In an exclusive interview, founder and CEO of Prois Hunting Apparel, Kirstie Pike discusses the growth of women in the outdoors and how it has shaped her business.
Although the number of women in the outdoors is growing faster than any other demographic, there are still host of challenges that go along with being a woman in a male-dominated industry.
In fact, Kirstie Pike founded her entire business in response to one of those challenges. As a hunter herself, Pike was unable to find high performance hunting gear for women. Instead of waiting on the big name manufacturers to take notice, she did something about it herself.
Nearly a decade later, Prois now offers product lines for big game, safari, upland and waterfowl hunting, along with shooting. In the midst of tradeshow season, Kirstie was gracious enough to answer a few questions about Prois and what we can expect from the brand next.
WIDE OPEN SPACES: What motivated you to start your own women’s apparel and gear company? And what did you think you could offer that existing companies could not?
KIRSTIE PIKE: Basically it was the inability to find technical hunting gear for women. I literally went to a big box store ready to purchase anything and everything. What I found was cotton capri pants and baby doll t-shirts. We live in an active, mountain town and technical gear is available for every outdoor endeavor from skiing to running to mountain biking to mountaineering. There was nothing for women who hunt.
WOS: The success of Prois is largely due to the fact that females are the fastest growing demographic of hunters. What factors do you think this growth is attributed to?
KP: I think there are a number of factors. I think women truly love the achievement of putting meat in the freezer. It is quite empowering. I think hunting is becoming more ‘Vogue’ than it had been 10 years ago as well. With so many outdoor channels and tv shows, it is very much mainstream now. I am also finding that there are many women who are becoming encouraged by their female friends and that is awesome.
WOS: Prois seems to be more than just an apparel company, but an organization that empowers women. Tell me about your all-female Field / Pro Staff and any other programs geared toward advocating and promoting women in the outdoors?
KP: We take great pride in our pro/field/hunt staff. They are all amazing women with amazing stories to tell. We all share the same passions and it is fun to watch how much they encourage each other. One thing that Prois does not do is pay staff. I do not believe in this philosophy which has become so standardized. I feel that if I must pay someone to wear my gear, promote my gear and to be involved in the company, there isn’t a relationship there. We work hard to promote all staff and the sisterhood that surrounds Prois – we call it the posse.
Additionally, we do not at all believe in holding our staff to a ‘contract’ as many companies do. I feel the door should be left open to both parties. If one of our staff ladies gets a great offer for sponsorship, they must be free to go with that. Additionally, if a staffer just doesn’t really want to be a part of the company anymore, it would be a terrible thing to force them. The open door also allows us to part ways with any staffer who no longer shares the same vision we do, though this doesn’t happen. I think the key to keeping staff is encouraging a very female friendly atmosphere that encourages camaraderie and mutual support. Humor is super important, as well.
WOS: When you founded Prois, all of your products were manufactured in the United States. Is that still the case today?
KP: We produce about 50 percent of our products stateside, in California to be exact, and 50 percent in Vietnam. We are committed to keeping as much production domestic as we possibly can without the cost becoming to unobtainable to our consumer. With camouflage fabrics, the highest quality technical fabrics are unfortunately produced overseas and it is cheaper to have garments manufactured there than it is to import the fabric and manufacture stateside. We believe in supporting the domestic economy and I do hope manufacturing can start coming back to the United States in the future.
WOS: What is your favorite Prois product and why?
KP: Hands down I love the Archtach Down Jacket. It is the best product we have made to date and we were thrilled to hit the down market first for the ladies.
WOS: How do you balance running a business, spending time with your family and still find time to hunt?
KP: Ugh. I am not sure any woman has ever mastered balance when it comes to family/business/life. It has become significantly easier now that my girls are out of the house.
Before, my husband and I would try to balance all of the kids sports and activities. We never missed anything between the two of us, but that wasn’t always easy. Family is always number one, followed by friends. Business must be intermixed as a top priority, but I feel that you can squeak work in at many odd hours of the day to adjust.
Hunting and the outdoors are my husband and I’s favorite activities, and we make every effort to use spare time wisely! We take on as many opportunities as we can, but have found that it is best to literally pencil in every hunting outing and possible seasons so we can best plan without overcommitting.
WOS: Prois has opened many doors for you, including unique hunting opportunities. Of all the places you’ve hunted, where would you say is your favorite?
KP: I love hunting near home. However, my favorite two places I have hunted are:
1) Namibia with Mogwadiri Safaris. This was mind blowing to me and I cannot wait to return.
2) Caribou hunting in Quebec with High North Outfitting. I had so many amazing experiences.
WOS: What are some life lessons you’ve learned, as a woman, from hunting? Both from the sport, and the act of being a woman in the male-geared market.
1. Always have a sense of humor. Always.
2. Never take yourself too seriously.
3. Work your ass off in everything you do. You will win some and lose some, but you will always know you gave it all you had.
4. Base your business on relationships, NOT industry standards.
5. Surround yourself with amazing people.
6. Eliminate the negative forces in your life. Who has time for that?
7. Create the life you always imagined. It sounds corny, but it’s true.
WOS: Do you have any advice to female hunters, both beginners and those who have stayed with the sport because they love it?
KP: Pursue what you love and don’t be afraid to try and to fail. Find a support group around you that can help teach, encourage, and accompany you. Do your research and ask questions, whether it is about gear, weapons or hunting. Continue to hone your craft and learn as much as you can about everything! It’s invigorating.
WOS: Which other females in the outdoors industry do you draw your inspiration from?
KP: Honestly, the women of this company. I am humbled and awed by all of these ladies. We have ladies like Julie Golob, Tracy and Lanny Barnes and Natalie Foster who are ground breakers. We have women who are wives, mothers and grandmothers from every corner of the world who may not be “celebrities,” but these are women I will constantly strive to emulate. They are amazing.
WOS: Last question, what’s next for Prois? What can we expect to see in 2016?
KP: World domination. No, just kidding. Sort of. Our mission is to continue to maintain the utmost quality, function and fit in hunting and shooting gear for women. They deserve only the best and it is our job to provide it. My continued goal is to continue to grow the female hunting market and sisterhood of likeminded women. Bringing women together and supporting women is our priority.