Rachel Whaley has a background in graphic design, marketing and event production. She is the Founder and Contributor for Let's Do This...
A destination for the best outdoors (and outdoors-inspired) clothing, gear and accessories for women and men, Roanline is based out of Asheville, North Carolina. Roanline provides great products and experiences to inspire people to lead more adventurous lives in the outdoors. On their online store, you can find everything you need for your first hike or your next adventure at the local pub.
Meet Ferrell & Koral Alman
Ferrell and Koral Alman started Roanline in October 2016. Ferrell is originally from Gulfport, Mississippi, and Koral hails from Winter Park, Florida. Last year they took the leap and decided to relocate to Asheville, North Carolina from Los Angeles, California. Read on to learn more about the inception of their online store and their next steps in developing a retail space.
LDT: What path led you to Asheville? FA: We lived in Los Angeles – we were trying to find a place that was close to both of our parents, but not too close.
Right before college I hiked the Appalachian Trail and went through Western North Carolina. Koral had visited here when she was a child. There is a good outdoorsy scene and great people. Before we moved here, we visited for a day and a half. We toured everything we could and we decided this place seemed awesome, we were sold. So we moved here in April 2016 – we love it, it’s a great place to be.
KA: Los Angeles can be a little bit impersonal. Here in Asheville, it’s great to have the benefits of a larger city like food, music, and art, but also have the relationships with your community. We have neighbors that care about us. We’ve made friends here much more easily than we did in Los Angeles. People are nice and friendly, without being inappropriately so. People are open to making new friends here.
LDT: What was the inception for the idea?
FA: My family has an outdoor retail store in Gulfport that they opened in 1983. Ever since I could walk, I have been working in some way at the family store – I’ve worked retail floor positions, in addition to working with my parents on the buying side of things. It’s in my blood.
I have an engineering degree, then I went to law school. I was a patent lawyer in Los Angeles. When we decided to move back east, I decided if I was ever going to start my own business, now was the time. It’s always been in my mind to do something like this.
I started seeing the outdoors industry moving from a niche market to being everywhere. A lot of outdoors brands have started making stuff that appealed to people who are not just going hiking but want something they can also wear to the bar or school. It started to appear in popular culture, so it seemed like an emerging market that was not being served well.
We focus on a lot of up and coming outdoors brands that are making great, versatile stuff that you might not find in an REI or another chain store. Not high end, specialty stuff. We wanted to have a place to showcase and sell those kinds of things.
KA: I had a lot of trouble finding things that didn’t fall in the “pink it and shrink it” category.
FA: In a lot of outdoors brands, they take the men's version and make it smaller and pink. Voila! There’s the women’s version. I experienced this with Koral’s personal shopping experiences; there wasn’t really a lot of outdoor stuff that was made specifically for women.
KA: I’m not a pink person. And we kept seeing things that weren’t for hiking, things that were outdoor-inspired goods, but for men. I was trying to get them in my size and oftentimes they didn’t make a size that worked for me. We had an ongoing dialogue, “Why don’t they make things like this or like that for women? And if they did, why wasn’t anyone selling it?”
FA: We were thinking, "Why don’t they make it in a way that makes women actually want to wear it?"
KA: During our conversations, I would rattle off all these female friends who were feminine, but not “girly” per se. We constantly talked about why retailers weren’t meeting this demographic.
FA: For a while, it’s been a male-dominated industry. If I was trying to design women’s clothing, I wouldn’t know what women would want necessarily. There are a lot of world-renowned female athletes that are skiers and mountain climbers. And a few years ago, women really started making their voice known in the industry and essentially called out all of these companies. “We do stuff, too – why can’t you make stuff for us?”
So luckily a lot of big brands started responding with stuff made by women for women that women are actually buying and wearing. But there were also a lot of smaller companies doing it – and doing it well – that people don’t necessarily know about. We’ve been focusing on picking up those companies. LDT: What is a typical day in your life?
FA: Being a one man, one woman show – we take all the functions of a well-oiled company and collapse them into two people. No two days are the same. Some days I might be focused on marketing, like ads or emails and social media posts, which can consume a whole day. Other days, I might be at a trade show or putting together orders for next season's product.
KA: There’s a lot of self-education. By virtue of the fact that we were both attorneys, we have a “there’s never too much information” mindset.
FA: Luckily, there are a lot of blogs and websites that I read regularly to stay abreast of what’s happening.
KA: We look at how to optimize things. Instead of having to do all of the trial and error ourselves – there are people that have done it already – we try to educate ourselves about their experiences.
