Never Not Collective is Pretty Strong

Photo: Collette McInerney

Pretty Strong

A new film by Never Not Collective

by Sara Aranda

It hasn’t been quite a year since Never Not Collective launched themselves into the Outdoor Industry arena, but they’ve made it clear they are here to create waves, redefine femininity, and be one of the first all-female production teams in the outdoor space. The Collective is currently comprised of four badass and industry-established women: Julie Ellison (Climbing Magazine Editor-At-Large), Shelma Jun (HeyFlashFoxy/Women’s Climbing Festival Founder), Leslie Hittmeier (Skiing Magazine Editor/Teton Gravity Research Managing Editor), and Collette McInerney (Freelance Photo/Film Creative & Pro Climber).

They consider themselves to be quite the team of “unapologetic women of the outdoors…seeking to tell the stories of everyday people doing great things, brave things…” If you’ve ever met any one of them, you know this to be very true. Their energy exudes confidence and rings with the desire to build up community. It is also apparent how passionate they are, especially with the commitment to share their passions with others. Bringing forth varied backgrounds, from writing, multi-media, to analytics, their mission is to fuse genres and create unique and diverse perspectives in order to achieve a more holistic connection with viewers.

“Action is exciting,” their website states, “but we believe that people, with all their complexity, faults, and flaws, are at the heart of every compelling story.” This reflects sentiments found during the 2017 Outdoor Retailer Summer Show, how business ethics are slowly but surely shifting; how diversity and inclusivity will inevitably strengthen the backbone of the industry. And with the mixing of social media and politics, brand activism seems to be the way of the future.

Never Not Collective is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with when it comes to feminism. Shelma Jun is not afraid to call out bias or sexism when she sees it, as showcased in a recent film project with REI. She recently gave a talk at The Front Climbing Club in Utah for an event entitled, “Wine, Dine, and Climb.” This event was women specific, with an evening full of clinics, speakers, and gear booths. “Women are looking for ways to come together,” Jun stated as the keynote speaker, and events like this were certainly a result of that.

But her vibe was not to exclude men or other groups, which is the bad rap many of us feminists receive. Jennifer Gurecki, Co-Founder of Coalition Snow, was quoted at a panel during Outdoor Retailer as blatantly differentiating between sex and the real culprit at hand by stating, “It’s not the penis, it’s the patriarchy.”

After Jun’s speech, my colleague Emma Murray and myself approached Jun to ask a few more questions regarding climbing as a political platform. “Climbing is this perfect, vulnerable human space and it allows us to open up and access moral truth and responsibility no matter how we identify,” Jun summarized. This established how the usage of the sport for advocacy is an appropriate means in her eyes. Which I think is why she, and her fellow creatives, are so passionate about their new film project.

Their campaign launched yesterday on Kickstarter to create and produce a film entitled, “Pretty Strong.” It will be a climbing film dedicated to five female professionals—a film that has yet to be seen. “Out of 91 main segments in high production climbing films,” their campaign states, “there have been 8 segments that feature a female climber as the main character (and the same woman was the subject in three of those).” Besides merely lacking screen time, there’s another catch. They go on to further break down the numbers to the meat of their cause, how only 11 of those 91 segments actually showed a woman climbing “[and] her part was a supplement to the main story about one or more male climbers.” Thus, none of the films they looked at had a female climber as the sole, leading character with a drool-worthy climbing story to dominate the narrative.

The budget breakdown. Photo: NeverNotCollective

That narrative is what they will create if the campaign succeeds in raising their goal of $50,000. As of today, at 230PM, with 28 days to go, they’ve already raised $26,239 with 513 backers. Across social media, from Facebook to Instagram, a large influx of people and brand entities have been sharing the trailer and words of support. This should be proof of how necessary such as film is deemed, a smack to the forehead with the expression of, “It’s about damn time!”

This film will undoubtedly be a huge milestone for the Outdoor Industry and will likely spread like wildfire across the globe due to the very nature of its content. Showcasing top female climbers is already a win-win situation, with brand backing and social media influence—so it’s a puzzle that such a film had yet to be created. In addition to highlighting female athletes, Never Not also hopes “to foster a community and network of female media makers… (with this project and future ones).” They want to foster relationships with “established female camera operators, editors, composers, animators, etc., and create opportunities for women who are new to outdoor media.”

The point is once again the diversification of the media, how a woman’s perspective may differ and is worthy to be heard. This of course extends to people of color and other marginalized groups and a few backers on Facebook have expressed their hope that the soon-to-be-chosen athletes will thusly include females of color. Never Not Collective pushes these envelopes with the idea that female/POC voices are not necessarily better than those of their male counterparts, but rather an alternative, equal means from which to draw creativity from.

The four ladies of Never Not Collective. Photo: NeverNotCollective

This is echoed in the mission of Camber Outdoors, an organization dedicated to “women’s leadership and participation in the outdoors, from the backcountry to the boardroom.” During Outdoor Retailer, Emma and I had attended a workshop with Deanne Buck, Executive Director of Camber Outdoors, in which she discussed the benefits of employers diversifying their staff. This inclusivity, particularly in the creative process, will only “drive greater innovation and solve bigger problems when leadership teams reflect the gender diversity of current and future participants.” This is not to implement a form of affirmative action, Buck assured, but rather to create level ground and systematic changes in which to ensure that the hiring process is equal for all those interested.

With the rise of diverse outdoor recreationists, not to mention a mere rise in awareness that diverse enthusiasts obviously exist, it is imperative that media reflects this demographic reality. In an article Emma and I wrote for, we tackled the Outdoor Retailer space with a strict lens of diversity, and while it feels as though there is still so much more to be done, we left feeling incredibly optimistic. Thus the importance of a group of gals such as Never Not Collective is paramount in continuing this conversation and furthering empathy’s infiltration into the world of business ethics and marketing. This also further ensures that this sense of 2017 being the “year of the woman” will be more than an REI #ForceofNature campaign, that 2017 is frankly, just the beginning.

I can’t imagine the immense pressure that has been bestowed upon their shoulders, not only from their fast-growing audience, but from themselves. As things currently stand in today’s political climate, they unfortunately are going to be seen as representatives of their gender—what weight to bear!

Yet the dream is to obtain a point in time in which women no longer need to be representatives of their gender, in which tokenization is no longer a “thing” with people of color, and underprivileged communities are, too, enabled to engage with the outdoors. It sounds utopic, even this sense of ridding society of its binary gender, but conversations are happening and there has been an undoubted rise in grassroots activism.

Needless to say, idealism doesn’t have to be so far-fetched when you start small, chase after visions that are feasible; and that is what Never Not Collective is doing with this film. They are creating the film they have always wanted to see, because, why not do it themselves? Why not be the change they wish to see?

Well, the world is their open stage and they’re going for it. I don’t doubt the success of their campaign and everyone will be looking forward to watching lady crushers dominate the big screen next year. And to clarify, this film is more than mere commentary, as it’s not “a film about gender imbalance or the sexualization of women or what it’s like to have your period at the crag. This is a film about five of the best climbers in the world doing what they do best: crushing.”

Make sure to follow along with their campaign and donate.



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