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Alex Giffin and the Founding of Howl Often

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“My eyes feel fully open and aware of the privilege that we have to be able to go and enjoy the outdoors.”

What started as an Instagram account turned into an organization focused on empowering women through the outdoors.

What’s the meaning of the name, Howl Often?‍

“Howl Often came from a book called “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” and it’s a fairly famous book now by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Howl Often is a little excerpt from the book and to me it really embodies a whole idea of how you can live your life authentically and encapsulates the importance of being true to yourself, being authentic out in the world, and connecting with nature, all in two words.”

Tell us about the organization. ‍

“We started out as an Instagram account - posting inspirational thoughts about being out in nature, empowering women to get outdoors, sharing beautiful quotes and imagery, and what those experiences meant to us. It started to gain traction - women were really connecting with it so we decided to create an organization, something that could really make an impact for women. What we really wanted to do was to empower women in the outdoors, and have this core messaging that nature heals us at every level, rituals ground us in our day-to-day lives, and connecting with and creating community really empowers us to reach our full potential.” ‍

So when it was just an Instagram account you didn’t have any other plans?‍

“No. At the beginning it was Celestia and me, and we mirrored each other's experiences and shared a similar feeling about why we go outside, and simply wanting to share that. But once we started connecting with other women we were really inspired by their stories, and we started to realize that we were talking about ourselves too much. We decided to interview women and find out why they go outdoors and what that does for them. So we started the interviews as well as monthly newsletters, and then through that process, we decided on making Howl Often an organization through which we can do some good for women.”

Were the stories the catalyst that pushed you to form the organization? ‍

“We felt really limited initially by what we could do and how we could grow and make a difference. What really fueled us was helping women empower themselves by getting outside. And that’s a simple concept, but you can only have so much impact with Instagram and newsletters. We went through several iterations about offerings, programs we could create, and partnerships that we wanted to have with brands and companies that share the vision. And there was the goal of sharing the message of environmental sustainability - leave no trace is so important when we’re going outdoors because ultimately being able to go outside is a high privilege.” 

Do you have any stories that you can share about women who weren't into the outdoors and since joining that has become their thing?

“I interviewed an Australian woman, who I had never met. But she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. She had left a bad relationship and had never been camping or done a long trek before, and she figured it all out on her own and did it. It is super inspiring and she is a great storyteller. But many women reach out with questions: “how do I even get started?” or “I’m nervous to go out and do this by myself, or to connect with the people who I want to connect with - how do you even do it, and what gear do you recommend? 

With those questions, you start thinking about the barrier to entry to the outdoor world, particular sports - even hiking - where you need to have the right gear and that can be really expensive. But yes, Howl Often has helped a number of women do something that got them out of their comfort zone, and either loved it or decided it wasn’t for them. But it’s all about opening up a new door.” 

It’s easy to forget - having grown up in the mountains - that a sport like hiking can have a daily high barrier to entry.

“Absolutely. And then there’s another aspect: would you be able to take a disabled person on a particular hike? There are a number of barriers to entry: location, money, gear, and time, but also in terms of people who might have a physical disability - you want them to be included. So how do you do that as an outdoors-focused group? You jump into a whole new world when you talk about inclusivity. I’ve learned so much through the iterations of Howl Often - to not exclude people, but as I learn and grow, we’re always going to figure out that we’ve been excluding certain groups of people who would love to be part of it. We all have certain blinders based on our own life experiences. 

If nothing else, perhaps the greatest thing that Howl Often has provided me - whether it continues on in the future or not - is that my eyes feel fully open and aware of the privilege that we have to be able to go and enjoy the outdoors, and to build a community that’s truly inclusive.” 

Why do you think it’s so important that Howl Often is women only?

“I think women-only or women-identifying people share certain conversations that they wouldn’t be comfortable having in a coed situation. Especially in our culture and society, a lot of men’s voices dominate the conversation or the sport. And while that’s slowly starting to change, I think it’s important for women to be around other women and to be empowered by other women. And the notion of women lifting each other up - and not competing against one another - is really important to nourish. Because when women work together so much can happen. But you have to create spaces for that to occur.” 

What makes Howl Often different?

“There are a lot of organizations that cater to women getting outside. But Howl Often is different because it includes what I would call a little bit of a “witchy woman” vibe. There are elements of aligning ourselves with the Earth and with nature, but also with the universe and the cosmos. Occasionally I lean on astrology and how that can shape rituals in our lives and help create a deeper connection with the world around us. Howl Often is nuanced in its difference, and women really get excited about that, because I think there are so many of us who deny ourselves that space - feeling a little wild, a little witchy maybe, and with Howl Often we want to nurture all of our aspects.”

You hosted a retreat a while back. Tell us about that.

“I was super fired up about the retreat, because it was exactly how I wanted to move forward. There are so many retreats and adventures that people want to go on - yoga, nature, you name it - but they are so expensive. There’s a huge financial barrier. 

So I wanted to host meaningful, rich retreats that are more attainable. So the first one was a weekend camping retreat in Buena Vista, Colorado, and was $75 a ticket. Which was probably a little too cheap, but again, learning experience…

But the interest I received was just insane. Women from across the US were asking me if I’d do one in New Hampshire, in Oregon. And I was trying to figure out how to scale it. We hosted the first one in Colorado since that’s where Howl Often began and I knew I’d have more interest from brands - we had Upstart Kombucha, Icelantic Skis, among several more great partners.  But the most special part was that I filled the retreat - 30 amazing women came - a couple of them coming in from out of state. There were women in their 20’s to the early 50’s, and different body sizes. So I felt that for my first try, it was a great success. 

The retreat included a bunch of fun activities, guest speakers and presenters, and it was loosely formatted to provide a good amount of free time so people could get to know each other. Each evening we would sit around the fire and have a structured conversation. And the last night a woman who was there hosted a ritual (this was pre-Covid of course). She had brought a drinking horn. We filled it with mead and we did a ritual where we go around and everyone says what they are excited about at that moment and to talk about someone who they wanted to pay homage to, someone who had helped them along their journey. And people got really emotional and opened up, sharing how they got to be where they are and that aspect of gratitude is really powerful.

The retreat really fueled me and showed me where Howl Often could go. And I really hope to expand on that and to bring more women into this circle, because I want to continue hosting affordable retreats that are designed to help women from the inside out. Retreats don’t have to be all the bells and whistles. Ultimately, people want to connect with other people, have an experience, learn something new, and give themselves some time back.” 

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