While on the Wind River High Route, Anastasia Allison was struck by an idea that would change the trajectory of her life from a police officer to an entrepreneur and activist.
The idea was to create an intentional piece of gear that addressed the hygiene needs of people who squat when they pee. Anastasia envisioned an obsessively designed, antimicrobial pee cloth, one people would be proud to hang from their packs — not just an afterthought ‘rag.’
But getting from that lightning bolt moment at 12,000 feet, as Anastasia described it, 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 from the Wind River High Route, instead of acting on the pee cloth idea, she returned to her salaried, benefited job as a police officer for the railroad.
“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. 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. She began playing violin in wilderness settings with new friend and pianist, Rose Freeman. Together they formed The Musical Mountaineers.
Anastasia also revisited the idea of creating functional, beautiful, reusable, hygienic cloths for dabbing up pee while backpacking (or even for use at home)!
“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 amoeba, 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.”
In its final form, Kula Cloth features silver-infused, antimicrobial, super absorbent fabric on one side — this is what you use to pat dry — with the other side featuring waterproof fabric, so you your hand doesn't get wet.
A 'double snap' allows the cloth to hang folded in half for improved cleanliness. And reflective thread sewn into one corner makes it easy to locate it with a headlamp. Kula Cloth is also USA made and uses eco-friendly, non-toxic materials.
Since Kula Cloth's inception Anastasia has collaborated with and commissioned work from dozens of artists — their work is featured on the waterproof 'clean' side of the cloth, the side your hand holds. Anastasia wrote the following about this decision:
Skeptics told me it was completely overkill to put art on a pee cloth, that nobody would buy it. But, in my heart, I believed differently.
The mission behind Kula Cloth is so much more than just removing TP from the wilderness; the mission of Kula is to create a ripple effect of intentional action and to cultivate change in all areas of our lives. Art is a powerful voice, without needing to say any words at all. I felt that a pee cloth that connects us emotionally to the places we love would inspire environmental stewardship in a big-picture way.
I also wanted the Artist Series Kula to be a statement — to be something that catches people’s eye and begs the question, "What's that for?" I love imagining many beautiful conversations being started around the world simply because somebody notices a piece of art hanging from a pack and asks about it.
Printing one-of-a-kind art on a Kula takes a long time and is more challenging than simply buying stock fabric off the shelf. But we can’t claim to be a brand that spurs others to put in the extra effort if we’re not going to do it ourselves.
Anastasia's unconventional approach to business doesn't stop with putting art on pee cloths. Kula Cloth's Instagram, for example, has gained a loyal following for its string of hilarious memes as well as its very serious calls for social change. And the Kula Academy is anything but high school algebra.
“Kula started as my story, but it’s turned into the story of others,” Anastasia said. “I like that the people who use Kula feel like they’re part of something special.”