Speaking with Kirstie Pike, creator of PROIS women’s only outdoor and hunting gear, just makes your day. She’s fun, jovial and you can just hear her smile in every response. One thing I love about Kirstie’s story is that it has a great “big picture” message about finding a need, filling it and pursuing your passion. It’s truly inspiring to see what she’s done with a little ingenuity and a lot of style.
If you haven’t heard of PROIS, it’s high time you did. PROIS is a high end line of hunting and outdoor gear made specifically for women. As you’ll read below, they take every little detail into consideration.
NF: First and foremost, where can we find PROIS products and apparel?
NF: Am I right in saying that you created PROIS?
KP: Yes, actually my husband and I. He’s my partner in the business. We launched in 2008.
NF: Wow, only in 2008? That’s been a quick rise.
KP: Yeah, it’s been really fast.
NF: That’s huge. Now obviously you have a hunting background, but did you have a background in garment manufacturing?
KP: No, not at all. Actually, I’m a nurse. I’ve done emergency and trauma care for about 20 years at a hospital here. We just started tinkering with this idea and it just evolved and took off.
NF: So just around the dinner table one night you got to talking about it – what was that conversation like?
KP: We were actually in a Bass Pro getting ready to gear up for archery season and I was ready to buy whatever I wanted – this was probably the end of 2006 -2007, somewhere in there. I tried to find some clothes and they had no camo for women. They had little cotton capris and slutty babydoll t-shirts and that was it. And then for men it was, like, Kevlar. So we just started talking about it – bouncing the idea around. Just started playing with it, seeing what we could do with it and it just happened to work out.
NF: You guys have found some pretty solid success even in a down economy in 2008.
KP: We always joke that there’s no “Idiot’s Guide to Building a Business During a Big Recession” book, but we’ve been pretty lucky with it. I think what we’ve been lucky with is that it was a niche that needed to be hit – including in Gunnison. It’s pretty inclement weather, pretty harsh, so I think most people around here are big gear junkies. They’re always looking for top of the line performance gear and fabrics. For us it was a natural fit because, obviously a lot of other people were looking for that, too.
NF: How did you go from the little family thing to all these huge stores so quickly. It’s kind of shocking to me.
KP: (laughs) It’s pretty shocking to me, too. You know, it’s funny. As soon as we hit the market in 2008 we really didn’t think we were going to- I mean, we thought we were going to do something with it, but we didn’t estimate it going like it did. We just started working on ways to do sales and just jumping in and asking a lot of questions. Finding connections and networking and asking people. It just seemed like the doors just kept opening. We’ve been very fortunate to meet a lot of really good people along the way that were willing to help. We’ve learned a lot of really valuable lessons through mistakes, too (laughs).
NF: (laughs) I know the feeling.
KP: I know, why can’t you just learn them from good things? It’s always gotta be the brutal kick in the teeth.
NF: So – more about you…
KP: I’m pretty boring, actually. I’ve lived in Gunnison, Colorado since I was in middle school. Both my husband and I grew up here and left, went to school, became a nurse and came back. That’s as well rounded as I’ve gotten. I’ve worked here forever. Nursing has been everything I’ve done and I’ve loved it. It’s been the ultimate career for me. I’ve got two great kids – one’s gone off to college this year. So we’re pretty home grown. Our families still live here in a small town up in the mountains and I think we’ll be buried here. At least I hope.
NF: That’s really great.
KP: Yeah, it’s just not that exciting. And I didn’t pick up hunting until I was probably in my 20s. My husband, Steve, has always been a hunter, a guide, and outfitter – he had always done all of that. I never really picked it up until my kids were a little bit older. I took a chance at it that was it – it was fun!
NF: Is that how you got in to shooting? When was the first time you got in to guns?
KP: I got in to guns in my early 20s. I started shooting, again, with my husband. Just dabbling with it a little bit here and there. We took up shooting clays and really really started to build an appreciation for that. And then went in to archery and loved that. That’s actually when I started to think I wanted to hunt a little bit, though I didn’t start [hunting] with archery, I started with rifles. I drew a cow tag* one year and just decided that I was going to go for it. It kind of evolved that way. Then once I got hooked more on hunting it opened a whole lot more for the shooting. It’s been a lot more fun. You learn a lot about the gadgets and everything. You want to try new ones and buy new ones – you become a junkie.