FA: It’s a lot of standing on the shoulders of giants and learning. We can take what other people have done, learn from their mistakes and do it better than they did. We still make mistakes, but we’re doing better all the time. LDT: What is your target audience?
FA: Generally, our audience is in the 24-40 year old range. We’re almost evenly mixed between men and women, but we do skew a little more heavily towards women.
KA: In the outdoor industry, the research is showing there are more women consumers than you may think, so skewing more than 50/50 towards women isn’t a bad thing in our eyes.
FA: We’re targeting the guy or girl that’s going for a weekend or day hike, an overnight camping or fly fishing trip, that wants something they can wear that’s going to perform if it’s raining or snowing. But they can also wear it as an everyday piece.
We also want to try to attract and cater to people that are new to the outdoors. I’ve had friends who have never gone hiking or camping. They ask me, “What do I buy? Do I need a North Face jacket or a backpack?” We’re trying to introduce people to the outdoors in a fun way, but also provide something they can wear in their everyday life so they don’t feel like they’re spending money on an item they are only going to use once and then never use again.
KA: Anecdotally, people in the industry want to attract new people but they underestimate how frightening it can be to be outside. As an example, one of our friends once asked Ferrell, “How do I hike?” Ferrell said, “Are you familiar with walking? You just do that outside.” They thought hiking had to be living outside for three weeks or five days... They didn’t realize you can wake up early, walk outside in the woods and that’s a hike.
FA: I had friends in college and high school that had never even been on a Boy Scout day hike as a kid. They would ask me to take them camping and I would load their packs for them. We would get to the campsite, all the things I did without thinking – like making dinner, building a fire, filtering water – I would have to teach them as I was taught as a child.
KA: My experience with camping was in my back yard with my dad, with sleeping bags... on a dry day.
FA: You can’t watch a YouTube video and know how to go camping. You really have to have someone show you. You have to have an apprentice relationship where someone teaches you how to do stuff. If you don’t have someone teach you, there’s really no way to learn. When I would take people hiking or camping for the first time, I would teach them how to do something simple like set up a tent. I’ve never seen someone so proud of themselves, and it feels really great to be passing along the knowledge and excitement. We’re trying to create that excitement with our customers. LDT: What is your outlet from work? What is your passion, what gets you out of bed in the morning?
FA: I like work. I used to work as a lawyer which I enjoyed and was really good at it, but it was never like, “man, I’m really excited to get out of bed and go to work this morning!” Whereas with my current job, I really enjoy it and I don’t mind working on nights or weekends. Being an entrepreneur, you can never really shut off. You’re always on.
KA: When we first launched the site, I had to make him come to bed. He was up until four in the morning and so amped about it.
FA: Growing up in my parent’s store, I always really enjoyed helping people that are going on that first ski trip or hiking trip to find the equipment that they need. It’s really nice to connect someone with a product they will really enjoy – like that jacket they will wear every day for the next eight years. Reading reviews from our customers is really enjoyable, to see people finding stuff that they wear all the time.
KA: I’m still a lawyer. I’m just the sidekick to the main hero in this story. As an onlooker, I’ve seen Ferrell before and during his time as a lawyer, and now I’ve seen him after… He’s so much happier in all other aspects of life now because he enjoys this so much more. Not that he was actively unhappy previously, it’s just one of those comparative things – I see a different energy from him in all aspects of life.
I really enjoy us working together and the dialogue that that entails. I was not raised in retail, so it’s changing how I see things. Now that we’re thinking of opening a physical space. I’m a very creative person, though it’s not my career path. It’s nice to be able to tap into that creativity and work together. We’re a good team, though an unlikely team at some times. We have a very yin and yang dynamic. My strengths are his weaknesses, and his strengths are my weaknesses. We feed off of each other, and it’s a nice dynamic to be able to bounce around ideas together.
FA: On my end, it’s very nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of. Having a one person company would make it a lot harder to make decisions.
KA: Even with various product lines, he’ll say, “I’m thinking about picking up these five.” And I will say, “these two are too similar.” As a startup, it’s not worth it to spread ourselves thin on something that is iterative rather than novel. It’s nice to see him happy, but it’s also nice to work collaboratively. LDT: How do you maintain work, life, marriage balance?
KA: We don’t (giggles).
FA: Being a lawyer, work life balance is not really a thing. It’s different – when I was a lawyer, it wasn’t the kind of job where you go in at 8 and go home at 6. You’re always kind of on call. You get home, then you get an email that you’re going to have to work all night to get something done for the next day. The law dictates your entire life.
