International Women’s Day: Vail locals in the ski fashion industry
Learn from three women at different points in their ski fashion industry careers
March 8 marks International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the historical, cultural and political achievements of women. The Vail Daily checked in with three local women in the ski fashion business to talk about the ups and downs of being in charge of a company and how they became successful.
Diane Boyer has had many firsts. She attended Dartmouth when women students first matriculated at the college and she was the first female chair of Snowsports Industries America, the trade association of the winter outdoor industry. In 1992, she took over her family’s ski wear line, SKEA, which celebrates 51 years this season. To her, these accomplishments are not surprising. Boyer has never thought twice about being a female in a male-dominated industry.
“My parents always supported me as an individual first — daughter and female second. They never made a distinction in business between male and female. I grew up with boys all around. But I did attend an all-girls boarding school which allowed me to find my voice and thrive as an individual without worrying about competing with boys. Then I attended Dartmouth, where I was accustomed to speaking in a room full of boys and men. I learned to speak my mind forcefully, no matter who was around,” Boyer said.
That voice landed her a spot on the Snowsports Industries of America board of directors from 1998 to 2009.
“All of my fellow board members were supportive of me. I try to lead with compassion and clarity. It’s important to take a stand that you believe in and stick to it. Doesn’t matter if others disagree — that’s what a forum of discussion is for — finding common ground for the best outcome and benefit of all,” Boyer said.
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Throughout her years in the snowsports industry, Boyer said the women are starting to show up.
“Finally, I see many women in our ski and outdoor industry. Female leaders of companies and world-renowned female athletes in sports like big mountain skiing, alpine racing and cross-country skiing. Women have shown that they can compete and thrive in the snowsports industry, both on and off the slopes,” Boyer said.
As Boyer reflects on a lifelong career in the snowsports industry, she has this bit of advice.
“I encourage women and men to be strong and forceful in their discussions, but always remain gracious in their demeanor. We are blessed to have the opportunity to live the mountain lifestyle — live it with passion — positive passion,” Boyer said. “And remember, if health is the new wealth, then we who live in and enjoy our beautiful mountains must be the wealthiest people alive.”
‘I had more to lose failing than succeeding’
Rhonda Swenson didn’t grow up in the ski industry, but a series of events and chance meetings led her to start a sweater company.
“I always say, ‘look for the crossroads in life.’ You might find yourself doing something completely unexpected like I did,” Swenson said.
Swenson is the founder and CEO of Krimson Klover and had owned three other sweater companies before that. After college, she deferred graduate school and became a flight attendant to fuel her adventure travel habit. It was on her travels that she met an owner of a sweater company and soon after that Swenson was traveling to South America to help oversee the sweater production. She was designing sweaters a few months later and bought the company shortly thereafter.
Swenson dove into this role and her personality traits helped her make her companies successful.
“To make it in our business you need to have a huge desire to be in the ski industry. You also have to believe that failure is not an option. I have never believed I could fail. I had more to lose failing than succeeding,” Swenson said. “And my crazy work ethic has helped. I love what I do, so it’s easy to put in the time and effort to drive my business forward.”
In the three-plus decades Swenson has been in the business, she points out that there are not that many women at the helm of brands in the ski industry. It is still very male-dominated.
“The women running companies in the ski industry are pretty amazing. Badasses, really. So, we need more of them. With that said, there is a lot of change in the number of women in senior leadership roles at ski area companies around the country. We’re seeing that at a lot of the resorts owned or operated by Vail Resorts,” Swenson said.
Also in the past 30 years, Swenson has had to weather the ups and down in this business
I’ve always said, ‘if it can go wrong, it will’ and the sooner you are accepting of that the easier it will be to navigate. From lack of snow to wars, pandemics and economic downturns it’s a crazy ride,” Swenson said.
One thing she’s learned is that relationships get you through all of it.
“I spend a great deal of time nurturing relationships with my retailers, my factories, my banks, everyone. And then when you need them you have their support and they have yours,” Swenson said.
The road to Swenson’s success was not a straight line, but her go-for-it attitude has kept her on top and she encourages others to follow their dreams.
“You will never regret trying but will always regret not taking the challenge. You will always wonder, ‘What if?’ And what is the worst that can happen? If it doesn’t work out as you planned, it will still lead you down a path to something else,” Swenson said.
A one-woman operation
Anna Tedstrom is just embarking on her path in the ski fashion industry. She officially started her brand, Hoohah, in Sept. 2021. Hoohah upcycles vintage and preowned outerwear to give the garments a new life. Think of a matching ski outfit from the 1970s but Tedstrom will sew ruffles or flowers on it which puts a little pep in your step when you wear it.
“Though I’ve always loved art and design, I never thought I would become a fashion designer. I think as a young woman I pushed back against the idea of fashion design as a career because it was seen as girly and impractical,” Tedstrom said. “I went into product design to make camping gear, kitchen supplies and furniture. But I kept finding myself behind the sewing machine instead of in the woodshop.”
Fashion, art and design fields are typically female-dominated fields and Tedstrom said at all of her previous jobs she had more female coworkers than male.
“But all the companies I worked for and many of the largest fashion and product brands are owned by men. The larger barrier for me has been entrepreneurship. I think success in entrepreneurship takes a lot of optimism, tenacity and resourcefulness. I don’t think gender plays a role in whether you can or cannot be successful,” Tedstrom said.
Tedstrom said that experience and relationships are invaluable and suggests that you get your foot in the door early and get as much experience as you can while you can afford to be cheap or free labor for someone else. She also recommends having role models.
“I have a girl crush on Sara Blakely. I’m very inspired by her story with Spanx and when something doesn’t go as planned, I think to myself, ‘What would Sara Blakely do in this situation?’”
Tedstrom received positive reinforcement in what she was doing when Hoohah won the People’s Choice Award at Denver Fashion Week’s Emerging Designer Competition in August of 2022. Moments like that make up for feelings of burnout being a one-woman operation, running out of money for production runs and asking family and friends for help.
“The award was great affirmation that people like what I’m doing, especially at the start of my first year in business,” Tedstrom said. “There are new ups and downs every week in this business but I’m learning every day and already looking back and thinking, ‘Wow so much has happened and worked out!’ Getting to work on Hoohah another day is the biggest win.”