Finding the right outdoor gear can take dedication, but when Kim Walker found herself visiting store after store in search of women’s gear and apparel, she wanted to make a change. In 2002, Walker and her partner Michael Callas founded outdoor DIVAS, the nation’s first women-specific outdoor store and ski shop. Launched in Boulder, Colorado, and later relocated to Vail, the store is designed to be a one-stop shop for female skiers and outdoor enthusiasts—a place to help more women get outside and do the activities they love.
We caught up with Walker to chat about the shop’s Vail location, how the outdoor industry has embraced women-led businesses, and how she balances work and play.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced when starting your business and how did you overcome it?
Our biggest obstacle was selling the concept of a women’s only outdoor and ski shop to potential vendors so they would open us as an account. Since our industry was very male dominated, there were a number of people that didn’t believe in our concept. We launched with a handful of smaller brands, and after knocking on door after door for years, finally some of the larger brands came on board paving the way for others. After 19 years we’ve proven that the model is here to stay.
Which brands helped jumpstart outdoor DIVAS?
When we launched outdoor DIVAS, it was actually the smaller brands that helped jumpstart our business. Almost all of the larger brands were unwilling to take a chance on our new concept. The brands that did take a chance on us were Sierra Designs, Outdoor Research, Sport Hill, and some brands that have either closed or been sold (Moving Comfort, Isis, Verve to name a few). The first major brand to open us as an account, not surprisingly, was Patagonia, about a year and a half later. Once they opened with us, everyone else followed suit.
What went into your decision to relocate and why did you choose Vail?
We actually moved our store in Boulder off Pearl Street in 2013. That was our launch location, and we had spent 10 years there. However, the recession and a continued increase in rent caused us to reevaluate our business plan, forcing the realization that for the business to survive, we needed drastic change. We moved off Pearl Street to a small space with less overhead and rent, and focused on lowering our costs and increasing our margins. This strategy worked, and we had our business back on track. Once things settled down in Boulder, we had the opportunity to purchase a business in Vail. We lived in Vail prior to launching outdoor DIVAS and planned to move back at some point. The opportunity was too good to pass up, so we purchased the business, and turned it into outdoor DIVAS. When it came time again to renew our lease in Boulder, our analysis told us that the right move was to close the Boulder store and focus on Vail and our website.
How has the outdoor industry progressed in welcoming women-led business? What more do you think needs to be done?
Years ago, it was really hard to find women in high-level positions in any place in the industry. Since we’ve been in business, we’ve seen a lot of progress there. There’s always room for improvement, but I feel like the industry is definitely moving in the right direction. We’ve employed hundreds and hundreds of women over the years, and one of the things I’m most proud of is how many women stay in the outdoor or the ski industry. They get passionate about it, they may move on from the retail aspect of it, but they want to stay in our industry. It’s so great that we can be a starting place for all these passionate, younger women to get their foot in the door.
How has outdoor DIVAS fared during the pandemic?
At this point, we have moved from half-outdoor, half-ski to primarily ski. This past year has brought the most changes, with COVID and how we’ve been able to stay in business and stay busy. It’s been super busy, which is crazy. We really didn’t know, we cut back on a lot of our orders, we closed almost a year ago and stayed closed almost the whole summer, and when we opened in the fall, we’ve just been slammed ever since with boot sales, boot fitting and apparel. Usually during the winter we do 15 to 20 on-snow demo days; this year, they all got cut, so that has impacted our alpine ski sales a little bit, but our boot sales and our apparel sales are skyrocketing.
As a retailer and business owner, how do you still find time to do the things you love?
When we initially launched the business, we had to make sure that it was what we loved because there was no time for anything else. I remember thinking back in 2003, “We’re finally in the outdoor business and I’ve turned into an indoor DIVA.” But after the first couple years, we sort of figured out a work and life balance.. I think when you own your own business, your business has to be one of the things you do love. It’s top shelf on the priority list and you recalibrate your life around it. Instead of going on long backpacking trips, we would do day hikes, and shorter road bike rides replaced longer mountain bike rides. You learn, re-learn, and re-learn again that change is good and promotes growth in all aspects of life, and at some point things balance out.
What is your favorite thing about skiing and the mountains?
I love the energy in the mountains, the briskness in the air, and being able to walk out the door and be on a trail to run, hike, bike, or ski in five minutes. Skiing is initially what brought me to Colorado, but it’s all the other activities that have made me call it home.