|Photo courtesy of Coalition Snow|
Jen Gurecki is CEO of Coalition Snow which designs skis and snowboards for women and is Founder of Zawadisha in Kenya, an organization that works to empower women through an economically sustainable model. Gurecki works locally and globally to connect women to resources.
With the premise of ensuring that women are getting what they want, Gurecki’s new company, Coalition Snow fulfills a need for women’s ski products. Not only are their products designed by artists, the new brand ensures that women are on the ground ready to compete. Coalition Snow declares its uniqueness because up until their inception, manufacturers and distributors of ski products for women disregarded the market for competitive and advanced women skiers.
Women For Action: Can you tell Women For Action a little about you, your background and how did you come to creating the project Coalition Snow?
Jen Gurecki: I've had two feet squarely planted in the non-profit and for-profit world for quite some time now. I’ve done everything from guiding backpacking trips for at-hope kids, to owning a whitewater rafting company, to creating a micro-credit organization in Kenya. I suppose you can say that I've always been on the side of the underdog, trying at some level to right the wrongs that I see in the world.
Creating Coalition Snow was far more of a leap of faith than a strategically planned business (although that has changed now). I've been skiing and snowboarding for 20+ years, and when you spend that much time in the mountains, you meet a lot of amazing people. I'm surrounded by brilliant women (and men), and a consistent narrative always emerged, whether we were on the chairlift, grabbing a drink at the end of an awesome powder day, or just sharing a meal: Why does the ski industry, for the most part, ignore us?
There’s so much data out there about our participation in snow sports (which is on the rise across all activities) AND we’re the ones who make the majority of the financial decisions in the home! But it’s like we’re invisible. We’re lumped into “junior” equipment categories or the gear made for us is flowery and pink and short and soft. We’re an afterthought. We live on the sidelines. It can be quite insulting.
I was on a back-country ski trip in the Sierra having just this conversation, and it was suggested that I do something about it. That I be the one to start a ski (and snowboard) company that makes gear that celebrates women, puts them at the center of things, and respects their skills. I’m always up for questioning the things we take for granted — the status quo — and I love working on projects that challenge the status quo and contribute in a positive way to this world.
As soon as I got home, I started texting, calling, e-mailing people about this idea of a ski and snowboard company where women are the ones calling all of the shots and designing the gear they want. The response was overwhelmingly positive. It was then that I knew it was time to transform this idea into a reality.
Women For Action: What sort of feedback have you been receiving regarding this new concept for women?
Jen Gurecki: For the most part, it’s been incredibly positive. I receive e-mails from women all of the world nearly every week in support. In fact, here’s one that came through just yesterday:
“I AM SO HAPPY AND STOKED THERE’S FINALLY A BRAND LIKE YOURS IN THE SKI INDUSTRY!!!! You all girls are definitely inspiring! CONGRATS & HIGH FIVE!”
Women For Action: What is the significance of the name, Coalition Snow?
Women For Action: What is the significance of the name, Coalition Snow?
Jen Gurecki: Because so many people have been involved in bringing this company to life, we couldn't think of a better name that Coalition. As with anything important in life, you can’t do it alone. We wanted to do more than create skis and snowboards; we wanted to be a part of a movement that recognizes and celebrates the strengths of women.
Women For Action: You launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to increase your production. What stages are you currently at in the production and development of Coalition Snow?
Jen Gurecki: As I’m writing this we still have 56 hours to go! The campaign ends on Friday at 5 pm PST, although we did already meet our initial goal of $25,000. These funds will help with production costs – we will manufacture the skis over the summer and ship in the fall. The development has occurred over the past two seasons through various prototypes that we've dialed into our next line of skis and boards.
Women For Action: Since its inception, what has been the demand?
Jen Gurecki: There’s an incredible demand in terms of women wanting to be a part of our company, whether that’s as an ambassador, a team rider, an artist, a gear tester or an investor. Clearly what we stand for – our mission—resonates with women and the tricky thing is translating that to increased demand for our gear (basically sales)! It’s been a super tough winter across the West Coast this year and that’s hit us hard just like everyone else. We also realize that women need to demo skis, to touch and feel them, and it’s been challenging to meet that demand because we’re so small. We just can’t be all over the country all the time. We’re working on developing our Ambassador Program to meet this need.
Women For Action: Your company has two charitable initiatives. One Coalition Snow plans to donate 1% of its proceeds to organizations and projects that use the outdoors to empower women. The other, you will plant a tree for every ski or board being sold. Where are you right now with this mission?
Jen Gurecki: In the last year, we've donated more than 1% to SheJumps, B4BC, and SAFE AS Clinics, and the trees have been planted! I saw them myself in January when I was in Kenya.