NF: I know! It’s like Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe addiction, isn’t it?
KP: It’s terrible! (laughs) I’m always joking, you know, be careful about getting your daughters in to it because they, of course,
become gear junkies and gear snobs and they want all the top of the top once they get going.
NF:I’m totally that way now, too. I mean, three years ago I hadn’t touched a gun and now I want the laser sights and the best holster and everything that goes along with it.
KP: That’s awesome, though! It seems like so many women – they hit it one time and they’re addicted. There it is.
NF: I’ve never hunted before. Can you describe what you enjoy about hunting – Why do you do it? What you get out of it? Help me and the readers who have yet to hunt understand what is so great about it.
KP: It’s pretty fascinating, actually. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I had shot some birds prior to shooting any big game. I was really concerned the first time I did it that I was gonna feel bad about it. Or that that would be the one time I blew off every leg and the animal would be there writhing on the ground. You worry about that. I’ve never had that, in fact I think the fun part about it is the challenge of it and I think it’s kind of empowering at the same time to know that you’re capable of doing it – the whole process of getting ready for it, the whole lifestyle of it. Working on your shot, learning about the animal and the terrain and everything that goes with it so that when you actually do harvest that animal, especially if you do it very successfully – one shot is always best if you can do it – it feels like such an accomplishment. And from a female perspective it’s also good to know you can harvest your own game. You can take care of that. It’s a nice balance of nature, I think.
NF: And you guys probably eat the meat…
KP: Oh, yeah. Of everything. The good, the bad and the ugly.
NF: Have you ever taken another female first time hunter out?
KP: I have not personally. I’ve been along with my kids. They’ve learned. My husband has taught us all how to hunt and he’s great. I feel like every time I go out I’m learning more and more. I feel like I’ve done a lot but I would never call myself an expert on it. There’s so much to learn and there are so many people who know so much more than I do. But it is fun to go with a new hunter. It’s fun to see somebody get that moment. When it actually does happen they’re so excited. It’s thrilling. It’s an accomplishment.
NF: More about PROIS. You have got a fascinating set of ladies on your staff. You’ve got some of our friends, Julie Golob, and many others. How did you bring them on? What was the process there?
KP: We’ve been really fortunate. We have this philosophy that you surround yourself with people that you genuinely like. I think that’s the first criteria – finding people who are truly enjoyable to be around and good at what they do. It helps that they’re also powerhouses in the industry. Somebody like Julie or Barbara Baird. At the same time, you want to create team of women who like to be together get this great camaraderie. I think we work really hard to build that.
We’ve brought Katherine Grand on to be our pro-staff coordinator. She’s been great, too, in helping identify other ladies that would be good fit. It’s been really fun. We’ve met people through the media and the media organizations are great places for networking, shows, through other friends. It sounds so cliche, but that’s what it is.
NF: I agree- in the short amount of time that I’ve been in the firearms industry I’ve come to find a very strong family. So many of the other women are so encouraging of me and of each other. It’s really cool.
KP: It’s true. It’s like this little underground network of women who are just thrilled to be involved with each other. And it’s really fun.
NF:I think so, too. There’s that common bond. I guess because there are so few of us in this industry we’re immediately sisters. (laughs)
KP: It’s funny- it’s not competitive at all, ya know, we’re just looking for more girls. That’s all. Women tend to like to network more. You can spend all day emailing and just chatting on the phone. My husband is like, “What are you doing all day?” “Networking!” (laughs)
NF: You sponsor some pretty cool people organizations.
KP: Yeah, we’re now one of the main sponsors for the NRA Women On Target hunting program and the NRA’s Women’s Wilderness Escape program and Mule Deer Foundation and we really try to reach out to becoming an outdoor woman programs. Those are really key areas that we need to be in.
NF: Tell me about the Extreme Huntress award. I saw it at SHOT Show last year and that was so interesting. Can you explain what that’s all about?
