Anastasia Allison wanted to create a piece of gear that addressed women’s hygiene needs in the outdoors in an intentional way. She envisioned an obsessively designed, antimicrobial pee cloth women would be proud to hang from their packs and photograph — not just an afterthought ‘rag.’ And, in the process, she hoped to ignite conversation around Leave No Trace ethics.
But getting from that “lightning bolt” moment when the idea struck her while on the Wind River High Route to the launch of her brand, Kula Cloth, was anything but a straightforward path.
“I peppered myself with doubts,” she said. “I talked myself out of it.”
When she returned home from the Wind River High Route, instead of running with the deep and knowing inspiration she had felt at 12,000 feet, she returned to her job as a police officer with the railroad. She was grateful for this job — loved it even — but had reached the edge of the growth opportunities it offered.
“I was looking down the barrel of patrolling railroad tracks alone at night for the rest of my life,” she said.
Then, in January 2017, something happened that changed her trajectory. She was driving on Stevens Pass in Washington — the state she calls home — with her mom and husband in the car, when she spun out of control. The last thing she saw was the grill of a semi-truck about to collide with her husband's door.
“Somehow, through a miraculous series of events, we missed the truck and ended up blocking both opposing lanes of traffic across the road without an actual impact. To this day, I truly consider it a miracle,” she said. “That car accident gave me a glimpse into the preciousness of life and the illusion of being paralyzed in what I was doing.”
It was the catalyst she needed to make a change. She returned to teaching backpacking courses for Washington Outdoor Women, a non-profit she’d been involved with for years. She also began playing violin on mountain peaks and in other wilderness settings with new friend and pianist, Rose Freeman. Together they formed The Musical Mountaineers.
Meanwhile, the idea for an intentionally designed pee cloth resurfaced.
“This time I wasn’t completely shackled down by fears and my lack of sewing ability,” she said. “I didn’t know how to sew at all, not even a button, but I did know how to make a phone call.”
A friend got her set up with a serger and taught her rudimentary sewing skills. Anastasia’s first attempt at sewing a straight line turned into something of an ameba, but gradually she figured it out.
At the same time she began diving into fabrics and before long she had prototypes to hand out, which she gave to dozens of women. While she got tons of great suggestions for refinement — like not using a natural color that showed stains — she also got tons of affirmation that she was on the right track.
By July of 2018, she had a name for her business. Kula Cloth is named after Kula Kangri, the highest mountain in Bhutan, a country Anastasia visited and that holds a special place in her heart. Kula also means community in Sanskrit.
In addition to a business name, Anastasia had working prototypes, a logo and labels, so she took the plunge and made Kula Cloths available for presale on her website.
“Looking back on it now, it sort of terrifies me that I did this. I hadn’t yet actually held the final product in my hand, so it was absolute trust that it was going to work out,” she said. “The coolest part for me has been continually moving forward without needing to know all the answers.”
Now, in January 2019, all presales have been fulfilled and Kula Cloth is currently available in two prints — Nice Axe and Galaxy — with more prints using artwork Anastasia commissioned on the way.
Kula Cloth features advanced silver-infused, antimicrobial fabric that’s super soft and absorbs 10x its weight in water. It has a waterproof ‘clean’ side so your hand doesn't get wet and a 'double snap' allows the cloth to hang folded in half, so it doesn't touch your pack or get dirty on the trail. Plus it’s made with retro-reflective thread for locating it at night with your headlamp. Kula Cloth is also USA made and uses eco-friendly, non-toxic materials.
Anastasia hopes that Kula Cloth will lead to fewer disgusting, improperly disposed of mounds of toilet paper in the backcountry, as well as make the topic of women’s hygiene in the outdoors more approachable. Anastasia views Kula Cloths as natural conversation starters — “What’s that on your pack?” — leading to positive education about Leave No Trace practices and environmental stewardship.
Each morning, before checking her phone or flipping open her computer, Anastasia follows a specific routine designed to get her in the right mindset for her day. She takes a walk while listening to music, meditates for 20 minutes, eats breakfast and then around 11 am starts engaging with work.
When things like production problems crop up, this routine gives her "enough good momentum to not get knocked off kilter."
But more often than not the messages waiting for her fuel her stoke. As pictures of Kulas from around the world — most recently China — flood Anastasia’s inbox, she’s struck by how her fledgling piece of outdoor gear has already taken on a life of its own.
In addition to backpacking, it’s now being used for various other adventurous pursuits and by females of all ages. (Stay tuned for a print specifically designed for young girls featuring unicorns and crystals comings soon).
“Kula started as my story, but it’s turned into the story of other women,” she said. “I like that the people who use Kula feel like they’re part of something special.”