Los Angeles, CA natives Tiffany Tharpe and Michelle Race met when they were assigned close lockers in high school. After continued years of friendship and a shared love of the outdoors, Black Girls Trekkin’ (BGT) was born in November of 2017. Now, two years later, BGT celebrates diversity and inclusion in the outdoors with a community of almost 8,000 people on Instagram and frequent group hikes around LA.
We sat down with the co-founders to learn more about how they are reimagining what it means to get outside.
HOKA: What was your vision for BGT when you started the group two years ago?
Michelle: BGT is trying to re-imagine who is represented in the outdoors. We hoped that the group could be a place for everyone because the outdoors is for everyone who wants to be there. The mission of BGT is to promote diversity and inclusion in the outdoors and to inspire people to protect and conserve it.
HOKA: What is your take on the current state of representation in the outdoor industry?
Michelle: I think there are people of color, people of all genders, people of all backgrounds that are in the outdoors all the time. It’s not that they aren’t there. It’s just that we don’t get to see it in marketing. And, so, I think it’s about changing the perspective of everyone. Even if you don’t see yourself, you can be outdoors.
Tiffany: Personally, growing up I didn’t see a lot of representation outdoors. I was a little different than most kids our age. Even though I didn’t see it, I was still interested in learning about it.
HOKA: What would you tell the outdoor industry to help them improve and be more representative?
Tiffany: I would say that they’re doing well in starting to promote diversity in the outdoors, but they could be doing better. So, instead of just showcasing People of Color outdoors or just showing up for Pride month and having a gay couple on the trail, maybe hiring more diverse people up top or having more campaigns to help people who cannot afford to get into the outdoors.
Michelle: I would say that the landscape of who’s in the outdoors is changing. It’s important for them to keep up with who’s outdoors now and to look around and notice that there are people from lots of different backgrounds that don’t see themselves in the outdoors.
HOKA: How does this play into protecting the environment?
Tiffany: The world is shifting and minorities will soon technically be the majority. And if the minorities are the majority and they don’t have people representing the outdoors, then the outdoors won’t have a voice. So, for groups like BGT we’re trying to get people involved in the outdoors and inspire them to protect it, because the outdoors deserves that protection.
HOKA: Can you tell us more about how you have created a community of trust to help welcome new people to the trail?
Tiffany: If someone is struggling on a hike there’s always someone there to talk them through. We always have extra snacks and water, and then if we need we’ll turn around and stop the trail because we don’t want anyone to keep pushing themselves if they can’t do it. And then we can always try again. The trail’s always going to be there, hopefully. So, it’s just kind of working together on the trail and making sure everyone’s okay. We never get disconnected from one another.
Michelle: Yeah, I think for me, it came out of doing a lot of summer camps. We always had a counselor at the front and someone in the back to corral everyone. So, it was pretty natural for me to kind of just go to the back and make sure that we didn’t leave anyone behind. We are going to get to the top together, we are going to make it back to the bottom together, and we are doing this for everyone. We’re all in it together. It’s really important for me to make sure that everyone feels like they’re a part of the group at every step.
HOKA: What has been one of your favorite moments from a hike? How does BGT bring you joy?
Michelle: One of our more regular reactions that I love is people going back to their cars and just hugging each other. It’s a small moment, but it shows how close the group has become. Even though everyone is so tired at the very end, everyone hugs each other before they leave. And I think that’s so nice to see. Yeah. That’s one of my favorite things.
Tiffany: The joy comes for me when we get first-time hikers with us on the trail and they want to come back and do it again. And then we see them coming back on more of our hikes and getting into it and making friends. It just brings a lot of joy to me.
HOKA: How many women are a part of BGT right now?
Michelle: We have anywhere from ten to 25 people that come on our hikes from different backgrounds of life. Even though our group is small and we’re just starting out, it’s growing well. I know we are making a difference in those ten to 25 lives and that matters to me.
HOKA: How can people get involved with BGT?
Tiffany: Follow our Instagram! Or you can join our email list to learn about upcoming hikes. At some point, we will be scouting for ambassadors outside of LA to plant the seed worldwide.
HOKA: What is your advice to anyone who might be nervous to get outside for the first time?
Tiffany: I would tell them, “You belong here. The outdoors is for everyone. Don’t let people’s stares discourage you. There is a community of people worldwide that are doing the same thing. We’re getting outdoors. We’re breaking these stereotypes and you are not alone. See what the outdoors has to offer for you.”
Michelle: I would tell Women of Color, “You’re already tackling so many challenges every single day that to tackle a mountain, that’s nothing. You got this.”
Meet Tiffany, Michelle and Black Girls Trekkin’ in HOKA ONE ONE: Time to Represent.
Learn more about HOKA trail products here.