KP: I’m glad you asked. We’ve been a key sponsor and really ran with the Extreme Huntress competition for the last two years. We were looking for women out there who are, for lack of a better word, bad ass women hunters [with the Extreme Huntress contest]. We have actually chosen this year to go in a different direction which we think is really spectacular. We call it the PROIS Award and it encompasses being that woman but it also includes conservation management and community education – taking that extra step. It’s more than being that bad ass hunter, it’s about being in the whole arena that surrounds it. On our panel of judges this year we’ve got Brenda Valentine, Diana Rupp, who is the editor for Sports Afield, Guy Eastman from Eastmans Hunting Journal, Ron Spomer, Craig Spottington, Craig Boddington, Ron Schmeits, who was the President of the NRA. We’ve got some powerhouse hitters in there and tons of great sponsors with gear – a good hunt up in Alberta for elk, mule deer, whitetail and wolf, and Diana Rupp will go along and do a story for Sports Afield with that. We’re really looking for this very classy, really well rounded – the woman hunter that’s, like, everything. We want someone who has really dedicated their life to hunting and furthering the hunting community. We’re pretty thrilled about it.
NF: Are you announcing the winner at SHOT Show?
KP: Yes, we’re kind of following the same pattern. We’re going to have people send us their applications. We’ve got our panel of judges who I’m very proud about. I feel like they are some of the top names in the industry that really embody our vision of what we’re trying to do. They will pick the top 10 or 12 and we’ll put them online for voting. Then we’ll announce the winner at ATA and SHOT like we did last year and then they’ll be ready to go on their hunt.
NF: So lets talk about your products. Tell me why they’re so wonderful.
KP: Everything comes down to a couple of things. The first is quality fabrics. All of our shirts need to be able to wick moisture. It’s all about thermo-regulation – building layering systems that give you every kind of protection from the weather. We have wind blocking technologies; we have waterproofing, insulatory – everything is built around silence from having thumb holes in all the jackets to nylon lining to magnetic snaps. Even our rain gear is absolutely, utterly silent. We’re pretty picky about all of our fabrics. They’ve got to have performance; it’s got to have a reason. And we work on a lot of signature functions in there. We build scapular drop pockets between the shoulder blades so you can drop activated hand warmers back there. It’s a big thermo-regulatory zone that really aids in warming. We have pockets across the lower back which you can use for storage or hand warmers. We have thumb holes in everything. We’ve built Duck-tails in our rain gear – anything we can do to make the hunting experience more comfortable and more successful.
NF: Wow – it’s crazy to think that no one had ever done that before.
KP: We were pretty surprised that nobody had done it before, too. Again, there are other women’s companies out there and their gear is just fine, but in my opinion, hunting is more athletic than that, it’s more of a sport than that. Shooting, too, is more athletic than that. You know you’re going to go out and sweat. You’re not sitting still. You’re doing a lot and your clothes have to do a lot no matter what you’re doing, I think.
NF: What else is coming up for you guys at PROIS?
KP: Actually we do have another exciting thing going on. We have partnered with Outdoor Connection, a booking agency, to come up with PROISHuntingTrips.com. We’re launching the website with female friendly outfitters for Women Only hunts. We’re just getting ratcheted up and it’s gonna take off quite nicely. We’ve got a couple good media hunts in the queue and we’re coming up with more and more. I estimate that we will have no problem filling camps at all. It’s such a great idea. I’m a big proponent of women’s only hunts. I’ve done plenty of hunts where I’ve had to go in to camp with men. Not that I’m opposed to it, but it’s less comfortable than it needs to be. So we’re thrilled. We’re really excited about what we’ve got in the queue and I think we’re on a really good tipping point with that. You’ll be seeing a lot more about it. We’ve also taken back our Home Hunting program, which is pretty exciting. Basically, it’s like any home party where you can go in to someone’s home and buy PROIS gear. We had started this a while ago and the gal who was running the program went in a new direction. We have it back in house now and it’s really a successful program and a lot of fun and it’s innovative – it’s just a whole other way to reach women and customers. I think it’s gonna be a blast.
*Cow Tag is a part of the lottery process for elk hunters in Colorado. After you apply for a tag, you’re randomly assigned to a bull or a cow.
Thanks, Kirstie, for taking the time to chat. We look forward to many more great things from you in the near future!