Meet the founders – Maria Paulsson Rönnbäck
She’s the tech CMO who left Sweden for the surf and beaches of Sri Lanka, and came back with an idea about outdoor pants and how to get women to spend more time outdoors. Read about our co-founder Maria Paulsson Rönnbäck, how her upbringing shaped her, and what she is dreaming about.
What does nature mean to you, and how has that relationship changed over the years?
I was born in Stockholm, but we (my family and I) moved to a small town on the east coast of Sweden, Västervik, when I was five years old, one of the reasons was to be close to nature.
I’m so happy about their decision, because it made nature a very natural part of my life as a kid. My parents loved hanging out in the forests, picking berries and mushrooms, sailing, camping, skiing, kayaking, and they would always drag us along. At the time I wanted to be like the other kids and sit inside playing TV-games - today I’m so glad we were not allowed to. I started horseback riding very young and animals, especially horses, were pretty much everything I was thinking about from the age of eight to say sixteen.
Then during university and the first years of my work life, I didn’t spend much time in nature, since I lived in a shoebox student apartment in central Stockholm, it was only when I went back to visit my parents in my hometown.
Then when I had the usual 30 year crisis, I started surfing. That’s when I started to reflect on the impact being in nature has on me, and I realized how much I missed it.
Photo by Vera Nording
I’m so grateful for my childhood spending so much time in nature since I really think it planted the seed for my love for nature. Now, I chase every opportunity there is, to be in nature. Last year I even temporarily moved to Gotland, the largest island in Sweden, to stay close to nature during the pandemic.
In general, my belief is that spending time in nature impacts us in many ways. It can make us calm and grounded, or excited and high on life.
It can also create a feeling of awe and understanding of how we’re all one, leading to transformational experiences that change our beliefs. While nature affects us differently, we can all agree it does something to us. And while we might not be able to explain it, we can feel it. Simply put, spending time in nature deepens our appreciation of life.
What were you doing before you went on a journey creating outdoor clothing for female shapes?
Oh, loads of things! I actually worked at a surf & yoga retreat in Sri Lanka for a while just before Astrid Wild, but the majority of my time between university and Astrid Wild was spent as a manager at tech startups in Stockholm, handling marketing, product development, HR and yeah a bit of everything. I always loved innovation, entrepreneurship and developing new digital services, but I never worked in fashion and I never worked in a shop, so it’s been a steep learning curve.
How come you started Astrid Wild?
During my time in Sri Lanka I noticed the magic that is created when people meet up outdoors, to play in the ocean, watch the sunset, go for a hike or just sit and reflect about life. When I returned to Sweden, I couldn’t stop thinking about how to integrate that lifestyle back home.
Photo by Agnes Maltesdotter for Ceylon Sliders
Hence I started doing what I did a lot as a kid growing up in Småland. I went camping, hiking, and started planning a trip to Lofoten in Norway. I realized I had no proper outdoor pants whatsoever to bring with me, and started looking into what to buy. I felt that the female selection in the shops didn’t inspire me at all, and started wondering why there wasn’t any new, female oriented brand out there who would make high waisted outdoor pants?
I just couldn’t get the thought out of my head, and started sketching some pants designs. However, I was thinking there was no way I could do this since I never worked with fashion, and I even tried to get other people to make the idea into reality (I’m so glad no one did). Also, I thought it was only me who wanted this..
Then I heard about this startup program called Antler and thought, maybe there I can meet a person to team up with? I met Jemina, we started researching and learnt just how little the outdoor industry focused on women, and decided to change that. And so Astrid Wild was born.
To me Astrid Wild is also a celebration of our Nordic heritage with Allemansrätten and gender equality. Core values who shaped me as a person. As mentioned, being brought up by parents who gently forced their kids to spend hours in the forest instead of playing TV games. My mum’s starting a local feminist initiative, ”Grupp 8”, my dad turning career down to spend time with his family, and both of them always raising her voice to highlight the inequalities that exists in society, whether it’s gender or social. Astrid Wild is the love child of those principles. Acknowledging the beauty and the power of nature, its importance to humans, but also how the outdoor clothing industry revolves around men, their bodies, tastes and way of spending time in the outdoors, and wanting to change that. Hence, I am immensely grateful to spend my days building this company, brand and community of women, worldwide, around the principles of everyones freedom to roam in nature and everyones right to access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender.
The best memory so far?
Oh there are so many! But one fun memory was just before our launch in fall 2019, we gathered some of our girl friends to try out the electric motorcycle Cake. We brought some sample products like pants and fleeces, and went biking in them.
And then all the adventures and trips we’ve been on, like the dog sledding tour a few months ago. That was unreal!
What are your hopes and dreams with Astrid Wild?
My dream and vision with Astrid Wild is that we inspire women to spend time in nature, as a part of the everyday routine. Instead of going and having brunch with your friends at a crowded, expensive restaurang, you’d meet up in the forest and make a fire.
I’ve shared so many beautiful moments like that with friends and family, from watching the sunset after a surf sesh in Costa Rica, to skating on a frozen lake in Hälsingland to making dinner on a stove after a full day of kayaking with my dad in the Misterhults archipelago.
What happens in these moments, is that everything I think that “I need”, more of this or more of that, just goes away and I feel content. Not overly happy, just content with life. That feeling, and that impact nature has on me, I just want to share with as many people as possible. I truly believe that the world would be a better place, if people could find the time to wind down in nature more often.