Jen Taylor: Making It Look Easy
If you are a resident of the Grand Valley and an active outdoors entusiast, then you likely have heard of or met Jen Taylor. A sportswoman, parent, and businesswoman with a passionate, go-get-it personality, Taylor is the epitomy of a modern-day warrior woman.
Taylor has a long history in the outdoor industry. She has been a leader in the outdoor apparel field, first with her own brands and now as an award-winning brand manager and marketing and development director for Mountain Khakis, an apparel company based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
This year, Taylor was recognized by Outdoor Retailer magazine as one of the 2010s’ most influential people in the outdoor industry. She is quick to say she is not worthy of such company, but Outdoor Retailer editor Doug Schnitzspahn insists otherwise. He says Taylor, one of five women featured, exemplifies what the industry is becoming. “She’s a really influential model of what someone is today in the outdoor industry. She’s a mom, an entrepreneur, and leading a successful business. Basically, she’s a multitasker, and that typifies where the industry is going right now.”
Taylor began her career in the outdoor industry after moving from her home state of Indiana to Denver, Colorado. “When I arrived in Colorado it felt like I was home. The mountains – this is where I belong, and I never looked back,” she says.
Taylor earned an environmental science degree from Denver University and spent years working at the Denver Zoo, where she pioneered a new position in an outreach program.
When not at the zoo, Taylor was on her bike – a fact that influenced her eventual move to the Grand Valley. “Mountain bike racing, one way or another, brought me to Grand Junction,” she says. “I was an urban crawler, jumping stuff at night, and was on my bike all the time. A few friends said, ‘You need to get on a mountain bike,’ and that was the beginning.”
After joining some friends to Moab for a riding trip, Taylor realized that the city life wasn’t for her. “I was really passionate about my job with the zoo, but there was a draw to be in the mountains and be in the heart of it.”
Following a short stint in Telluride, Taylor met her husband-to-be, who was finishing up his environmental science degree at Mesa State College. “I never had the intention of staying. We planned to relocated to Park City or Steamboat, but somehow we just never left.” After a while, they realized they loved Grand Junction and decided to stay and – in time – to raise their three children here.
Taylor got her first job in the apparel business working in Grand Junction for Sport-Tek/Best on the Mountain, where she was able to get experience in sewing and design. In 1998, Taylor and her sisters purchased the company with money they had saved to buy a cabin. They put that project aside for a few years while they worked their new brand identity and developed Mountain Sprouts, a line of outdoor wear for children.
“When I began working for Sport-Tek, I had this idea that one day I wanted to make outerwear for my kids based on the idea of there is no bad weather, just bad clothing choices. I wanted that for kids too.”
At the time there was no focus on kids in the outdoors. Mountain Sprouts launched a whole new category in the industry: a mission-based company with the focus of engaging kids in the outdoors. Plugging into nature was their campaign. The company was growing and being referenced constantly. Over the course of several years, Taylor and her brands – which grew to include a maternity line – earned four Apex awards, one of the premier achievements for outdoor apparel design.
In 2006, Taylor sold her business to Mountain Khakis but stayed on with the company. She has continued to be a fundamental part of its growth, most recently adding a flagship store in Denver. “A big part of what I did for Mountain Khakis is help them streamline mission statements and became the voice of the brand,” Taylor says. “We take what we do very seriously, but take ourselves a lot less seriously. While the other companies are on their way to the peak of a mountain, we are at the trailhead having a beer.”
“The photo shoots with Mountain Khakis are photojournalistic. There aren’t stylists,” explains Taylor. “We pull together a handful of ambassadors and a couple people from our team. They are really simple and dirtbag-ish. We wake up, and some might be hungover, and we just get after it. We are climbing in the morning, mountain biking in the afternoon, and fly fishing at night. We just want to be the voice and vibe of the mountain culture.”
This freewheeling scene eventually brought Taylor back to an earlier, abandoned love of motorcycling. An opportunity presented itself when a PR representative with Moto Guzzi offered a bike for a Mountain Khakis photo shoot. “I got the email saying they couldn’t get the bike up to us in Tahoe where the shoot was happening, but if I could get it in L.A. I could take it,” she recalls. “I had a really bad day at work so I decided to not reply, to give it a night. I had back-and-forth with myself coming up with every excuse as to why I couldn’t do it: it was too far, driving in L.A. traffic, never toured by myself, et cetera, et cetera. The next morning I gave him a call and said, ‘Hell yeah, I’ll take the bike!’”
Having never done a solo moto trip, it was time for Taylor to get after her passion. “The door opened, and I stepped in instead of closing the door. I stepped back and realized, I can do this!” she says.
Ultimately, it was the four-day trip from L.A. to her home of Grand Junction that fueled the very being of Taylor’s soul. “Really, that trip blew the doors open on my soul,” she observes. “The days were not profound. The function of waking up in the morning was not profound. It was all very logical. You have to think about what you’ve packed, where you’ve packed things, how long you have to drink your coffee, what your route is for the day. Once you are in it there are no distractions. You can’t get on your phone. You can’t take a sip of coffee. You are on. I just love it!”
After years of achievements and awards, today it is the luxury of being able to put worries aside and have one simple task at hand that makes Taylor feel completely alive – like a warrior. “That feeling of being a woman warrior, for me, is when I am on my moto. I put on my helmet, and it feels like I have a lightening bolt in my hand. Give me the open road with no windscreen and 85 miles per hour. Full on. Bring it. I want it.”