A Q&A with the CEO of Kammok, a hammock company that lives and breathes the Texas outdoors
When you think of Texas, you probably don’t think of hiking, camping, or the outdoors at all, but Austin-based gear company Kammok is trying to change that. Through a local nonprofit, Kammok strives to grow environmental awareness in its own backyard with each piece of gear it sells.
Perhaps no one believes in Kammok’s potential for positive impact more than its CEO, Haley Robison. Robison joined Kammok as COO two years ago and took over the role of CEO from founder Greg McEvilly (now Chief Inspiration Officer) a little over a year later. “One thing I’m focused on is really building the team out,” says Robison. “And how do we go after what we see as an incredible opportunity to do something different in the outdoor industry? How can we continue to push the edges of product and innovation to create a winsome brand that encourages people to live a full life?”
I spoke with Robison to learn more about Kammok’s push for environmental advocacy, the company’s southern roots, and what it’s like to be a female leader in the outdoor space.
How is Kammok doing things differently in the outdoor industry?
We want to create products for the extreme use case that can also be simple and intuitive enough for the every day. There are a number of brands that are seeking to do this, but as a small company that’s fairly new to the industry, we can bring a fresh perspective. For example, we had a Kickstarter to fund the first-ever 2+ person free-standing tent that can convert into a hammock structure. We’re really challenging the status quo to design the most versatile, high-utility, high-performance products.
You’re a woman in a leadership role at an outdoor company, which, unfortunately, is still fairly rare. Can you talk about what that means to you and what you think needs to happen to close that gender gap in the outdoor space?
When we think about equality, it comes with reframing our assumptions. It’s not just about being a woman, but also how can I be aware of my biases?
I feel incredibly supported by my team. I think in a lot of ways, the fact that I’m a woman has been an advantage for our team and our company. Investors might be interested in us because there’s a female leader and they’re looking to diversify their portfolio. But that shouldn’t be the leading thing over “Hey, this girl’s really smart and a good leader.” So there can be discrimination on both sides.
One thing I’ve found that’s really helped me in this role is when I have been invited to have a seat at the table, it’s easy to wonder if they asked me because I’m a woman, but that’s not the right question. The right question is how do I use this opportunity? Maybe the fact that I’m a woman has opened a door, but now I get to go and provide quality contribution so that I’m asked the next time because of what I’m bringing to the conversation and not just because I’m a woman.
There are some really interesting gender studies out there. Historically, women are harder on other women in the workplace. And when a woman is really direct, she comes across as being a bitch or when she has a vulnerability, it’s seen as weakness. These are all things that, as a CEO, I’m wrestling with all the time. My natural style is to be empathetic and nurturing, but I’m now having to toe a harder line. That may mean that I’m not liked on any given day, but my goal is to be respected, not liked. So personally, I’m having to figure out what that looks like. But I also have an opportunity now to amplify other women on my team. I can’t tell you how powerful it is for women to build up other women. If we see the gender divide, it’s on us to start from where we are and invite other people to the conversation. I know that a more diverse team is going to create better outcomes, and women bring a different perspective that is much needed in the industry.
But sometimes when women amplify women, they forget to also build up men. We need to recognize that there’s room for both of us to lead. We may do it a little differently, or we may do it the same, but let’s support men and women. Not one at the cost of another.
Is there a deep-rooted connection between Kammok and the South?
We’re a company that’s founded in Texas: birthed in Dallas, grown in Austin, and we’re really proud of our Texas roots and the South. Nationally, when people talk about really great outdoor destinations, they think Colorado, California, Oregon. You have your hit list of places that come to mind, but we think Texas is underrepresented.
Currently, only 4.2 percent of our land is public because of the history of land grants. We had so much debt when Texas finally became a state that a lot of our land was sold to private buyers. So there are really interesting issues around public land and conservation. Yet, at the same time, we have almost every type of ecosystem that’s found in the United States. If you name a type of environment, we have it: swamp lands, mountains, rivers, ocean. There’s so much beauty in our state, and people are constantly surprised by it.
We’re out to show that there’s a lot to experience in our state and we want people to go out and see it. We’re excited to share that Texas story. We’re also super proud to be in Austin. Austin’s a hotbed for product companies and trendsetting right now. There’s a lot of energy and momentum in our city.
How does Kammok participate in and give back to the local Austin community?
One of our mantras at Kammok is go deep to go wide. And we give one percent of our revenue as our 1% for the Planet contribution. We have focused our give on a local nonprofit called Explore Austin. It’s a program that works with underserved students in at-risk communities to provide mentorship, leadership, and outdoor experiences for six years [per student]. There are 20-person teams [made up of 5 mentors and 15 students] that form when the students are in eighth grade. They spend a weekend together every month—in addition to a week-long summer outdoor trip every year—for six years.
Talk about life changing, because relationships require time and commitment and these students have a passion for the outdoors. They are thriving leaders. And we get to financially invest in their teams. We’re sponsoring an all-girls team and an all-boys team that we’ll hopefully walk with for six years. So that’s 30 students that we can personally say we’re funding their experience in becoming outdoor leaders.
Our hope is that it has a huge ripple effect because one life can touch so many. One of these students may become a parks leader or a conservation activist or someone who raises their family in the outdoors. That’s how we believe there will be an environmental impact from our work: through people.
What are your favorite local hiking spots?
[ed. note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]