Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Jonathan Tasker / Imprimere
“Hot Bod” is a weekly exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent quirks.
Four years ago, two assistant stylists, Chelsea Rizzo and Allison Levy, met at a photoshoot for Gucci while browsing through beautiful clothes. They were constantly chatting about fashion, but it took a while for them to come together before they discovered their other mutual love: hiking. The pair began taking trains to Catskills and Breakneck Ridge. They bonded over gorgeous highs and mutual frustrations – how hard it was to find an outdoor community, and how hard it was to find technical hiking clothing that fits, works, and doesn’t consider aesthetics as an afterthought. Rizzo and Levy felt like themselves hiking in the mountains – being “on the trails” – but they couldn’t find any clothing that made them look like themselves. They had a strong idea that they weren’t alone in this case. “We know other women like us are out there,” Rizzo says.
When Rizzo’s attempt to do the Pacific Crest Trail last summer was torpedoed, the pair began to plot. If a long backpacking trip wasn’t available to them, maybe they could create something that would dramatically improve their outdoor life when they got out. Hikerkind, which launched this week, is an outdoor clothing company and hiking club for people who love cool, well-cut, durable and technical clothing. They start with the middle layer, a warm knit sweater in a soft shade of green. They want to be your backpacking friends, too: Hikerkind runs twice a month hikes on trails just outside of New York City.
Last week I spoke to Rizzo and Levy on Zoom – where I could see a large topographic map behind them, outlining the ridges of the Sierra Nevada – to push what we can expect from our outdoor clothing.
As two people who love the clothes and love the trail, what disappointed you about the outerwear available to you?
Allison Levy: The origin with Hikerkind comes with a frustration with the lack of options. Either you have to shop the men’s section and fit it, which seems like an unnecessary step, or you find a piece that is pink and that’s the only option you have. So we were like: What do we want to wear? Coming from our career in styling, we thought we might have an interesting perspective. We wondered, What can we bring to this and what would other women potentially appreciate about it?
Chelsea Rizzo: Allison and I were complaining that we couldn’t really find something that looked like us on the track that also worked well. The whole “shrink and blush” thing… it’s crazy that this is happening again. With the outerwear, what they seem to do is take a men’s model, make it smaller, and color it pink. Some people in the outdoor industry have been talking about this for a long time – that you don’t have to make things pink for women.
What were the most important factors in the design of this midlayer?
RC: It is important to think about it with the female figure. This is another problem with “the pink and the shrink”: the fit goes two ways. Either it looks like you are wearing your boyfriend’s clothes that are really not made for you, or they have done it in “woman’s shape” [an exaggerated hourglass].
AL: Chelsea and I wanted something that always suited us.
RC: [The mid-layer] fits me, it slims my body, but it’s technically a square cut. The key for us was to put a bungy in the bottom so that you can squeeze it to your body if you need more heat or you can squeeze it to give yourself a size, if it’s something you like.
The most important is the fabric. This is a Polartec knit with those pockets that hold the fleece material that keeps you warm. This is how they mitigate microfiber waste [by keeping the fleece contained]. This is the most sustainable option there is. The first thing we talked about was end of life: what happens to that material after the consumer is done with it? We wanted to use recycled materials if we chose to use synthetic materials, which we did, and we wanted that material to be recyclable. It’s not as easy as you might hope to find a truly circular fabric.
Allison Levy and Chelsea Rizzo.
Photo: Jonathan Tasker / Imprimere
What is special or particular about approaching nature with a fashion eye? What conversations do you have about the outdoors for this purpose?
AL: I studied textiles when I was at FIT, and I remember looking around on a hike when I was in Cornwall or Italy, and I looked at the rock formations and thought, It could be a cool textile. We are energized by the visuals: the colors of the trees changing, the blossoming of new flowers, the twinkling of the light at sunset or sunrise. We can tap into the visual beauty of the outdoors. We named our middle layer “lichen” because we saw it on a tree. It was the exact color of our room!
RC: On the contrary, when I started hiking, I was testing my trail shoes. I would wear them to put on, because the daddy shoe trend, the normcore trend, was on. Some digitech were like, These are cool.
How lucky for you that this trend coincides with the need to break your shoes!
RC: I felt so blessed.
AL: You would have done it anyway!
RC: Yes. I walked all over them.
When gorpcore What did you think emerged? Do you remember when you first noticed it?
RC: The gorpcore trend that is unfolding in fashion is really exciting. Coming from a high fashion background, we’re obviously looking at the crossover and all the collaborations that we see. What we hope – and what excites us the most – is that women who might be interested in the way technical clothing is presented to them at a high fashion level, [be] leads to an exploration of the outdoors.
AL: We don’t think gorpcore left women out, but it has perpetuated the misconception that women don’t prioritize function as much as fashionable. This is why we are often stuck in pants without pockets. Men can go to a store like Hatchet Supply and buy a parka to wear at Paris Fashion Week one day and trail run the next. The Prada women’s hiking boots or the Gucci puffy skirt are not made to be worn on hikes.
Before starting Hikerkind, what did you want from an outdoor community?
AL: It had been rare to find people to hike with so I did a lot solo. I longed for that community, that feeling of camaraderie on the trails.
RC: It’s not that outward looking in New York City: you’re not talking about the mountain you just climbed at the bar. [Maybe people] lean into the fact that they’re not that much of the outdoors because we don’t live in Colorado or the West Coast. But here we are! That’s the beauty of the hiking club. We’ve pushed ourselves to do it almost every other weekend, so it’s a consistent thing people can count on. Like meeting the model at one of our midlayer fittings. She is here. She was like, I love to hike! And we were like come. She came on every hike. We did some tests in front of the public last week. And this is the woman for whom this hiking club is aimed. She might not have a lot of people she knows who like to hike.
AL: Your ears prick up when you hear someone wanting to hike too. You can hike for a few hours and smash all those walls. Because you feel so much joy and comfort, you are so eager to share more about yourself. Chelsea always makes the joke that it’s like having a few drinks.
RC: You are a little more vulnerable, you are a little more talkative! You can say something that you didn’t necessarily say in a different environment. Three glasses and the ‘on trail’: they are completely parallel. I like that there is no facade. We are all thirsty and slightly sunburned.