I first bumped into Mandy “Purple Rain” Bland along the AT in New Hampshire. Even 1,800 miles in, she was still bubbling with enthusiasm. As is the fluidity of the trail, I didn’t see her again after our brief meeting. Imagine my surprise when I saw a Facebook post over two years later for Purple Rain Adventure Skirts. Remembering my own sub-par hiking skirt I wore for my first half of the AT, I figured that a skirt made by a real thru-hiker would be a better option.
I caught up with Mandy to ask a few questions about her adventure skirt business and her hiking plans.
Tell us about your outdoor experience. Any favorite hikes?
I discovered my love of the outdoors after college. I have spent a couple summers in Alaska working as a trail and kayak guide. In the summer of 2010 a friend and I did a 10 day hike in Kachemak Bay State Park near Homer, Alaska. This was when I fell in love with distance hiking and began planning a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail the year I turned 30.
What made you decide to start your own line of hiking skirts?
Necessity is the mother of invention! After finishing the AT and wearing numerous nasty hiking shorts, I became intrigued by hiking in a skirt. After doing some research I figured I could make a better one myself….and I’m cheap. I hacked up a pair of old convertible hiking pants (the ones that broke on me in the Smokies) patched a pocket and a stretchy waistband on it and hit the PCT. A few miles in I knew I was on to something.
What aspects of Purple Rain skirts make them better than the other options out there?
Pockets, real functional pockets! I’m so sick of women’s wear “pockets” that barely fit a tube of chapstick. I got stuff to carry too! Each skirt has two dual access pockets. The skirts also do not have undershorts. I realize some women love undershorts, but thru-hikers need maximum airflow and the ability to layer. The skirts have a 4 inch yoga style waistband that can be worn flat or folded over. I personally don’t think there is anything more comfortable than a stretchy waistband, and it won’t bunch under a pack’s waistbelt. All the material is made of quick dry stretch nylon.
Do you make each skirt yourself? What’s the process like?
I do make each skirt by hand. Portland has a really wonderful fabric store called Rose City Textiles. They specialize in outdoor performance fabrics, a lot of it is factory seconds from Adidas and Nike and occasionally Lululemon. I go there a couple times a month to dig around and see what gems I can find. I have an in-home studio where I do all the cutting and sewing. Purple Rain Skirts launched in March of 2014. There’s been a lot of design refining and learning new sewing techniques over the past year. It’s a lot of work, but I love it.
What is the most challenging aspect of running your own business? Does it interfere with your trail time?
I got into this because I have a creative brain, so learning the business aspect has been a real challenge. I am participating in a Mercy Corp grant matching program for low income small business owners. Through that I have access to a lot of resources that have helped a ton. When I receive my grant I will be able to expand production and develop my own website.
I am currently sewing like a mad woman in anticipation of being on trail for 6-8 weeks this spring. Being able to take time for trail is the best part of the job.
Do you have any hikes coming up?
YES! My partner Ryan and I are hiking the Grand Enchantment Trail starting April 1st. It’s a 770 mile route between Phoenix to Albuquerque. Hiking in the desert will be a challenge in itself and the trail isn’t known for being easy to follow. No white blazes every quarter mile! We are really excited to get on trail again; it’s been two years since a long hike, I’m overdue!
Finally, how can readers order a Purple Rain Skirt?