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The Barefoot Athletic Company’s mission is to “to support and encourage the everyday athlete through eco-friendly products that motivate and inspire.” But founder Tracy Strandness’s own story is one of the most motivational of them all. I spoke to her on the phone from Washington.

From a background in youth work, via marketing and office management, Tracy built the Barefoot Athletic Company from the ashes of domestic abuse. “In a nutshell our world turned upside down,” she says, referring to herself and her three children, “But through it we kept being active, we walked and ran. We’d hit the tennis courts and escape out to nature where we felt safe and free.” The ordeal ended and, she says, “we were all still standing. I realised it was possible to survive traumatic situations. Just using your body to keep active can pay dividends later on.” The eco angle came later, she says, “I wanted to give back.”

Strive Men's TeeThe Barefoot Athletic Company makes products including 100% organic cotton T-shirts, eco-friendly performance wear, earth-friendly, organic skin products and athletic accessories. She does most of the design herself and co-brands with manufacturers, though her ultimate aim is to eventually design every piece from the ground up.

Keep on moving

Tracy had always been an athlete. “It kept me alive, and I thought the best way I can empower is through messages. I also though that eco-friendly doesn’t have to be brown. It can be vibrant and dynamic and inspiring. The reality is that if people aren’t accustomed to thinking in eco-friendly terms they have to see things that looks like they already know. It’s more easily assimilated.”

The company was started with some of the proceeds from the sale of her house. “I felt it was time to step back out into the world,” Tracy says, "We were ready to live again. I’d always been a really hard worker and I had read a book that reminded me that making mistakes is part of the process. I wasn’t accustomed to thinking like that. I needed to jump in and start and learn and make mistakes.”

A family affair

Tracy StrandnessThe company is now two years old. Tracy runs it with he help of her talented kids. “I am the chief cook and bottle washer with great support from my daughter who is still home with me and two older boys who help with environmental issues and photography,” she laughs.

Tracy’s site features a blog and “locker room” area with inspirational words from Tracy or links to research. She says, “I didn’t want to just have an ecommerce website, I wanted a community. I want to be the anti-elitist athletic apparel company so people who are just starting out don’t feel intimidated”

Barefoot Athletic Company is starting to get itself noticed in a big way. Its products have been cropping up in some celebrity swag bags at key events such as the Daytime Emmies and the EcoLuxe Lounge at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. “That was really cool and something I had no idea even existed before I started,” Tracy laughs, “The exposure is good.” Though it’s not always immediately quantifiable. “I have learned not to measure directly,” she says, “Some things come back in more wonderful ways.” Sometimes it’s just connections. “But you do see definite results.”

Giving back is high on the agenda for Tracy and her company supports groups such as CongoClucks, a small group working to improve health and provide financial opportunities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and The Good Clothing Company, a clothing manufacturing company celebrating ethical and green production. She also supports various causes in everything from animal welfare to disaster and humanitarian relief.

Taking stock

Tracy says she would love to ultimately manufacture her own products in an eco-friendly and ethical way. She's started with bandanas. But, she says, “You can’t do everything all at once.”

Ever the bane of the small business, stock is always a challenge for the company. “You just don’t get good prices on small volumes,” Tracy says, “The most important things was to find good printers and embroiderers who could do my work for me. People who can't do smaller runs, that almost shut me down. It’s challenging but you just don’t give up. Keep going and find an answer.”

RESOURCES

Motivational Quote

“When someone tells me no, it doesn’t mean I can’t do it, it means I can’t do it with them.” Karen E. Quinones Miller

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Mary Oliver 

Favourite Book

“I love Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes. I devoured it. It was such an honest portrayal and so reassuring. He has the mission, which was what I was after.”

Productivity Hack

“My plate is pretty full and it is a challenge sometimes but since I do all the social media and I am visually oriented I do a lot of photo editing. I use a site called Picmonkey where you can do amazing photo editing. It has made my life so much easier. I need tools that work easily for me and it’s a great way to do some things that look like they have been Photoshopped.”

Other links

Toms Shoes

CongoClucks

The Good Clothing Company 

Contact Tracy

http://barefootac.com

Twitter @GoPlayBarefoot

Facebook Page

 

INTERESTED IN A CAREER IN THE SUSTAINABILITY FIELD?

Inspired by Tracey's story? Want to make a change? Good timing! At the end of May we are running a 3-part masterclass on How To Develop Your Career in Sustainability. An international event, covering the US and European markets, the webinars are led by market expert Shannon Houde, with input from leading sustainability recruiters Acre Resources. This is shaping up to be an essential event for anyone interested in developing their career in this field. Places are limited, so find out more and reserve your spot while there is still availability.

Eventbrite - HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR CAREER IN SUSTAINABILITY - SERIES OF 3 WEBINARS

I really hope enjoyed the interview with Tracey, whether you just read it here or got the full experience on the podcast. If you have any thoughts or comments about this episode, please do share them with us on Twitter or Facebook – we’d love to hear from you!