The outdoors holds special meaning for Barefoot Eco Outfitters owner Tracy Strandness
Tracy Strandness’ love for the outdoors has a long history. As a child, she enjoyed road trips to state parks for camping adventures with her parents and her siblings. When she was raising her children, she relished time spent hiking outdoors with them. That love of nature continues today for Strandness, owner of the outdoor apparel company Barefoot Eco Outfitters.
A Pacific Northwest native who was born and raised on the Eastside, Strandness, 57, graduated from Pacific Lutheran University and was a marketing director and office manager for Terranomics Retail Brokerage in Bellevue. She married and moved to the Kitsap Peninsula in 1999 to raise a family (sons Trevor and Keegan, now 27 and 24 years old, respectively, and daughter Skyler, who is 20 years old). Strandness’ marriage dissolved, she said, and she raised her kids mostly as a single parent.
“During that time (the divorce), we just did things to stay active,” she explained. “We would escape to nature. That is where we felt safe, free, and where no one could touch us. That was kind of sacred for us.”
Eventually, Strandness and her kids moved back to the Eastside (first Kirkland, now Redmond), and she and her children started Barefoot Eco Outfitters (formerly Barefoot Athletic Company) in 2012. The new endeavor served as a means to provide for her family, as well as to feed her love for the outdoors, which, according to Strandness, was key to starting over as a single parent of three teenaged kids.
“I wanted anything I did to be eco-friendly, so that it wasn’t a blight on the environment,” she explained. “So, I married those two things and started (Barefoot Eco Outfitters).”
The company has two lines of products — Mighty Ocean Collection and Mighty Mountain Collection — that offer comfortable and vibrant outdoor gear, such as caps, beanies, T-shirts, tank tops, jogging pants, and sunglasses with vintage-themed outdoor designs that evoke wilderness and wildlife motifs. It also offers anklets and bracelets through its Trail to Sea Collection.
Barefoot Eco Outfitters strives to be as eco-friendly as possible. The apparel is made using organic cotton, low-impact dyes, recycled water, and even fiber created from recycled plastic bottles. Its jewelry consists of recycled glass.
The company’s sales come via the Barefoot Eco Outfitters website (product is shipped in recycled and biodegradable packaging), and by setting up retail booths at outdoors and socially responsible events, such as Cycle the WAVE (Women Against Violence Everywhere), Northwest Paddling Festival, Evergreen Mountain Bike Festival, and Kirkland Wednesday Market. Strandness does envision opening a brick-and-mortar store one day.
According to Strandness, Barefoot Eco Outfitters donates $2 from every purchase to groups that promote environmental protection and wildlife preservation, and she and her family donate their time to similar causes, such as the Washington Trails Association, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, and Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup day.
Q: When you set out to start a business, how did you settle on selling apparel?
A: Some of life’s best moments happen in a T-shirt. I wanted to create comfortable clothing that I could wear while out on adventures, or simply for everyday running around town. Our shirts are cozy, comfortable, and an expression of one’s passion for the outdoors.
Q: What do you hear from customers as far as why they choose to buy your products?
A: I think it resonates with people on an emotional level. The designs are vintage-inspired. I have great memories of those national park signs, campfires, s’mores, and cozy cabins. I try to translate all of that into the designs. That seems to be one of the reasons: People have a connection to nature, and that connects them to our product.
Also, the clothes are super-comfortable. We have jogging pants that are unbelievable. The quality is amazing. The dyes have no heavy metals. Recycled water is used in the process. A lot of these things make (the clothing) more comfortable and, ultimately, safer and healthier for people to wear.
So, it’s a combination of an emotional connection, quality products, and the knowledge that there is a greater mission behind it. People feel that it’s not just another T-shirt.
Q: How much extra expense and effort go into making sure your products meet your sustainability requirements?
A: You can get a cheap T-shirt for three bucks for any event and have something printed on it. People do that all the time. I just can’t. So, I will have to pay a little bit more for the shirt. I just know that’s part of my deal. I don’t want to compromise. We can do things to be much more profitable much more easily, but that’s not where my heart lies.
Q: Is sustainability a selling point, especially for niche consumers who are eco-conscious and appreciate that extra effort?
A: Yes and no. It is a selling point for those who are in that world and get it. For a lot of people, though, it’s not high on their list of priorities. But a lot of people are surprised: This is 50 percent cotton and 50 percent recycled plastic? Really? But it’s so soft. The product can still meet people where they are, and hopefully there is a takeaway.
Q: Camping with your family and being outdoors while you grew up was really important to you. Why is that such a strong memory?
A: My dad had a love for the outdoors. I have three siblings, and every summer my parents took us camping in an old Studebaker. Those are my best memories. We didn’t go far. I never got on an airplane until I was in college. It was just simple. I was so grateful for those vacations. They were super-fun and meaningful, and they created that connectedness. They were just organic adventures that gave me a certain confidence and fearlessness, even at a young age.
Q: When you aren’t running your business, where are some of your favorite places outdoors? On which trails are we most likely to find you and your family?
A: My favorite place is Olympic National Park. Those mountains and those forests are very primeval. Something about that area is enchanting and mystical. I feel very connected there. Also, being near Mount Rainier. There is nothing like being in the presence of that majesty, even when you are in the parking lot! It’s accessible and consumes you in a very good way. For short hikes, Franklin Falls along the Interstate 90 corridor. And the Issaquah Alps and Mount Si — the places people always go for quick getaways.