Mead grad, REI team to bring outdoors to hospitalized kids

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Five years ago, Mead High School graduate Nathan Isaac sat in a sterile lab up to eight hours many days for chemotherapy infusions. He found hope looking outside the four walls.

In fall 2014, Isaac dealt with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. During treatments, he used an iPad to travel through the lenses of professional outdoor photographers. Their images of sunsets and mountain peaks inspired him and were reminders of his Northwest roots.

“Cancer catches everyone by surprise and especially when you’re healthy and live an active lifestyle,” said Isaac, 40, in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home.

By June 2015, doctors said Isaac had survived the cancer, but he kept thinking about hospitalized kids who seldom, if ever, go outside a hospital. That inspired him to launch a business, Stalyon (pronounced stallion), for which he has created hats and beanies recently stocked in five REI flagship stores, including Seattle.

His company dedicates 10% from sales in support of hospitalized children and to send them posters, postcards and stickers of adventure images. REI also offers the hats and beanies online, and Stalyon’s website sells them and additional products, as well.

Isaac said the concept for Stalyon grew out of a conversation with friend Matt Elrod over coffee in a Santa Monica Patagonia store. They met soon after he finished treatments.

“I had started thinking about here I was an adult going through the chemo process, but there are kids who have never seen a campfire,” he said. “They’ve never gone to camp because they’re stuck in a hospital. I thought how cool it would be to bring the outdoors to them while they’re in the hospital.

“While I was in treatment, one of the things that inspired me was reflecting on a lot of things in the Pacific Northwest, like the trees and all the hiking I’ve done. When you’re inside an infusion lab, it’s kind of like a casino; it’s bland.”

He’s also an admirer of “social good” stores and brands, such as Patagonia, that direct a percentage of proceeds to a cause. It eventually led to Stalyon’s focus to deliver partnering photographers’ adventure photo cards and posters to kids confined to the hospital.

Stalyon has teamed up with adventure photographers, including a few who inspired Isaac, like Seattle-based Morgan Phillips. He is a featured artist on Stalyon’s website. Isaac said viewing Phillips’ “breathtaking” scenic images brought him hope about exploring the outdoors again cancer-free.

“I felt there was a need to bring adventure to the kids,” Isaac said. “The real idea is to take some of our sales to create that outdoor experience for kids.”

And since the launch with REI is new, the company just began working with the outdoor retailer to build out some local-giving programs specific to where the five stores are located.

“With the platform at REI, we’re kind of using it almost like local giving in a way, and we’re actually building out some of the programs with the stores. Right now, we have a campaign going with Children’s Minnesota and the flagship REI store at the Mall of America.”

During September at that location, 10% of Stalyon sales at REI will go directly to benefit Cancer Kids Fund at Children’s Minnesota. That center cares for more than 70% of kids battling cancer in that region. He said ideas for Seattle’s giving program is still in the works. Stalyon also is at REI flagship stores in Denver, New York and Washington, D.C.

But along with some regional support, the company generally will use 10% of sales to send those outdoor posters and picture cards for seriously ill children, he said.

His sister Kimberly Steensma had previously worked for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, so that also raised his awareness. He knew that for many kids undergoing cancer treatment, their weakened immune systems meant few visitors and being confined.

Growing up, Isaac often camped with his family at Priest Lake. After graduating from Seattle University, he moved to L.A. with a desire to design and manufacture USA-made apparel, and, for years, he did private label work. He remained active outdoors near L.A., including mountain biking and hiking.

He launched Stalyon in 2015. The relationship with REI started just more than a year ago, he said. Someone suggested the idea after REI’s former CEO Jerry Stritzke spoke at Seattle University in 2017.

“I just happened to hear him speak online, and somebody mentioned that we should look into working with REI,” Isaac said. “At the time, I was more focused on direct business to customers, not to get into stores necessarily.”

But he saw a good match with a quality retailer and outdoor enthusiasts wanting to give back, so Isaac reached out. This past January, the company met with REI’s buying team, and Stalyon officially launched its products at the REI sites in August leading into a fall-winter campaign.

“They were really excited about the potential of what we can do together,” Isaac said. “They normally order a full year out, and there is a lot of vetting of companies they buy from, which is great.

“They wanted to get products in by late summer, and they definitely wanted to do the beanies for fall and winter, so we did a rush order.”

Isaac hopes Stalyon’s products soon will be stocked in the chain’s other stores such as in Spokane and benefit even more children’s hospitals.

“A lot has to do with response with this coming season,” he said. But, so far, “The response has been positive.”

Isaac said the Stalyon name comes from a nickname when he was at Seattle University, although he initially didn’t like it.

“When I was at Seattle University, a close friend gave me that as a nickname. I did not accept it, really, but he said, ‘You work really hard, you study all night, you’re just like a stallion,” Isaac said. “When it came time to put together a brand name, it was something fitting. It’s just spelled a little differently.”

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