Telling A Bigger Story:
Lisa Slagle & Wheelie Creative
Interview by Holly Wielkoszewski
When Lisa Slagle founded creative design company Wheelie Creative, she never expected to become an unofficial codebreaker of “that whole women thing” for outdoor companies big and small. But as Wheelie Creative has grown, it’s carved out a niche of not only creating inspiration fueled by a belief in the power of play, but also of driving engagement, involvement, and skill development for women inspired by the adventure of the outdoors.
Lisa was recently one of the featured speakers at the first Camber Exchange in Montana, and Wheelie is preparing to launch a new program of Wheelhouse Workshops – workshops designed to break down barriers and build skills for female action sports photographers.
I spoke with Lisa to learn more about these workshops and how Wheelie came to be. We ended up discussing personal and professional lessons she’s learned along the way, her concern that the current focus on women in the outdoors doesn’t get slotted as a fad, and the next big thing on her adventure list.
H: Tell me about yourself and how Wheelie Creative came to be.
L: I studied design and creative nonfiction at Colorado State University, where I graduated a year early. By this time, I was heavily involved in snowboarding, so I moved to Crested Butte, where I started freelancing as a way to be able to snowboard and have as much fun as possible.
I knew I wanted to live an adventure-inspired life. I was handing out business cards on chair lifts and freelancing, pouring all of my energy into snowboarding and work.
A few years later, I was driving to Canada and my car died on the way. I found myself in Whitefish, Montana, and came to call it home. From there, it was a process of organic growth and building a network in this community.
H: What have you learned and experienced while working in the outdoor and adventure industry as a creative firm led by women?
L: As a woman active in the outdoors, to me it was always common sense to include women in advertising. But I noticed that it had become this vicious cycle, where women weren’t buying outdoor gear and products, so companies were not investing in creating or advertising women’s products, leaving women with no products to buy.
I didn’t set out to create Wheelie as a company addressing this specific challenge, but as we’ve grown, it’s become a bit of an unintentional niche. In one case, we helped a company increase their direct to consumer sales by thousands of dollars, just by including women in their social media postings. It’s been exciting to see the increase of including and highlighting women in the past few years, especially in the biking sector.
H: Tell me about the Wheelhouse Workshops. What was the genesis of this idea? How can people get involved?
L: I attend a lot of outdoor industry events, and I’ve seen that only 18-20% of action-sports photographers are female. This means that the majority perspective behind the lens, taking the photos that will then be used to promote sports and gear, is male.
There’s no consolidated data on why more women aren’t getting involved in the field of action-sports photography. It’s not clear whether the barriers to entry lie in the technology, the weather, the heavy gear and transport involved, or some other factor entirely. But I think it’s important to increase the lens of perspective. The more perspectives we have behind the lens, the greater the story that is ultimately told.
So we’re launching the Wheelhouse Workshops this winter, starting in Montana and in Summit County, Colorado. We’ll start with a Friday evening meet and greet, then launch two days of learning.
I think it’s important to increase the lens of perspective. The more perspectives we have behind the lens, the greater the story that is ultimately told.
We’ll spend the first day on the snow, taking photos and learning techniques alongside female action sports photographers and female athletes. The second day, we’ll be indoors, focusing on post-production and preparing for an art show. The workshops will close with an exhibit of the photos, allowing the attendees to show off what they’ve learned to friends, family, and sponsors.
We’re really excited to bring in both photographers and athletes to these events, to help existing photographers build their skills in the elements and address all of the technical and creative aspects of shooting. Looking forward, we’re planning another round of workshops in the summer oriented to mountain biking and building skills for female photographers in this area.
H: What advice or challenge would you give to young women (or anyone) seeking to work in the outdoor/adventure sports space?
L: Be kind, and work hard. You never know who you are sitting next to on the chairlift. The smallest encounter could lead to something unexpected.
I’d also suggest connecting with others in the same space. Freelancing can be a lonely venture, so it’s important to make friends, even with the inherent nature of competition. There is so much happening in this field right now, I firmly believe there is room for everyone, and it’s important to have this support and network.
I’d also encourage them to experience as much as they can. Say yes. And when it comes to photography specifically, don’t be afraid to take your camera out of automatic and start playing with all of the possibilities.
I’d encourage them that this is an exciting time to be involved in this industry. There is so much happening, and if you follow your own passions, you’ll see your work come full circle.
Finally, I’d say that no job is worth giving up your lifestyle. Be true to who you are and what you want out of life.
H: Who are some of your inspirations?
L: I’m definitely inspired by my crew and my employees – they are so passionate, and I learn as much from them as they learn from me.
I’m also inspired by David Benedek – a former pro snowboarder. I follow his books, photos, videos. I’m always inspired by his creativity.
H: Where do you think the current “women outside” trend is weakest, and how can we work on fixing this?
L: While it’s fantastic that we are elevating women in the outdoor space, I hope that it doesn’t become a fad. It should be a long-term elevation of everyone, showing the big story and supporting all humans in this space. We need to ensure that the conversation is more about the lifestyle and the long-term plan, not just a marketing technique in the short term.
We need to ensure that the conversation is more about the lifestyle and the long-term plan, not just a marketing technique in the short term.
H: What’s your next big adventure? And, what’s a skill you want to add to your own personal wheelhouse?
L: I’m excited to head to Revelstoke this winter with my snowmobile!
When it comes to skills, I really want to work on my own camera skills, particularly with my drone. I’m constantly learning and trying to keep up as the technology advances.
H: How can people connect with you?
Find more information about the upcoming Wheelhouse Workshops at wheelhouseworkshops.com
Holly Wielkoszewski is a writer, yoga instructor, web designer, traveler, and outdoor enthusiast living in northwestern Montana. Her writing has been featured on Woah Mag and she has an upcoming feature with the Outdoor Women’s Alliance. She’s been to 37 countries, can get by in 4 or 5 languages, and is terrified of grizzly bears. Holly believes in encouraging everyone to step outside their front door and beyond their bubble, to explore and experience this amazing world we live in. When she’s not writing, you can often find Holly trail running, backpacking, camping, or kayaking in the wild, always with bear spray in hand. See more in her portfolio and find her on Instagram.