once they have lived that out. By seeing these in a different way, I can create something new and innovative out of something old and, in turn, can keep consumer waste from going into our ever-growing waste stream.
OP: What does adventure mean to you?
Heather Mullins: Going on a good hike, backpacking trip, bike ride or rafting down a river is always a great adventure. Also, learning the ins and outs of starting and growing a business from a random creative idea I had (cutting skis into small pieces to make jewelry) has and is always an adventure!
OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?
Heather Mullins: Someone who is not afraid to take a little risk and try something new.
OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?
Heather Mullins: My ski lifestyle has actually helped my business grow. Everywhere I go skiing, I find a new place to sell Apres Ski Jewelry. People think I’m just gone skiing all the time, but I have actually grown to sell in over 20 retail stores. I also have a portable studio (tackle box) which is full of jewelry supplies, so I take that on the road too.
OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (LGBTQ), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?
Heather Mullins: Being a strong creative female role model to other women, both young and old is very important to me. I have always operated in mostly male dominant fields, whether it was in a wood and metal shop or now being an entrepreneur in the outdoor/small business world. I have followed my passions, and through this I have demonstrated that I can use power tools and successfully run a small business. I also empower women to use tools and learn how to woodwork through my Woodworking for Women classes in Denver and teaching college Foundations of 3D Art & Design at MSU Denver.
OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?
Heather Mullins: I was thinking about this the other day after my Mom told me this again and I think it is “Shit or get off the pot!” This is something my Mom has always told me, whether it has been about the story of she and my Dad, my dating experiences, choosing a new direction in my life, changing my educational path, or making my business happen. Basically, if you want to make something happen, do it! Definitely makes you act on what you say you want to do!
OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?
Heather Mullins: Well, the basics: keys, wallet, cell phone and often my dog.
OP: Let’s talk gear - what are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?
Heather Mullins: So, since I am a builder, I have to put this in the terms of power tools. Ergonomics are important, and women are built differently than men. Tools built for just men are heavy, and those can hurt my body, so I do love women’s or unisex tools. We have a more gentle touch, and it’s nice to have tools that accommodate that. But, please don’t make our tools pink, there’s no need for that (just my pet peeve).
OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received, and what’s the story behind it?
OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with Apres Ski Jewelry, what would it be?
Heather Mullins: Don’t get discouraged and keep trying. Focus on the people who believe in you and not the ones who think your idea is nuts. If someone doesn’t like what you are trying to sell, two other people will love it.
OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?
Heather Mullins: I try to be honest about what I put on there and show my real life, not try to impress or brag about anything. Social media has been a great platform to help grow my business, and I mostly use it because of that.
OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?
Heather Mullins: I plan to keep on growing Après Ski Jewelry, finding more stores to sell in and getting prepared for ski season. I also just dove back into teaching college part-time again, which is exciting.
OP: The title of your autobiography would be:
Heather Mullins: Tactile Intelligence and the Way I See the World.
OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?
Heather Mullins: If you have an idea that you think is a good one, don’t give up on it; find the people who believe in it and make it happen!