We have always admired Brown Girls Climb (BGC) and the group’s mission of supporting historically marginalized identities in climbing and the outdoors. When they reached out to us about partnering for a PR project to promote the BGC Marketplace, we were thrilled to jump in and start helping them get the word out. The perfect spot to get all of your holiday shopping done, the BGC Marketplace is a values-based shopping experience for the outdoors lover where you can find Black and Brown-owned brands, products that are inclusive and sustainable, and small businesses.
This month, we sat down with two of BGC’s founders, Brittany Leavitt, CEO of BGC, and Bethany Lebewitz, former CEO of BGC, to learn more about the organization and how BGC is building a more inclusive outdoor community.
Bethany, you founded Brown Girls Climb (BGC) as a social enterprise back in the fall of 2016 when you were looking for other women of color to join you for climbing in the Washington D.C. area. Since then, what has surprised you the most about its evolution?
Bethany: Reflecting on what my original intention was around the Instagram account, I could not have imagined a whole community of women nationally and globally resonating with the same need for community as I needed back then. This community wouldn’t exist without the people that mold and shape it through their individual perspectives and contributions. I think BGC is a testament to how important it is for people to feel empowered to share their stories and vision and to create. I hope more people can recognize how important their voice is in building the futures we want to live in.
We understand BGC is a welcoming and safe place, encouraging People of a Global Majority to join. What do you hear from your members regarding the bonds they’ve formed through your meetups?
Britt: So many things! It was great to hear from folks who are first-timers and how having a space to try a new activity with encouragement from the support of the local leaders and their BGC Community creates a powerful connection for folks to feel good to chat with others. We see folks who afterward exchange numbers and find new partners in climbing which is what we try to encourage as much as we can!
BGC hosts the BGC Marketplace, a values-based shopping experience for the outdoor lover. How do you find the BIPOC and inclusive brands you work with, especially the smaller businesses?
Bethany: Being and living in community. I am a part of a BIPOC outdoor entrepreneurs networking group called BIPOCs in Outdoor Biz and this space has been a special place for small business owners of color to connect. I also try to listen and research. The outdoors has been defined by profit for so long but to be outdoors is to simply be ourselves in the outdoors – we bring our culture, our comforts, and our traditions to the places we play and gather in.
The coolest feature on the BGC marketplace is the intersectional filters that help shoppers find Black and Brown-owned companies and companies making significant social or environmental impacts, and/or inclusive designs.
We understand this fall you are offering a holiday gift guide, what are some of your favorite products that shoppers can discover this season?
Bethany, you’ve decided to step aside and let Brittany lead the charge at BGC. What excites you the most about having Brittany Leavitt as the new CEO of BGC?
Bethany: What has made Brown Girls Climb successful in the past has been deep and honest relationships. Few people have the patience and skill to navigate and honor complex relationships and people. For me, this is what characterizes a successful leader: someone who is confident enough to lead in community and humble enough to be accountable to community. As an educator and community leader, Brittany is prepared more than most to step into this role.
We’ve heard the BGC may transition to a nonprofit. What can you tell us about the shift in structure and how it will better serve your community?
Britt: We are transitioning into a non-profit to support our work that aligns with our mission and vision regarding advancing our education and mentorship to the community and leaders. This would include getting support to host in-leadership training for local leaders and host outdoor education workshops for the community. It will also allow us to continue creating space for storytelling and advocacy work, which would include hosting in-person and digital workshops and hosting more in-person events. All while still being able to continue supporting our members with membership needs.
Looking at the outdoor industry specifically, what are your recommendations for changing industry norms and removing stigmas around outdoor sports like climbing?
Bethany: For me, my biggest recommendation is supporting more innovators that come from historically marginalized backgrounds, especially Black and Inidgenous, Plus Size, Trans, Veterans, and people with disabilities. One of my favorite shows is Shark Tank and that show demonstrates so clearly how much opportunity is out there for product development. People experience issues with standard gear, travel, and apparel everyday to climb and they are the ones that have creativity to fix them. The industry and investors just need to hear and support them through this process.
Where are you hoping to explore in 2023?
Bethany: I have a one-year-old which has really influenced how I move in the world. My educational background is in neuroscience and child development, so it’s actually been a really interesting period to return back to my technical experience to observe my little one grow. My identity is definitely shifting as I step away from BGC though and I’m excited to see what’s next. If you know of good people to work with, send my info along! LOL
Britt: I am excited to get more outdoor programs and community outreach going again! Looking forward to seeing the marketplace fully reach our communities.
What’s the most underrated piece of gear in your rotation?
Bethany: Literally the first thing that pops into my head is my menstrual cup. These things don’t get the outdoor love they deserve. I love to do triathlon-type link-ups to climb, bike, run, and swim and wouldn’t be able to go as light or as fast without it!
Britt: My underrated piece of gear is…this is hard, I wouldn’t say underrated, but I run cold, so I always have a puffy or a windbreaker with me.
Of course, good food is a part of every adventure! What’s your favorite meal after a solid outdoor session?
Bethany: Tamales and watermelon.
Britt: I always love going for a solid burger, fries, and milkshake.
We always like to know what’s on the nightstand – any book suggestions you would like to pass along?
Britt: I love reading graphic novels currently reading Saga. I also love reading books about navigating strategies for community work and self-growth. So, I am currently reading Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown.