Leaving a Trace

How Texas gear shop Slim Pickins Outfitters is blazing trails and building community.

Jahmicah and Heather Dawes own Slim Pickins, an outdoor equipment outfitter in Stephenville, a small town of 20,000 in the heart of Texas dairy country that also happens to be the first Black-owned specialty gear shop in the country. Stephenville is steeped in ranching and cowboy heritage, and an unlikely location for a progressive retailer like Slim Pickins, where reggae records spin during the day and vintage sneakers can be found next to the latest hiking boots. But since opening in 2017, the independent shop has become a beacon not just for the outdoor community in the area, but for the outdoor industry in general. We talked with Jahmicah and Heather about their trail-blazing journey and their goal of diversifying the outdoor industry. 

PUBLIC LANDS: How did you find yourselves in Stephenville? 

HEATHER DAWES: Jahmicah is from Wiley, outside of Dallas, and I grew up in Strawn, about 30 minutes away. But we both went to Tarleton State University here in Stephenville. We liked Stephenville, but in 2016, right after the election, it seemed like a lot of racists were coming out of the woodwork. It felt like this wasn’t where we wanted to be, so we started looking to move to Nashville or Louisville. Then Jahmicah had this idea of starting a business here. 

But why an outdoor shop? Did you grow up in the outdoors? 

JAHMICAH DAWES: Not really. I had some bad experiences in the Scouts as a kid. But in college, we would do mission trips every year, and we had to leave Stephenville for a bigger city to get geared up. We had this running joke where we said, ‘One of these days, someone is gonna open up an outdoor shop in Stephenville and make a ton of money.’ I guess the joke’s on us. At the same time we were thinking of moving, I had some positive experiences in the outdoors that combated the earlier negative experiences, and my connection to the outdoors was getting re-established. And I knew there was a passion for the outdoors in this area. I’d see people wearing these brands, and pursuing these adventures, but there was no place or community for them around town. 

But Slim Pickins isn’t your typical outdoor shop. 

JD: We hear this all the time. This shop is something different. I didn’t grow up in the outdoor industry. My background was in sneakers, streetwear and skate. The first business I opened was an online vintage clothing shop while I was still in school. I wanted to create a shop that all kinds of people feel comfortable with. We’re spinning vinyl. We have vintage sneakers. There are skateboards on the wall, and Bill Murray, our basset hound, hangs out in the store. We’re trying to build community through different avenues of interest that might not be traditional outdoor things. We build the community off those connections and interests, and then we take that community outside. 

HD: Jahmicah loves fly fishing, and we love to hike, but that’s probably where our traditional outdoor interests end. It’s important to us to show people they can be outdoorsy without meeting the stereotypes. We don’t look like rock climbers, so people see us behind the counter, and they know that the outdoors are for everyone.  

Slim Pickins is celebrating its five-year anniversary. Are you glad you opened an outdoor shop in Stephenville? 

JD: Definitely. There’s value in these towns that have been overlooked, just like there’s value in people who have been overlooked by the outdoor industry. We’ve chosen to stay here and have worked hard to stay here. It was a spiritual aspect, calling us to stay here and invest. Because we did that, the community is different. I think Stephenville has changed. I think Slim Pickins has allowed some people who were also different to start a business, or step out and meet other people who might be different. 

HD: There were people who supported us from the beginning, but we also saw people who you wouldn’t think were concerned about diversity, come into our shop and show us they loved us. Has the overall makeup of Stephenville changed? Not really. But we’ve been exposed to so many different kinds of people who didn’t have a place to go, or community to support them. It’s been refreshing for us to see.

What does the outdoors in Stephenville look like? 

JD: There’s a strong ranching and hunting culture here, but Stephenville is also within 80 miles of nine state parks. A lot of people are passionate about hiking. The university is here, so you see people trail running and rock climbing. When you think of Texas, you don’t necessarily think of public lands or waterways. And access to those public lands and waterways aren’t widely known. When people think of going outdoors, they think of Colorado or Utah. But Texas is a beautiful state. Part of our mission is to promote the public spaces here. My favorite place in Texas is here, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park. It’s just five miles away. 

Did you know you were opening the first Black-owned outfitters in the country in 2017? 

JD: No. We didn’t know we were the first when we came up with the idea. It’s not an unusual thing for me to be the only Black person in the room. I’m used to that. But as I kept going to outdoor shows and being the only Black person in the very large rooms, I started asking brand reps where all the other Black owners were. I was looking for a mentor. Someone to ask questions. But there weren’t any other Black owners. I remember feeling timid and afraid, knowing that we’re alone in this. If the outdoors is really that welcoming, it would be reflected in the industry that caters to the space. The leadership would reflect the community. But the outdoor industry as a whole is not as inclusive as it should be. 

HD: And it’s not just a Black-owned outfitter, it’s run by women. My sister-in-law is the store manager. That’s important to us as well. 

JD: Absolutely. Diversifying the outdoors is our main mission as it pertains to ownership and leadership. I’m all for seeing sales reps that are women, but I’d rather see CEOs that are women. If I want to see that, how do I not reflect that in our own business? 

I assume there’s a lot of pressure being the first. 

JD: There’s pressure. All the people who invested in us and helped us build this, we have to have something to show for it. 

HD: When Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down and killed, I thought of my two boys going for a run in a neighborhood and not coming home, and how backwards that is. I saw what Arbery was wearing, his running shoes and technical clothes. And he got shot because some people think he doesn’t belong in that neighborhood. That’s the pressure I feel. When my boys are growing up, I want them to be able to run in any neighborhood they choose. It’s not solely on us to change the narrative, but we have to be a part of it. We can’t shrink back and just run our little shop. We have to live with the extra pressure and eyes on us, because we want to change it for the future. 

JD: The pressure is there. We don't have all the answers, but we do have a platform now to share what we’re learning. To point out the fact that our public parks weren’t always welcoming to the entire public. I’ve fallen in love with fly fishing. I want to get my boys involved in that. I want them to know and feel confident in their rites as people enjoying public spaces. And I want the other people in those public spaces to be aware and considerate of the fact that this is a public space. 

What’s the future of Slim Pickins look like? 

JD: There’s no telling if we’ll be here in another five years, or 10 years. But we know we’re not out here alone anymore, literally and figuratively. We’re not the only Black-owned outfitters. There are two more, Wheelzup Adventures in Maryland and Intrinsic Provisions in Massachusetts. It’s so validating to see others like me doing this. That alone is success. If we cease to exist, just because we failed in this business doesn’t mean this shop didn’t work. We’re building a step. We’re learning the hard way and taking some losses, but we’re building this step not just for us, but so we can pull that next person up to this step, and maybe we can help them build the next step. We want to be a place that’s relevant nationally, but also impacts the community we’re in. 

How do we do that on a bigger scale? We’re a local shop with a national following. How can we encourage, give experiences to these people out there wanting to get into this space? That’s what we’re looking to do more of in the future. 

HD: We want to create a roadmap for other Black-owned businesses to follow. 

We’re transparent and open to talking to other business owners. These are the mistakes we made, and these are the mistakes we’re still making. We have a name and platform we can leverage to help other people.

Check out the Slim Pickins Outfitters’ apparel line that commemorates Black History Month, as well as more from their collection.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.