On the surface Tracy Strandness is the owner of Barefoot Eco Outfitters and a mother
of three, but peel back some layers and she is a woman of great depth. After years of
dealing with domestic abuse, Tracy got back on her feet and did everything in her power
to provide her children with a great life. She successfully navigated through
homeschooling, took the kids on adventures, and when they were old enough, rallied up
to help her launch Barefoot Eco Outfitters. Tracy was kind enough to share her story
with us and offer some advice for any one in a situation that may be similar to hers.
1. How did you balance starting your business with being a mom?
I was a very late bloomer! Nothing in my life’s trajectory has been “normal.” My children
and I are domestic violence survivors, and after I filed for divorce our lives turned upside
down. My children were two, six and nine at the time, and I spent the next 7 years
fighting to protect my kids, so our goal at that time was to survive intact and the rest of
life was on hold. Finally we prevailed, but there was no victory celebration. We were
exhausted and traumatized, and grieving the many losses that accompanied that time.
Still, it created a sacred and unbreakable bond between us.
After the “dark years” as I call them ended, we laid pretty low. I still felt I needed to fly
under the radar for our safety while we licked our wounds. I knew I had to figure out
what my future would look like, but I was so changed by our life experience that I felt
unsure and out of touch. My two boys were then college bound, and my youngest, my
daughter, was still finishing her high school studies, so, my kids were older when this
urging came to start my own business, a social enterprise that would honor and protect
the wild places that had offered us refuge and healing during those years. I was used to
a swirling sort of chaos, homeschooling three kids, maintaining a large property,
painting and repairing an old house, shopping, cooking, cleaning, studying, researching,
all on my own, so taking on this new challenge was daunting, but I had a certain
fearlessness about it, because I had survived so much already! Even though my kids
were growing up and becoming more independent, they were still (and will always be)
my priority. They were all very supportive, and we moved forward together, loving each
other back into the world.
2. It’s so awesome that your children are involved with the business. What
roles do they play within the company? Yes! I’m so grateful that they have been so supportive! I was pretty darn lucky too – my
oldest son was getting his degree in Environmental Studies, so I’d look to him to help
me establish and understand the eco-friendly aspects of the business. My middle son
was pursuing degrees in PhotoJournalism and Business Administration and he helped
with photography, design and business fundamentals. All three kids are very tech
savvy, which has been a huge help. My daughter was working to get her high school
diploma when I started Barefoot Eco Outfitters, but she was spending a lot of time
helping me with the day-to-day aspects of the company and loving it. She was itching to
be done with school and working full time with me, and I realized that it would be a great
way for her to gain experience and some excellent skills that would serve her well into
the future. She is extremely motivated and one of the hardest working people I know.
She became my partner, and last year was honored as one of 425 Business magazine’s
30 under 30, young people making their mark in the business world. The boys have
their own careers now, but help out at events and such when I need them. Also, since I
couldn’t afford to hire models, my boys, their girlfriends, and my daughter, very
graciously consented to model the apparel for the website and our social media, and I
still gather the troops when it’s photo shoot time! You can find our more about us at:
3. What was homeschooling like? Was it hard to get started or did you find it
I have always been very academic, and I was attracted to the idea of homeschooling; it
was exactly the right thing to do at that time because my kids were so traumatized by
the forced visitation with our abuser, that public school was unthinkable. They needed to
have a calm, stable, loving, supportive environment that would still allow them to dream
and find joy in spite of everything. I think that the juxtaposition of the utter lack of
control over our daily life, with the ability to explore, learn and dream on our own terms
made it empowering and exhilarating. There were detractors who didn’t believe a single
parent in my position could do it, but I knew I would not fail my children. As far as the
nuts and bolts of it, finding materials for their younger years wasn’t too much of a
challenge, and we supplemented with a lot of creative work, project boards, art projects,
field trips, etc., and things quickly fell into place. As they got older, good curriculum
became harder to find, but the homeschooling movement was growing and new materials and programs were coming available as we went. My boys moved very
seamlessly into Running Start at the local community college when they were
sophomores in high school, and then onto 4-year colleges after that. We really loved the
freedom to get out and explore nature, when they were younger (which was good for
our mental health), and having our own schedule as they got older made activities such
as my daughter’s tennis tournaments much easier to assimilate. We all look back at that
time with the happiest and fondest of memories, which amazes me since our world was
crumbling during most of it.
4. Thank you for sharing your story about the struggles you went through with
domestic violence. What advice would you give to someone who is a victim of
domestic violence? What are some resources you can recommend to them?
