We met Alli through The Conservation Alliance — which works to preserve, restore, and protect our environment — and were immediately drawn to her enthusiasm for the outdoors. Currently, she is on the content team at a fellow Conservation Alliance company, Ruffwear; they believe in conducting their business in a way that "maximizes the good [they] can do in the world while being mindful of the impact [they] have on the planet." A+ business model? You bet. Their product? Performance dog gear. Stoked and 101% on board? Us too.
In today's Weekend Agenda, Alli reflects on her journey as an outdoorswoman. From growing up on the East Coast to her life working with Ruffwear in Bend, Oregon today, she has developed an appreciation for and dedication in preserving our environment. Enjoy!
One of my first memories of environmental stewardship is from Earth Day in the early 90s. I was maybe 9 or 10 years old, and together with my neighborhood friends, we walked our residential streets after school and picked up litter. I don’t remember how much trash we collected — probably not much. But over the years, I’ve come to believe that no effort is too small.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, I saw the area where I lived transform. Farmland that surrounded our neighborhood became houses. Other farms became shopping plazas, car dealerships, gas stations, and fast food joints. One became a Walmart, and a section of woods that my friends and I crossed to get to each other’s homes became a highway. As an adult, I learned the phrase for this transformation: Urban sprawl. Witnessing these changes had a profound impact on me. I grew detached from my hometown because many of my memories had become buried under concrete and subdivisions. When I got older, access to the outdoors became essential in my search for a new home.
In 2009, I graduated law school with a specialization in environmental law and experience with water policy as an intern at The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, where I learned about the interplay between farms, wastewater treatment facilities, stormwater runoff, and our waterways. I enjoyed this work, but I longed for open spaces. As soon as final exams were done, I skipped graduation ceremonies and moved to Oregon. I had some family there, but no professional contacts, and during the economic recession, I was fortunate to land a job in my field at all. My career as a public defender was interesting but short-lived. Wearing suits and going to court, I felt too disconnected from the outdoor playground that surrounded me — I was miserable.
I ultimately found work-life harmony at Ruffwear, where my role has evolved into a blend of storytelling, partnership-building, and advocacy. Based in Bend, Oregon, Ruffwear has been making dog gear since about the time I was picking up litter in my Pennsylvania neighborhood. The company came into existence out of a need to give a dog water on a hot, dusty mountain bike ride. Founded on public lands, Ruffwear understands that its business depends on people and dogs sharing the outdoors together. That’s why, in 2007, Ruffwear became a member of The Conservation Alliance.
The Conservation Alliance’s mission to protect wild places for their habitat and recreation values aligns with Ruffwear’s company values and business strategy — but there’s more to it than that. Like many companies in the outdoor industry, Ruffwear is made up of employees who run, ski, climb, mountain bike, backpack, hike, paddle, and explore — usually with our dogs by our side. We need public lands and waterways to be happy, and partnering with The Conservation Alliance makes as much sense for us as individuals as it does for business — it is one more way for us to stay connected to the reason we’re all working in the outdoor industry in the first place.
In my role as Ruffwear’s ambassador for The Conservation Alliance, I have the opportunity to speak on behalf of Ruffwear — in letters to members of Congress and sometimes in person, for example, during the annual trip to Washington, DC. When I speak for Ruffwear, I have the honor and privilege of representing its employees, a member of the outdoor industry, and a contributor to Oregon’s outdoor recreation economy.
Yet, I am also representing myself: A young girl who saw quiet woods torn down to make room for a highway. A law student who worked to protect a river that smelled of raw sewage every time a rainstorm rolled through the area. A runner who ran 42 miles with her dog, from her front door to the top of a nearby mountain, almost entirely on singletrack trails — because it was possible. And a ski mountaineer who has watched her backyard glaciers disappear over the last ten years.
I am only one person, one voice, one set of experiences — but when I speak for Ruffwear, I am 43 people (and as many dogs!). And when I stand with The Conservation Alliance and its member companies, I am 235 businesses. I am not one voice, I am an industry! And even if the outdoor industry lobby is smaller than, say, the oil and gas industry, we are growing, we are getting louder, and we cannot be ignored. As we have seen this year, we are not being ignored. We are many voices coming together as one, and we are making a difference.
I have learned that no effort is too small. Letters, phone calls, and meetings matter. Patience matters. Persistence matters. Showing up — and showing up together — matters.
Even picking up litter matters.