Women For Action: Aside from your philanthropic endeavors, what makes your brand unique for women?
Jen Gurecki: There are very few companies in the outdoor industry that have been started and run by women. Because we are essentially designing for women who are just like us, we kind of get it – we inherently understand what a lot of women want (although not all – you can’t put all women in a box).
It’s important to note that we aren't making gear for women’s bodies, we’re making gear that women want. There’s a difference in that statement. The former opens itself up to all sorts of pseudoscience, which is in part responsible for the copious amounts of short and soft skis on the market. The latter is inclusive and responsive, and it’s filling a huge gap in the industry. We’re not investing all of our resources into technology; we’re investing in women by actively engaging with them to understand what it is that the advanced/expert skier/rider wants in her gear. We pair their feedback with what we know as women who've been skiing and riding for decades.
Finally, there’s a lot more to this than just the technical side of the things. Women are rightfully angered by the pay gap in the U.S., and that’s not going to change until we have more women executives calling the shots. We didn't start Coalition to only make a better ski – we started Coalition to move the needle.
Women For Action: Tell us about the artists and their designs. What sort of concept are you attempting to portray when designing skis for women?
Jen Gurecki: Lauren Bello, Sarah Uhl, and Christina Armetta designed our graphics for next year’s line. None of our artists have ever designed graphics for skis before – they are textile designers, illustrators, architects. What’s important to me is that we create a work of art – something that you’d want to hang on your wall or wrap yourself up in. The company doesn’t dictate the designs – the inspiration comes from each one of the artists, and we all meet once every few weeks to give feedback on designs. My role is to make sure that the designs translate to gear and builds our brand – is our logo on the top sheet and base, does the design flow from the left ski to the right, things like that. But the art itself – I can’t take any credit for that.
Women For Action: Since your company's launch, do you feel that more women are taking interest in skiing?
Jen Gurecki: Women have been taking more of an interest in skiing for quite a while, and there’s a ton of data out there to support that. Our company is not responsible for that, but we definitely do recognize it and we are responding to it.
Women For Action: What do you foresee for Coalition Snow later on down the road? How do you feel it may aid in closing the gap between genders in skiing?
Jen Gurecki: One of our main priorities related to closing the gap is building an amateur and pro team – if we can pay women to compete, they will be more visible. The issue now isn't that women don’t go as big as men, it’s that their sponsors don’t foot the bill for them to compete and/or film. For the big companies, this could easily be remedied – it’s a simple reallocation of resources. For us, it’s about growing the company and increasing our revenue so that we can support female athletes.
Women For Action: What sort of challenges have you been faced with while developing this company? Because your company is specifically designed for women consumers, has there been any challenges that you've observed specifically due to your gender?
Jen Gurecki: There are so many challenges I don’t even know where to begin! I always joke with people that starting my organization Zawadisha in Kenya was a lot easier than this (and I really mean that!). The real challenges we've had don’t feel like they are related to gender as much as it is navigating this industry. You aren't really taken seriously in this industry until you put out a product line, and that line is then considered legitimate. It’s like all of your accomplishments in the past mean nothing – you start at square one. Is this related to me being a woman? Maybe and it might also be that I didn't start off as a pro skier or rider. It’s hard to say. But what has been the most challenging is navigating production – we work with a company in Japan, so there’s lots of emails in broken English that happen at 1 am. It makes for many sleepless nights, but it’s been a really good fit for us in our first year of production.
Women For Action: I think Coalition Snow’s product designs are really pretty. Do you think you will eventually design products for girls?
Jen Gurecki: We have received requests to launch a junior’s line, and that’s definitely a possibility in the future. There seems to be quite a demand because there aren't really any junior lines dedicated toward young women and girls. People’s interests in this have been much more on the technical side of a junior line rather than the aesthetics.
Women For Action: What sort of advice would you lend to a young girl reading this interview?
Jen Gurecki: Figure out what it is you’re willing to suffer for and through to achieve your goals, whether that’s competing, starting a business, or trying anything new. Experiencing the joy in all of these things is the easy thing – and what really motivates us to embark on them in the first place. But knowing what challenges and frustrations you can endure help you get through the tough times, which is incredibly important when you hit serious walls and experience failure. It’s what will keep you positive and moving forward because you know it’s part of the process.
Women For Action: Lastly, what do you love most about skiing?
Jen Gurecki: The feeling you get when floating through snow, snowflakes falling on your face. You feel invincible and every single worry floats away.
Women For Action: Is there anything that we left out that you wish to contribute to this interview?
Jen Gurecki: I always try to convey that being pro-woman doesn't mean that we’re anti-men. Gender is a very fuzzy concept anyways, and we welcome everyone to be a part of what we’re doing.