Whereas with Roanline, I probably work the same number of hours, but it’s something I enjoy. There are so many aspects of running the business, from finance to marketing and photography. There is a variety that never makes it dull or boring. So it does bleed over into my personal life, but it’s something I enjoy.
KA: There’s less resentment.
FA: When you enjoy it, it’s ok.
KA: I would say the bigger issue to me, as far as balance, is the fact that we work from home a lot. Sometimes we wake up, start working and don’t leave the house. It’s so nice to get out of the house. It’s nice to see other people and get out of your pajamas. That’s the bigger thing to me: making sure we get a change of pace. I think we both let it bleed from personal to work because we both sometimes work from home. Leaving the house and seeing the outside world in all of its shining glory-- I think that’s how we best maintain balance.
LDT: What do you want to do next?
FA: The biggest thing for us right now is putting in a retail store.
KA: The concept is to function as a multipurpose space – retail, inventory, a space for product photography, potentially community events and developing a command center for everything. We’re really interested in creating a home for Roanline here in Asheville and engaging with our community.
LDT: What kind of connections are you looking to make or need?
FA: We’re really looking to connect with brands that we would potentially carry. Brands that are like-minded in our vision of helping that “new” outdoors person find inspiration in the clothing or the equipment they need to start going on a hike every weekend.
KA: It’s also connecting with brands and people that appreciate a similar aesthetic.
FA: We’re eventually looking to partner with people who lead hikes and camping trips for people who are new or have never been exposed to the outdoors. I would also love to connect with nonprofits on the conservation side, whether it be riverkeeper organizations, trail angels, as well as advocacy for land conservation.
Also, organizations like Big City Mountaineers and Wilderness Inquiry – they take inner city or underprivileged kids on hiking or camping trips. A lot of them have never left the city they grew up or were born in.
LDT: How do you think your market is going to change in the next 5 years? 10 years?
KA: I think it’s a growing market.
FA: It’s definitely growing.
KA: I think it could potentially grow faster in the female sector.
FA: Yeah, I think it will continue to grow with a focus on women-specific apparel and accessories.
KA: You can even see it in pop culture, Wild...the new Gilmore Girls episodes. We’re seeing it more among people in our parents generation. My dad has even expressed interest in hiking part of the Appalachian Trail (AT). It’s more mainstream, more accessible now.
FA: As an example, a few years ago these two climbers, Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell, did this climb called the “Dawn Wall” which was thought to be an impossible climb. It was a big deal in the climbing community, but what I was really amazed about was when it made the front page of the New York Times. I thought, “Wow! Maybe the outdoors is starting to become something that is accessible and mainstream for everyone.” This is definitely a market that will grow and expand as there is a growing awareness.
KA: Ferrell and I first started dating in 2011 and both our families met in May of 2012. At that time, my youngest brother was graduating from college and really interested in hiking the AT. My mom knew Ferrell had done it and she asked him to explain what it was like, I think to kind of really make my brother aware of what it entails. As Ferrell was explaining what the experience was like, spiritually, logistically, whatever, he ended up convincing my dad that he wanted to hike the AT! I don’t know that my dad would have considered that 15 years ago – there is just this growing awareness of the importance of connecting with the outdoors. I think it falls in line with the growing interest in meditation – of letting your thoughts just be. Everyone wanted to be busy, but there’s a growing awareness that being busy isn’t always the best. It’s better to be purposeful and directed. Question from Previous Interview Josh Blake, Cofounder of Independent Arts & Music Asheville (IAMAVL): How did your parent's actions shape what you have done? How did your background from growing up shape your decisions?
FA: The funny thing is, my parents always told me, “Whatever you do, don't go into retail.” So what did I do? Go into retail.
KA: Both of our parents were entrepreneurs. My dad is the entrepreneur in our family and my mom had a more traditional job. There is a lot of risk and uncertainty. If you’re a planner it can be really hard, but both of us were totally gung ho about this from its first inception.
FA: Growing up, my parents always said owning your own business, especially retail, was too much work for not enough money. They encouraged me to do something elsewhere, which led me to get an engineering degree and go to law school. I met Koral in law school, so it was a necessary step.
KA: We sometimes joke that law school was a really expensive dating program, much more expensive than match.com or Tinder.
Learn more about Josh Blake & the Independent Arts & Music Asheville (IamAVL) Project.
Question for next interview: What is or was your biggest "unknown unknown", i.e. what you didn't know that you didn't know? How did you handle or approach it?
Check back! New interview articles are coming soon.
Let’s Do This! Stop, Collaborate & Listen If you’re interested in a future collaboration or learning more about Roanline and Ferrell & Koral Alman, reach out, connect and follow them using the links below.