is a Russian-Bangladeshi climber, traveler, shenanigan-seeker, and co-founder of Moja Gear. She’s explored over 25 countries and 48 states, lived in both Russia and Bangladesh, and has found her happy place in California. Natalie’s ideal days involve early morning sunrises, crimping on small nobs, playing a round of Settlers of Catan, and drinking an IPA.
BB: How did your love affair with climbing begin? Was it love at first sight?NS: Love seems like an understatement. I started climbing during my freshman year of college at Boston University, thanks to a friend-of-a-friend, who soon became a best friend. My first experience started with pulling on plastic at our rec center’s rockwall, which happened to be staffed by a group of incredibly talented and passionate climbers. Being quite a competitive person with myself, I became absolutely obsessed immediately and essentially climbed every single day for the rest of that year. Fortunately, the climbers working there welcomed me with open arms into their community, taking me on my first outdoor experiences throughout the Northeast and making me fall deeply in love with every aspect of the sport and culture. I owe those guys everything!BB: How has rock climbing changed and shaped your life?NS: Rock climbing has truly altered every aspect of my life. Honestly—since the time I first pulled down on a hold, I doubt more than a day has gone by without climbing entering my mind at least once. It dictates so many of my decisions. I want to climb all of the time and I really have trouble ever saying no to anything climbing-related. It’s kind of overwhelming how omnipotent in my life it feels, but I wouldn’t change a thing about that. Rock climbing has taken me on the most incredible adventures of my life, allowed me to meet amazing, inspiring people all over the world, and opened doors I didn’t know existed within myself.Climbing has provided me with a physical and mental arena wherein I have an opportunity to constantly face challenges, to improve, and most importantly to learn—be that in my technique, developing a stronger “try hard,” or just finding equanimity in my own fear. More than any other activity in life, I feel climbing fully brings you to the present. Your thoughts are forced to slow down and align with a single movement—essentially creating these powerful moments where your body and mind must find balance and harmony. It’s extremely cleansing and a rare sensation to create otherwise, and I feel so fortunate to have experienced that. Somehow I always feel much cleaner after a week of climbing in the desert without a shower and bearing gnarly hands, than I do after a day spent in a city. It just feels right.And then I guess there’s that whole life chapter of me bailing on my career path to start a climbing company … So yeah, I’d say climbing has changed just about everything.BB: You recently took your own leap of faith to create a business and life you love. Tell us about your exciting journey.NS: Well, I remember sitting on a rickshaw in the dense (and rockless) city of Dhaka, Bangladesh, looking down at my no longer calloused hands, and feeling utterly lost as to what I was doing there. I had initially moved to Dhaka after a stint at the State Department to explore my Fatherland, advance a career in foreign service, and explore other options in the realm of international relations—but after 5 months I made a lot of realizations about myself that became impossible to ignore.I went West in hopes of figuring out next steps and getting on rock again. I spent a few weeks volunteering with the SCA (Student Conservation Association) Desert Restoration Crew, fixing trails and restoring wilderness areas. I fell in love with the feeling of dirt between my hands, hours of manual labor, and knowing that this simple work resulted in small, but real changes that would improve someone’s experience in the outdoors. It was so basic, probably unnoticed by most, yet so internally rewarding.
Those months of dirtbagging were in many ways an escape from the world, but also a daunting chance to plunge into the depths of myself. I figured out what I didn’t want to do, but lacked clear answers for how I could do what I did want to do. But as spring began to turn to summer, in some weird twist of fate, my childhood best friend Sander and I crossed paths in Bishop, California and decided to start a climbing company together. It was really a flip of a switch decision, which I didn’t and have not questioned since.BB: Do you see climbing as a metaphor for empowerment? What are other areas in your life that have been impacted by your ability to be bold and push your limits?NS: Absolutely. Climbing is so powerful because it offers each climber their own catered set of endless goals and challenges to improve themselves, both physically and mentally. A wise person long ago advised me to focus more on strengths than weaknesses, and I feel there’s so much merit in that. You are who you are. By embracing that, you can elevate your own style, technique, and mental game in a way that builds confidence in yourself, which in turn channels through all other aspects of your life.I’m a fan of balance-y, technical movement on tiny crimps—and I think metaphorically, that’s translated into how I strive to live my life. I believe there’s a natural grace with which things can be done; and that sometimes means understanding that progress takes time and that focusing on small steps can manifest into unfathomably large results. That being said, I also like dynamic moves to jugs … which I think means I like a healthy dose of bold, big life moves. I’d say climbing has been the perfect concoction for embarking in entrepreneurship.BB: We love Moja Gear’s vision for the climbing community. Tell us more about that.NS: We saw a lack of responsibility and authenticity in the online approach to selling outdoor gear—essentially the tools that take you on your life’s wildest adventures. From the very start, our aim has been to provide a far more engaging, immersive, and personal experience for the climbing community. This vision has manifested into a community-powered hub for rock climbing content and gear. We’re not product and promotion-driven; we’re fundamentally content and community-driven. We want Moja Gear to serve as the one central spot online for climbers to engage with one another, explore and contribute content, and purchase gear to embark on those incredible days of climbing.And while we definitely recognize that retail is inherently resource-intensive, we strive to lessen the impact of consumption by eternally committing to a 1% donation to organizations that protect the outdoors (Access Fund, American Alpine Club, Sierra Club), as well as offering programs, like Moja Shoe Resoling, to encourage reuse before buying new.BB: How do you think the climbing community has evolved for women over the past few years?NS: I absolutely love climbing with my female friends, and love seeing groups of women out crushing at the crag! I think the climbing community has begun to realize and embrace that female climbers are equally (if not more … I mean, come on Pamela Pack!?) badass than male climbers. I think we owe a lot of that to Lynn Hill for planting the seed, but the more recent recognition of this is in part thanks to books like Women Who Dare and the psych-inspiring role social media plays within the climbing community.BB: What inspires and ignites you?NS: I’m inspired by big, bold, and somewhat painful challenges. I’m half Russian, so I think there’s some weird connection to masochistic pain tolerance there, but I really thrive in the face of a faraway but clear end goal. You can only go as far as you can dream, and I think the act of trying hard to obtain something lofty is addicting. It’s definitely made me drawn to long routes with epic approaches, going on random long runs in the middle of nowhere, and the whole starting a business thing.
BB: What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs just starting out?NS: Approach it as if you’re embarking on an epic climb. Be action-oriented, trust your decisions, and realize you have a long, steep climb ahead—filled with plenty of fun, exciting, and exposed moves throughout.