Hello from Isella! (About Us)

Posted by Mallorie Estenson on

It's been a whirlwind 6 months and we figured it might be a good time to introduce ourselves with a little more clarity about who we are and what we do. Up top, we want you to know: we're outdoor dreamers and doers and most importantly, we believe in empowering adventure for all. Gear is our vehicle for making it happen.

Isella Outdoor was founded in Seattle, Washington. It started in a 300 square foot apartment filled to the brim with more jackets than any one person should own, even for a Seattleite. Founder Mallorie Estenson had moved to the historically black Central District of Seattle in the midst of the 2020 pandemic, at the height of Seattle Black Lives Matter protests. Reading about the protests in social media and the news is one thing, living among and joining protestors forced her to reflect on how to use her skills, expertise and privilege to take action in her community. For the last few years, Mallorie had been working as a mountain guide and acquiring a mess of gear and an arsenal of outdoor knowledge. In her career, the greatest boosts to her professional opportunities were the result of scholarships, which inspired Isella's gear scholarship concept.

Mallorie Estenson photographed by William Woodward.

With her guiding goals upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mallorie had crash-landed in a customer service role in the outdoor industry. It was far from glamorous. She was inundated by angry customer calls on the daily and worked in a toxic and misogynistic environment. In one of her lowest professional moments, she needed a spiritual recharge and Isella came to rapid fruition. With hardly a plan, an Instagram account, and a few Google forms, she began posting some of her own equipment for sale at low prices to help others access outdoor tools to have their own adventures.

Before going live with the Instagram account, she'd mulled over how to have the greatest impact with her side gear hustle. Affordable equipment is a great place to start, but even with her own privileges and opportunities, she knew that the greatest way to give folks a boost would be to simply get the gear into the hands that needed it. Even more ideal would be to empower recipients with skills and knowledge to advance their own outdoor opportunities, but it had to begin somewhere. The hard goods and soft goods seemed like a great place to start. And so began the gear scholarships.

When artist Kika Macfarlane went live with a post about ending toxic gear culture, it was the perfect impetus to launching Isella. In the first few weeks, sellers input their information on one Google form. Mallorie would post to the Instagram account. Buyers would fill out another form. Mallorie would track down and contact the first buyer for payment; if they bailed, she'd move on to the next. She'd then return to the initial form, create a shipping label and email it to the seller. Once the seller provided proof of shipment, Mallorie would pay them. This process resulted in many nights of burning midnight oil. Literally.

Floundering in the demand, things really leveled up when Sherry Li, Christine Lynch and Jessica Dyer came onto the scene. Suddenly, a clunky little operation began to hum and used gear was being put back into use and circulation, flying all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond. To this day, the volunteer team is a crucial part of Isella's operation. Sherry has dedicated countless hours to improving the website's function and making gear available for sale; she has also improved general processes and spreadsheet functionality. Christine has played a significant role in helping make gear available. Jessica has similarly leveled up our spreadsheet game and demonstrated how insanely fast gear can get posted to the site. These ladies deserve a huge round of applause for their efforts.

Once the demand was met by an adept team, a kind soul by the name of Andrew Knight came along the ragtag operation and really leveled things up when he built out a platform on Shopify for the team to use. Instead of manually creating a shipping label for each and every item, sending multiple emails to buyer and seller, the platform automated much of the process. We're still so grateful for his contribution.

We also owe great thanks to Kate George for her design work, including our logo and a perfect postcard that she made for us early on.

Over time, our little operation started to generate a small fund that we could use to begin empowering adventure. So we created our first gear scholarship in time for Labor Day and began accepting applications. We received requests from many deserving applicants, but had to narrow it down to 3 women that we believed would be most impacted and empowered with the tools. We made a special effort to invite women of diverse backgrounds and skillsets to help us award the scholarships.

By the time October came around, we established a connection with Edelrid to award three climbing kits to three very deserving women. They were kind enough to donate a comprehensive climbing kit to our cause, including: a rope, harness, helmet, rock shoes, quick draws, a belay device and a locking carabiner. We're still so grateful.

While tools are a great way for us to give, we've also discovered in recent months that we can have a positive impact by literally paying forward the fruits of our labors. We believe that initiatives by women of color for women of color stand to have a greater impact, and we want to encourage these opportunities to flourish.

That's us! This is what we do. We're glad you're here with us and hope that we can serve you somewhere along your outdoor journey.


Mallorie & the Isella Crew