Domestic violence is a complex issue, and societal attitudes and victim blaming
complicate things. Of course, I want to say, if you are being abused (and sometimes
women don’t realize it at first), you need to get yourself to safety, and if there are
children involved, their safety and well being should absolutely take priority. Many
abused women are controlled financially by their abuser, and simply packing up and
leaving is impossible. My path was so convoluted that it’s hard for me to offer advice
other than to contact your local domestic violence agency and let them educate you as
to your options and let you know of safe shelters, etc. as a first step. Tell someone you
trust and let them do some legwork for you if it doesn’t feel safe for you. There are
people working tirelessly to advocate for victims, so reaching out and making that first
contact is vital.
I would say to victims, it isn’t your fault. You do not deserve to be abused, and love
should not hurt or leave you in a state of perpetual confusion. Your life is precious. The
lives of your children are precious, and we all deserve to live safely and free from fear.
You have been given this beautiful, messy, imperfect, wonderful gift of life, and you
deserve to live it fully, safely and passionately.
When I started making my way back into the world, I had no contacts, no mentors, no
one who really had a frame of reference for my past. At first I wanted to just move
beyond what happened, and leave that behind me – sort of pretend it didn’t happen. I
soon realized that people ask questions in normal conversation and they always led
back to our past – there was no way to avoid it. I had my “a-ha” moment when I
understood that my story is actually my strength, my badge of courage, and it is my
power. That changed everything. Your struggles do not mean you are weak – on the contrary, they are extraordinary proof of your resilience and strength. Do not let anyone
else write your story for you.
5. Where is your favorite place that you and your children have traveled to? Also,
where are some family-friendly locations you would recommend our readers to
Our life circumstances did not allow us the opportunity for expensive trips or air travel,
but we still had the most fun road trips together that I wouldn’t change for anything. Our
favorite place to go still, is Sunriver, Oregon, which is the ultimate family vacation spot.
There are miles of bike trails, river rafting, swimming, horseback riding, tennis, hiking,
cool museums, nature centers, and geological sites, an observatory and wildlife at your
doorstep. We just went back last year, and that place will always be close to our hearts.
Beyond that, as residents of the beautiful State of Washington, we are surrounded by
natural wonders, and our hiking and camping adventures (which inspired my business)
are my kids’ happiest memories. Some favorites of ours are Mt. Rainier National Park,
Olympic National Park, Hurricane Ridge, Dungeness Spit and the San Juan Islands.
6. Based on your experience, what are some of the best outdoor activities to do
Well, for us, nature was our escape, our refuge and we felt safe and free there.
Obviously I’m biased, but getting out to the great outdoors provides so many
opportunities for fun and memorable family experiences. Our own memories of piling
into our van with pillows and games and heading out on “adventures” as we called
them, are still cherished by us all. There are kid-friendly hikes in many places that are
short enough to be manageable, but are full of amazing sights and teachable moments
(Google your state’s Trail Association for suggestions). Climbing on rocks and dipping
toes in clear forest streams, learning to identify flora and fauna are all great fun for
children and create experiences that inspire for a lifetime. When he was young, my
middle son became very interested in the mushrooms he would see along the trails
when we went hiking, so we stopped into the visitors’ center and talked to a park ranger
for more information (which thrilled my son), and picked up a book they had there about
mushrooms. He loved and studied that book, and did an awesome homeschool project
on the subject. Coming full circle, my now 26-year old, just asked me the other day if I
could find that book and send it to him as he has been using some of the pandemic
lockdown time to revisit that passion, grow his own mushrooms and make incredible
meals! Of course, camping creates magical memories as well, as do trips to visit
lighthouses, state parks, national parks and historic sites. The thing is, you don’t have to go far, you don’t have to be extreme, just be together and let your children’s natural
curiosity guide you. If you can’t answer their questions, research the answers together,
make it a game or let it inspire an art project. Exposure to nature when children are
young provides a foundation of curiosity, wonder and compassion. We want to protect
the things that we love, so it also helps inspire a sense of stewardship.
7. What is something you hope to accomplish one day that you haven’t already?
Oh, wow, good question! So many things! My past has given me an overwhelming
sense of gratitude and appreciation for my life, and with so much time lost beyond my
control, now I don’t want to miss anything! I’m naturally curious and never bored, with
sort of a Jack Russell Terrier excitement about life! I want to learn to play the violin, I
want to get better at snowboarding, I want to study filmmaking and tell important stories.
I want to be a fearless force for change and make my children proud.