Nailah Blades Wylie started Color Outside “to help normalize the idea that women of all shades, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds are out there, enjoying all that nature has to offer us.” Color Outside, based in Salt Lake City, is a community of women of color adventurers that is bringing women together while also changing the face of the outdoor industry.
I had the pleasure of meeting Nailah at Camber Outdoors’ Pitchfest this summer, and we followed up to talk more about her work and what drives her.
What motivated you to start Color Outside?
My family and I–my husband, myself, and our small daughter–we moved to Salt Lake City about a year ago, and it was a really big time of transition. I had lived in Southern California for about 20 years and had never really lived anywhere else–apart from originally being from Canada. Moving to SLC, I felt really unmoored and I didn’t have my community. One of the things my husband and I said was, We’re gonna get out and treat it like one big adventure–make sure we’re exploring, adventuring, and doing all the things to say that we really gave it our best shot.”
I don’t think I would have called myself an outdoorsy person, but we used to get out and hike, and in doing that and being really open to getting outside and hiking and being in the mountains, skiing, snowshoeing, and all that great stuff, I really started to get reconnected with myself. I felt more grounded and really started to feel that confidence and power coming back within myself. That was really exciting to notice that. The more I connected with the outdoors and had the opportunity to get outside, the better I felt, the more I felt connected to my purpose and passions.
As women of color, we’re not expected or encouraged to be out in the outdoors. I thought it was really important to create a community of women of color who are getting outside and reconnecting with themselves and also taking up space in a place that was not historically “meant for them.” That’s basically why I thought about starting the group–why it’s important.
How did you start gathering that community around you?
One of the first things I did was I started a Meetup group. I put the idea out there and scheduled our first hike. When I hit “send,” I thought, “Oh, I’m sure no one’s going to join this group. We may have a few people” But I just started getting all these emails, and we had about eight women come to our first hike. It was really exciting and affirming for me. It affirmed that this was something that was necessary and it was a community that other people were looking for.
One thing I always try and stress with Color Outside is–we’re all at our own places on our own journeys–it’s not a competitive group. I had looked at other groups for women being outside, and I felt like, “These women are badasses!” It was very intimidating, so I didn’t participate. So I wanted Color Outside to feel very welcoming and inclusive and just a place where you could be wherever you are. No one’s too fast or too slow or too out of shape–we could all be go on a journey together and explore together.
So awesome. What kind of feedback have you gotten from the group?
A lot of the women are really grateful and excited that a community like this exists. A lot of them are in similar positions–they are transplants to Utah for work or family or whatever it is, so they didn’t have that built-in community that they didn’t have in their hometown. A lot of the women are going through similar transitions and felt similarly to me and we were able to reach out to each other. What made me also want to start hosting retreats and get women from all around the country to come and experience the outdoors was seeing the reaction from friends when I posted on Facebook or Instagram. It’s encouraging to feel like you’re opening up a window to something that people weren’t aware of before.
You’ve mentioned how important it is to you to have your daughter experience the outdoors and know that it’s for her, too–can you tell me more about that?
She’s two and a half right now. Raising a girl, you read all these articles and wonder how to raise a really confident and brave girl. One thing that kept popping up was just encouraging kids and girls to get outside and move their bodies and to run, jump, get dirty. I also know how important it is for me to model the behavior for her. It’s important for her to see me getting outside, me use my body, me feeling strong. That’s one of my biggest drivers and inspirations. I really do want her to feel brave and confident and adventurous. That transcends so many different aspects of life.
For me, I feel like if I’m able to tackle a really hard hike, then the things at work on Monday don’t seem that hard. I want her to have that knowledge that she’s able to do hard things. She’s able to figure things out, be strong and confident and brave person. The other really important thing is from a representation standpoint. I do want her to be able to look everywhere around her and see other people who are representative of her–who are doing everything that they want. I don’t want her to grow up in a world where it’s like, “Oh, well, black people don’t do that.” Or, “Black people don’t swim.” Or whatever it is. I want her to grow up in a world where people that look like her and that look like all shades of people are doing all the things–they’re out there and it’s completely normal. Whatever things that she is interested in, she has a right to do that thing. I don’t want her to feel discouraged by looking at a landscape and thinking, that thing is obviously not for me, because it’s not being reflected back to me. A lot of women of color have grown up that way, where it’s like–that thing is not for me. A lot of the marketing around the outdoor industry kind of doubles down on that.
It’s helpful for everybody to look around and see all different shades of people doing different things. I just want to help normalize the idea that the outdoors belong to everybody and we all deserve to be out there enjoying it.
Who have some of your sources of inspiration been?
One of the first groups I started following on Instagram is called Unlikely Hikers. Jenny Bruso has been amazing at showcasing such diversity in the outdoor space. Whether it’s people of color, people from the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities–the entire spectrum of people just getting out there. Reading all the stories there has been so amazing.
Brown People Camping: Ambreen and her husband are Muslim-Americans–going camping, showing that all these national parks belong to all of us. Historically, we haven’t seen all of us out there. It’s been interesting to see some of the positive as well as negative reactions.
Outdoor Afro: encouraging African-Americans to get outside and take advantage of the outdoors and nature. It’s been great to see their group grow local groups all around the country. It’s exciting to see all of these happy brown faces out in the wild doing fun things.
It’s been so fun to see that there is a lot of diversity in the outdoor world–I think it’s just making sure that we’re holding up that microphone and lens, and also putting some pressure on the bigger brands to start reflecting that.
Can you share about your upcoming retreat?
This is the first retreat happening at the end of September in Utah. It’s 3 nights, all-inclusive, and focused on getting outside, reconnecting with yourself, and slowing your brain down a bit. The pace of day-to-day life can make you feel a little bit crazy, and getting outside and just having an opportunity to take deep breaths out in the middle of nowhere, to feel the blood pumping through your legs, is so valuable in helping to just slow the pace of life a bit. And to feel more balanced, more reconnected with your core, reconnected with the earth. That’s what I’m hoping to do for the women who are coming, and also just bonding and forming a great sisterhood.
Check out Color Outside and follow @wecoloroutside!