From Grief to Gratitude: 5 Year Anniversary Reflections

Purple Rain Adventure Skirts - Mandy Bland.jpg

Five years ago, I started Purple Rain Adventure Skirts from a dining room table in a rented house in Portland, Oregon.  At the time I was living with three dudes, my partner being one of them. They let me take over the main space of the house with a $60 Craigslist serger and the sewing machine my grandma got me in college. I didn’t have a printer, so I literally walked to the library to print shipping labels and I reused paper grocery bags as mailers.  

My original skirt listing on Etsy was for $40.  I had no idea how to value my time or talent. I just knew I wanted to make hiking skirts.  

Purple Rain Adventure Skirts - Beginning of Hiking Skirts.jpg

But the story of Purple Rain Adventure Skirts actually goes back to 2013, during a cold, dark Minnesota winter. The summer previous I quit my desk job and flew to Georgia to hike the Appalachian Trail.  Everyone has a different reason for taking to trail and at the time I wasn’t sure of mine. I just knew I had to make it to Maine, that my life would somehow be marked by that momentous achievement.

Two months after I finished the trail my brother died suddenly. Perhaps my calling to trail was to build the inner strength of living with tragedy. I moved back home to be close to family. Between grief and post trail depression, I had trouble keeping a job. I spent that Minnesota winter grieving and sewing and dreaming of being on trail, where life was simple.  During my darkest days, the Purple Rain Adventure Skirt was born.

That following summer I found myself back on trail, hiking a 500-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail and wearing one of my own skirt creations. To make my skirt, I scoured thrift stores, hacked up old hiking pants, and patched on a pocket and a yoga-style waistband. Within a few miles, I knew I was on to something.  

Purple Rain Adventure Skirts - Mandy Bland (3).jpg

I loved the airflow and the ease when nature called. I loved having my phone, map and pee rag easily accessible. I loved not having to carry around a dry bag ‘purse’ while in town.  

After finishing our trek, I began researching fabric sources and never looked back. With zero business experience, I didn’t’ know what I was up against, and maybe that was a good thing. I just got to work designing great pockets and dialing in sizing.  

Purple Rain Adventure Skirts - Mandy Bland (2).jpg

I heard about a grant program through Mercy Corp Northwest. I completed the program that included business coaching and a grant to buy hard assets for the company. I purchased industrial sewing machines and a printer so I could stop wasting time at the library.

A year after launching, I went full time with Purple Rain Adventure Skirts. I’m incredibly thankful to the good friends I made in the hiking community who were and are passionate about hiking skirts. They’re the ones who helped me get early traction, and it’s been a word-of-mouth advertising endeavor ever since.

For the first four years of Purple Rain Adventure Skirts existence, I made every single skirt myself. Only in the past year did I hire someone to help me out. It’s crazy to think how hard I worked in the first few years, especially when throwing a new baby into the equation. While I sometimes question whether I’m simply a glutton for punishment, doing everything myself also helped to put money in the bank and meet my family’s financial needs.

Purple Rain Adventure Thru Hiking Skirts - Mandy Bland Family.png

I love being a small company and am in no hurry to rush the process. It allows me to be at home with my young son and to have a flexible lifestyle. That is what’s most important to me now. I love that it’s become a family business.  Together, we take road trips to events and my partner, Ryan, is my unofficial advisor.

My goal with the business is to eventually become a B corp.  I feel like I owe it to my son to build a sustainable business. I’ve taken many active steps to that end, which you can read about here.  

Purple Rain Adventure Thru Hiking Skirts - Mandy Bland (4).jpg

When I think about my humble beginnings, I cannot distinguish between the creation of the skirt and the pain of my brother dying. I love my business and the fortune and success it has brought me and my family. But I can’t say I would have done it if my brother hadn’t died. Maybe there is the life lesson in there, and what Wes is trying to teach me. We are made to do hard things and through pain we grow.  And I can gratefully say I am growing the life I love.