Gear Talk with Our Badass BFFs: Dynamite Starfish

This edition of Gear Talk – girls talking gear and all things awesome – features Dynamite Starfish, a Los Angeles-based climbing lifestyle brand that designs tees and tanks inspired by places that are near and dear to any California climber’s heart.


We love that each shirt is screen printed with water-based inks to keep the environment in mind, and in colors and cuts that are comfy and flattering.

We sat down with founder, artist and designer Leslie Sam Kim, to talk shop.


We’re so much more than just another t-shirt company. From the design to the printing technique, Dynamite Starfish creates tees that bring awareness to the outdoors in a fun and cheeky way. They remind us of the classic crags we’ve grown to love, and encourage us to explore the places we have yet to see.

-Leslie Sam Kim | Founder, Dynamite Starfish

BB: What inspired you to start a rock climbing business?

LSK: I’ve always had the entrepreneurial blood, and the desire to work for myself. The trick was really to find something I was passionate enough about in order to fuel the energy a business was going to need.

Dynamite Starfish was a project that budded and grew very quickly, but I think the underlying idea was in the works for a very long time. I come from a background in design and illustration, and I create fine art that has to do with human experiences and social connections. So naturally, when I started creating art about climbing, it was about the human-ness of it and about shared experiences (like bleeding your fingers out in the Buttermilks). There was a lot of positive feedback from my friends and other climbers when they saw the initial artwork, so I pulled together my art, my interest in climbing, and my desire to start a business and just went for it!

BB: Tell us about where the name Dynamite Starfish came from.

LSK: Dynamite Starfish is a thing that makes me laugh. I came upon the phrase on an internet page for climbing terms. At the time, I had an inkling of an idea for a business that sells art and postcards related to climbing. I knew I wanted the business to have a positive, fun and empowering attitude, but all the names I could think of were much too serious.

When I saw the phrase Dynamite Starfish and learned what it meant, I laughed out loud and thought, “this might just be weird enough to stick”. Dynamite Starfish is actually a climbing situation, that involves “Tightly gripping handholds, simultaneously flagging out both legs then proceeding to violently kick downwards and inwards in a desperate attempt to produce upwards motion; making the climber resemble an explosive bottom feeder.” (from Wikipedia) The mental image is funny, it sounds ridiculous, and it’s just wrong enough to be right for me.

BB: What’s your rock climbing origin story?

LSK: My climbing origin story is long, drawn out and slow. The first time I climbed was 12 years ago, in college. A couple of guys I was hanging around with brought me to Rockreation in Costa Mesa, where we climbed a few toprope routes in my Adidas sneakers. It was really just supposed to be a fun activity for the day, but I liked it so much, I always had a longing to go again. However, when I looked at the price of gym memberships, climbing shoes and equipment, I realized I had to put this hobby off for a long time. Being a broke college student with a heavy interest in martial arts (I was committed to the dojo at least 5 times a week), taking on another sport just wasn’t reasonable. I went to the gym a few more times during college, and put the whole idea away for something like 6 years.

I then found a Groupon for a week-long membership to a rock gym, and I think I went every night for 7 days. I was so tired, but also felt really happy and fulfilled. Once again though, the high cost of membership and having no money deterred me again. I had another burst of climbing a few years after that, but at that point my interest was very much heightened and I wanted to keep it going.

I finally committed to climbing more in 2014, and once I committed, I was hooked. I found out about buying shoes at the outlets and climbing outside for free. I also found bouldering, where I could go to the gym alone and as often as I pleased. This worked out well for my irregular schedule. Now, I can’t live without it! It’s my source of exercise, both physically and mentally, and it very much keeps me sane. I also find that I meet the most interesting people through climbing, and I love getting to know their thought process and philosophies through working on climbs together. I also used to backpack and hike a lot, so outdoor climbing fell into my hands pretty naturally, too.

BB: What’s next for DS?

LSK: I wonder a lot about that myself. Because Dynamite Starfish is, in essence, an extension of my belief system, it will always change based on my growth and experience. Since what we’re selling is not performance gear, but rather a symbol of empowerment and a sense of community, my biggest goal right now is reaching that community and finding the people who believe in the same kind of empowerment that I do.

I get a lot of joy out of providing encouragement and motivation to beginning and moderate climbers who are really psyched about their initial improvements in climbing, and I would like to continue that approach. I also want Dynamite Starfish to be a platform for me to get out and climb more often and share my learnings with the community.
In the long run, I hope that I can streamline the production process and allow some parts of the business to run itself so that I can get out and climb more often. I’m also looking forward to meeting with and collaborating with other climbers, women and entrepreneurs.


BB: We’re so stoked to see DS celebrating women in climbing,  featuring Kathy Karlo (in case you couldn’t tell, we heart her too!) as a Dynamite Starfish gal pal.  What do you think the future holds for the women’s climbing movement?

LSK: The future holds so much! I have high hopes for women in climbing, and women who pursue their own growth in general. I’ve always been involved in heavily male-dominated sports — martial arts, motocross, and now climbing. Of all of these, I feel that the gap between women and men is pretty slim in climbing, and that’s one of the major things that drew me in. For once, I wasn’t the only girl, and I found real role models in women who climb.

I think women inspiring other women and leading by example is really the only way to further challenge ourselves and push the social norm. I also think it’s important for us to continue to encourage each other without babying each other. Women who have low expectations for other women only feed into the gender gap. I believe that all women can be strong in their own way, and they should pursue their own brand of strength with everything they have. (I forgot who said this, but there was some old philosopher who said you should live like there is fire in your hair. So, like that!) In climbing, I find that these types of interactions happen naturally, so as we grow as climbers, we also grow as strong women with unshakeable personalities and confidence in our abilities. And come on, climbing with other women is just awesome. We bring snacks to the crag!

Check out Leslie’s lovely ladies collection and use code BABES for $4 off all women’s tanks and tees!

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