Crested Butte’s PACT Outdoors and Vermont’s SheFly Apparel tackle the taboo
[ By Kendra Walker ]
The Gunnison Valley is no stranger to the issues surrounding backcountry waste. With the ever-growing popularity in outdoor recreation, lack of established pit toilets at campgrounds and trailheads, uninformed users and cleanup carelessness, it’s no wonder two of the four companies selected for the ICELab’s Moosejaw Accelerator program this spring are dealing with how to help people answer nature’s call outside.
The ICELab’s eight-week outdoor business mentoring program received more than 100 applications this year, and the public voted on 10 finalists to help the program’s panel of judges determine the four winners. The companies selected to participate in the program include PACT Outdoors of Crested Butte, SheFly Apparel of Vermont, Pathloom of San Ramon, California and Spruce from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The program will begin in May and the ICELab team will work with each company to achieve their goals. The first two weeks will take place remotely through Zoom meetings, and then the participants will travel to Boulder to meet with mentors and investors. The final five weeks of the program will take place at the ICELab on the Western Colorado University campus in Gunnison. Following the program, the companies will have the opportunity to sell their products at Moosejaw’s stores and online platform.
Breaking it down with mushrooms
PACT Outdoors features an all-in-one bathroom kit for outdoor adventures, designed for you to leave the wilderness better than you found it. Co-founders Noah Schum of Crested Butte and Jake Thomas of Denver designed the kit to include a secret ingredient: mycelium. This root system of fungi breaks down human poop in the ground faster and neutralizes pathogens, including E. coli, eventually leaving only nutrient rich soil.
“Each year we see participation in outdoor activities growing. This is really exciting. But, for a lot of people activities like camping, backpacking or hiking can be really intimidating. One of the areas that’s often most difficult for people is learning how to go to the bathroom in the outdoors,” explains Schum. “When people aren’t shown the right tools and best practices, we quickly start to see trails, campsites and open spaces littered with human waste, and we’re reaching that point. Many advocacy groups are working hard to deal with this problem, but we have yet to really involve the consumer with a well-designed product that makes it easier and more environmentally-friendly to do your business in the wilderness.”
Schum is grateful for how much support the product has already received. “It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of the accelerator, we’ve gotten tons of support from the Gunnison Valley and we’re really enthused by how people have rallied behind us.”
The team is currently finalizing the design and features of the product, as well as testing different strains of mycelium for different climate variables. “Being a part of the program will help us refine and really find the perfect product to go to the market,” says Schum.
Helping women go on the go
Vermont-based SheFly Apparel helps females go to the bathroom in outdoor situations more discreetly, with pants designed with a strategically placed zipper.
One of the company’s founders Georgia Grace Edwards recalls how the idea first struck, when she was working as a glacier guide in Alaska in 2016.
“I was really struggling with this one aspect of the job, and that was answering nature’s call,” she says. “I was one of the only female guides and my male coworkers could just turn around and do their thing. I found myself having to trek all the way across the glacier in search of privacy, completely exposing myself to use the bathroom in freezing temperatures.”
She had the idea to create pants that would allow a female to go to the bathroom outside without having to pull her pants down. Edwards eventually joined forces with friends Bianca Gonzalez and Charlotte Massey to create a multi-purpose pant for “people who pee.”
“We envision a world where women don’t have to think twice about using the bathroom outside,” says Edwards, who said their market is not just for recreation-focused women, but also for women in any outdoors situation, such as women in the military, field scientists and farmers.
The team hopes to begin production again soon, as they’ve recently partnered with a new clothing factory after their original manufacturer went out of business during COVID. “We’ve been scrambling to get all the details right and make up for lost time; we’ve amassed a waitlist of a couple thousand people,” says Edwards.
The SheFly team is excited about connecting with potential investors and the opportunity to expand onto retail shelves. “This industry is simultaneously very small and also hard to break into,” says Edwards. “We’re excited to have this opportunity to spend a lot of time with experts in the industry, have a cool place to sample our product and experience the collaboration and magic that happens when you’re with people who share your values.”
Edwards has never been to the Gunnison Valley, and is looking forward to the opportunity to explore the area. “We’re definitely open to it,” she says of relocating SheFly to the valley. “I feel like Colorado has shown us a lot of support already. It’s similar to Vermont, with a community of outdoorsy, like-minded people willing to shop local and support local.”
Edwards is also interested in the potential collaboration with PACT Outdoors. “I’m excited for our audiences to merge and continue talking about the larger issue of how people can interact with the outdoors more sustainably.”
Schum of PACT is looking forward to linking up with SheFly as well. “We’re both looking at solving the same problem from different educational angles. Collaborating with them will help us bring education on the right way to do things in the outdoor space,” he says. “This is part of life and it’s a part of your adventure, not hindering it. We have to not take ourselves too seriously but it’s also about balancing the humor of it by creating intelligent products that will help educate folks.”