Wild Woman: Dirt Chalk Bags Founder Julianne Mahoney
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
At just 23 years old, Julianne Mahoney is already a registered dietician and the owner/founder of Dirt Chalk Bags. While these two things might seem unconnected, it’s Julianne’s love of the outdoors and sports like climbing and biking that has led her to become an intuitive eating dietician specializing in sports nutrition. Her company Dirt Chalk Bags is a labor of love, with Julianne personally hand-sewing each of her chalk bags, backpacks, snack bags, and dog bandanas and using the art of friends and other artists for the designs. Her chalk bags are an extension of Julianne’s own values of sustainability and inclusivity: all of her bags are made from eco-friendly materials and 10% of all profits are donated to diverse outdoor organizations such as Brown Girls Climb.
Tell me about starting Dirt Chalk Bags?
Julianne: I started it January 2018, my last semester of college at Florida State University. There was this beautiful, Evolv chalk bag I wanted that was $85 and I was like, ‘Fuck no.’ So I decided to make it myself. It was terrible, so I tried again and it turned out really rad. I thought that everyone should have really cool girl and not have to pay an arm and a leg. I started sewing more and got bored with normal fabrics so I started reaching out to friends who are artists and they designed the fabric for my bags. Now I get like, eight messages a day from artists asking to work with me. It just kind of took off from there. I’ve been doing it full-time since November 2019.
Do you commission your friends to create specific art for your bags?
Julianne: My first bags were pieces that my friends had already made; there was a moth, some random geometric shapes. Now I mainly commission artists or I’ll license pieces that they already have done. I’ve been looking lately for art of the Sawtooths for something that’ll fit a bag well.
How long have you been climbing, biking, getting in the outdoors? Did you grow up being active in the outdoors?
Julianne: My parents hate everything outdoors. They’re hikers now, I’ve forced them to become hikers. I grew up in Maryland and there’s a small outdoor scene there; all the hikes are very mild and not longer than three miles (besides the AT, of course). I took myself on my first hikes when I was a kid; I would just walk into the woods. Then I started hiking seriously in college with my dog in the summers. I had a goal to hike every state park in Maryland. I think I did my half of the state. I started climbing summer before my senior year of college at the climbing gym in Tallahassee so I would go there for fun and boulder. Then I went on a month-long climbing trip up the west coast with my boyfriend at the time and our friend. We started in Albuquerque and climbed up the coast to Portland. I’ve been seriously climbing ever since.
You also mountain bike?
Julianne: I started biking last summer at my guide job [guiding outdoor activities at a private ranch]. I had cross-country biked in Maryland and the job asked if I’d mountain biked and I was like, ‘Yeah…I’ve done that before.’ And in Maryland the trails are about five feet wide, there’s no rocks, and they’re perfectly groomed. They sent me down the expert trail at our ranch last summer. I didn’t hurt myself, but it was interesting. But I love it so I became one of the main mountain biking guides last summer. I do climbing, hiking, mountain biking; I’ve lived in my car a bunch. I’m getting into water sports. I’m not very good at them, but I’m working on that. I’m trying to get into everything!
How do you manage Dirt Chalk Bags when you’re also a certified dietician?
Julianne: It’s been a lot. To become a dietician, you go to school and get a degree and then you do an internship. I finished that and I needed a mental break which is why I guided last summer. Then you take a board exam of everything you’ve learned ever, plus more. I took the summer off and to study for my exam, I did Dirt Chalk Bags full-time and studied. I passed my exam in February of this year, so it’s only been five months that I’ve been doing both. I see clients half the day and the rest of the day sewing.
Talk to me a bit about the intersection of diet and outdoor culture.
Julianne: That’s what I specialize in; all of my clients are active, outdoor women. That is my niche. It’s been really interesting. I’ve only been doing this for four months, but I get messages all the time from people saying they quit rock climbing because people assumed they needed to lose weight or they were told really triggering things all the time. That’s happened to me too. Diet culture with hiking and climbing is so rampant.
I have a friend who’s just naturally very thin and any time we go to the crag together people think she’s the better climber, but she can’t even climb a 5.5. That’s kind of why I wanted to get into it because I’ve had two eating disorders and I’ve recovered from it. Some of the shit I see being in climbing or reading hiking magazines or getting on Facebook even is terrible. All of my friends in climbing have either had disordered eating or eating disorders or body image issues.
What are some guidelines you give to active women who want to be healthy and not succumb to the pressure of diet culture?
Julianne: Usually I tell people to eat. Just eat. A lot of people won’t fuel themselves at all; they’ll climb all day without eating or run 10 miles without bringing water or a snack. Make sure you are fueling your body. Body attunement is a huge one. Usually we don’t listen to our bodies at all: for hunger/fullness but also for nutrient hunger. Our bodies ask for vegetables, our bodies ask for water, our bodies ask for carbs. So, listening to your body and realizing those cues. Usually cravings are nutrient hunger, so we find ourselves craving all these carbohydrate foods and saying, ‘I hate my body, hunger is the enemy’ when actually it’s your body talking to you saying you need a little more energy. Cultivating body attunement also helps you avoid injury because then you’re not pushing yourself past your breaking point and it helps you fuel your body optimally. And it helps you feel good every day. People say if they eat intuitively, they’ll never stop eating ice cream but if you’re really listening to your body, you won’t. You would feel like shit. So listening to how your body responds to and feels when you’re eating certain things. Then you tend to be more consistent with your exercise, more consistent with drinking water, more consistent with eating vegetables: health-promoting behaviors. If you’re cultivating body attunement, you’re going to make choices that make your body feel good.
And then I always say that self-love is the foundation for health. If you’re trying to hate yourself healthier, it’s not going to work very well. So making choices based off of love for your body like working out and eating healthy because you love your body, not because you hate yourself and are trying to change yourself. That burns out. Hate only gets you so far. But love is an endless resource.
What’s your go-to trail snack?
Julianne: Right now I’m going through a really big Annie’s fruit snacks phase. Pretzels have been huge this summer, the salt and electrolyte balance. Homemade energy balls are also my favorite.
What’s one of your favorite outdoor trips you’ve done?
Julianne: My favorite rock climbing place was probably Mammoth during my road trip up the west coast. Alabama Hills is right there which was also really rad, we climbed the Shark’s Fin. Mammoth was really good climbing but not as scenic. Alabama Hills was gorgeous. I backpacked in Bishop too and that was beautiful. All of my road trips have just been amazing.
Any goals for Dirt Chalk Bags going forward?
Julianne: This summer I was hoping to branch into so many things and then COVID just fucked me over. I just started doing backpacks and working on expanding those and making them better. I really want to make hammocks. I recently expanded and did dog bandanas and snack pouches. Rope bags and hammocks I think are my next thing. And I’m bringing back down blankets because I did those last winter and they sold really well.
To work with Julianne as a dietician, visit her website at www.theoutdoorrd.com. Check her out on Tiktok @THE_OUTDOOR_RD and her Instagram @dirtchalkbags.