Dare + Defy: Outdoor Exploration as a Catalyst for Gender Equality


dare + Defy: Outdoor exploration as a Catalyst For Gender Equality

Alexia has dedicated her masters thesis at SVA's Products of Design to exploring women's role in the outdoors, designing around some of the challenges in this space, and working towards a more diverse and inclusive outdoor sphere.

Delving into research for this topic, Alexia found a fierce and daring group of women pushing their physical boundaries and challenging society’s expectations. She discovered that this spirit of adventure and fearlessness comes from a deep immersion in nature and an ability to embrace risk; which in turn fosters the development of a strong connection to the mind and body. These confident women become robust role models for a younger generation, with experiences that permeate every facet of their lives. Through DARE + DEFY Alexia is designing ways in which to amplify the impact these experiences have on women’s lives and challenge societal rules around gender.

On this page you will be able to take a peak Alexia's process including, the development of physical artifacts, service blueprints, digital platforms and experiences.


Research & Insight Building

The summer was spent delving deep into reading about the outdoors, but the most valuable insight came from user and expert interviews in the Fall. Here is the growing list of people I have interviewed.


The opportunity to engage in conversations a variety of women and menincluding people who engage in outdoor activity, psychologists, business leaders and professionals in the outdoor industrygave Alexia a keen understanding of some of the challenges in this space. With both her primary and secondary research in mind, she generated some initial key insights to lead the first design explorations into her topic. 


Bivvi, Blaze & Spark: a collection of vibrators designed for outdoorsy women

This collection started as a set of speculative pieces poking at the idea of pleasure as an essential, and that as women, we shouldn't be ashamed of thinking of it as such. The pieces were made to double as a flashlights, and are designed with an outdoor equipment aesthetic featuring a carabiner, so they can be inconspicuously carried around clipped to a woman's belt or backpack without anyone knowing their alternate function and use.

These initial pieces have inspired Alexia to think of other ways in which to design products that are necessary for survival, but include an alternate function that satisfies a specific need for women.


Making process


Ascend: a service blueprint

Looking closer at key insights 1, 2 and 3 Alexia saw an incredible opportunity to create Ascend, a volunteer program that would provide survivors of trauma access to their local climbing community.


By giving women survivors a dynamic and safe space to challenge themselves physically with other women, Ascend provides a chance for them to defy their trauma and reclaim a lasting connection to their bodies.

 Photo courtesy of  Flash Foxy , by Vikki Gliinski -  The RV Project

Photo courtesy of Flash Foxy, by Vikki Gliinski - The RV Project

The program would rely on three key partnerships. One with outdoor brands, who would provide funds as well as promotional campaigns to get volunteer women involved. Another with local gyms, who would also provide connection to volunteers, but most importantly, a safe space. And finally a partnership with community centers in the area who assist women survivors, which would provide a connection to the key participants.


Both volunteers and participants sign-up through the website for weekly climbing sessions at the local gym, with the ultimate goal of bringing the group out-of-doors and onto real rock.

 Photo courtesy of  Flash Foxy , by Vikki Gliinski -  The RV Project

Photo courtesy of Flash Foxy, by Vikki Gliinski - The RV Project


Baintabu: App Design for women survivors to go outside

After designing the service blueprint for Ascend, Alexia shared her pitch with Elishia Perosa, a survivor of domestic violence, who founded Resilience iAM an organization out of Vancouver, BC that provides a variety of services to survivors like her. She admitted that while effective for some women, climbing might create a barrier for other women who might not be able to jump right onto a climbing wall, but might still benefit from having a supportive community around outdoor activities. With Elishia's feedback, Alexia created Baintabu, a phone app that provides women survivors access to a community to encourage various forms of outdoor activity.

In a conversation with MarK Dones from the Center For Social Innovation, he said that "Most people coming from trauma are engaging with their healing in a non-linear fashion." Based on this Alexia created an app which affords the user a choice when it comes to the order and levels of engagement. The features draw from the way in which mountaineer Arlene Blum prepares for a big expedition. In the Team Zone users can add friends and family to support them in their journey. The Get Outside section, is where they have access to outdoor activities lead by trained women guides, featuring degree of difficulty and time commitment. Other sections include a Therapist Section, a Journaling Area and a Landmarks area where users earn badges based on their activity.


Beta: a co-creation workshop for women in the outdoors

To further engage with the outdoorsy women who guided her research, Alexia hosted a co-cretion workshop to celebrate their adventurous spirit and its role in their daily lives.


Each participant received a set of cards to reflect on the effects of the outdoors had in the Heart, Gut, Mind and Body. After sharing their reflections the participants were asked to create messages for their past, present and future selves using the blank triangular slabs. 


To end everybody participated in the building ceremony of the totem by sharing their creation and adding their slab to the shared emblem.


A lot of the work reflected on the totem pole is very personal to each of the participants, but at the same time very universal. As everyone presented their creation I could see people around the circle nodding in agreement to what was being shared. A few of the participants had younger sisters that they saw struggling with confidence issues, something they had recognized in their younger selves. This reinforces for me the importance of Insight 4 from list outlined in primary research section: Exposing girls to the outdoors at a young age creates a strong lasting connection to the natural world, where they can cultivate important leadership skills, build self-confidence, be healthier and happier.


To be Continued...

The thesis process continues this Spring semester and will culminate in a public presentation on May 3rd at the SVA Theater. Sign up, and come see what Alexia and her talented classmates have been investigating.