Black Girls Hike is an inspiring walking group which creates a safe space for like-minded women to be active, supportive and their authentic selves. Stylist.co.uk speaks to founder Rhiane Fatinikun on how this community has changed her life.
Last year, 33-year-old Rhiane Fatinikun from Manchester had an office job working for Universal Credit. She’d never been hiking and, in fact, wasn’t au fait with the great outdoors at all. On a whim, she decided to take her first hike and posted on social media inviting other Black women in the area to join her.
Less than two years later and Fatinikun has left her 9-5 far, far behind. That first Instagram post, which she hashtagged Black Girls Hike, has grown into a community of the same name, now with nearly 10,000 followers.
It spans three regional groups and has plans to upskill members with outdoor leadership courses, outreach programmes and has already gained the support of Bear Grylls. Impressive, huh?
For Fatinikun, creating the community has been life changing. From being invited to host talks at outdoor festivals to modelling for Berghaus, who she is now an ambassador for, the fast-growing nature and incredible success of the group shows how desperate the outdoors industry was and is for diversity.
It all started at the beginning of 2019. On a train going through the Peak District, Fatinikun noticed how many people were boarding her carriage were wearing hiking gear. As the train carried on, speeding past the famously beautiful hills of the area, a thought suddenly flashed through her mind: why had she never tried hiking? Knowing it was supposed to have mental health as well as physical health benefits, she mused on how connecting to nature would be good for her.
This moment prompted her to share a post to Instagram inviting other women to join her in getting outside and she was delightfully surprised when, through social media, the word spread and women were keen to come along.
“I thought we might get five or six people to start, but on our very first walk 14 people turned up and I couldn’t believe it,” Fatinikun tells Stylist.co.uk. “I felt really positive and overwhelmed that all these people wanted to be part of my event. The feedback was amazing and I was on such a high after it. It was so nice to see that everyone really enjoyed it.”
She initially imagined it to be a “casual mooch”, but the group took off quickly. In fact, a journalist attended the first-ever Black Girls Hike event and wrote about the group for Voice Magazine. It was a sign of the explosion of interest that was to come.
Hikes started in Manchester every other Sunday. But as more and more women wanted to become involved, these walks soon extended to Saturdays too, before Fatinikun took the decision to appoint regional leaders. Currently, Black Girls Hike is operating in Manchester, the Midlands and London – with more locations soon to come.
It was important from the beginning to Fatinikun that this group would be a safe space specifically for Black women. “They say your vibe attracts your tribe and I feel like doing BGH has brought me together with some amazing women,” she says.
Explaining further, she says: “It felt natural to me to create a community specifically for my community for us to explore. It felt like a safe space, which I think is a really important thing. Black people are continuously excluded from so many areas of society that I felt it was important to create this outlet.”
“A group like this has never come across my radar, so it felt like an important step forward for representation. It’s natural to gravitate towards people with a shared interest or shared lived experiences.”
Fatinikun confirms that friendships spanning a range of ages have been born from the group. Two women even went on to live together after meeting at Black Girls Hike, while others have formed smaller friendship circles and see each other outside of the hikes.
But, in a way, Black Girls Hike doesn’t just benefit women. It benefits the Black community as a whole. Both of Fatinikun’s favourite moments over the last two years have involved other Black hikers out in the countryside and seeing their faces as they learn about the group.
Describing one of these moments, Fatinikun recalls: “One of my favourite memories is when we went to Snowdon in Wales last year. There was 17 of us and as we walked up the mountain, people coming passed us on the way down would be cheering us or giving us waves of encouragement. Every other person that we saw there was white, but as we came to the very top I saw a Black guy standing looking out at the view.
“Our group was staggered, so at first there was only a few of us coming up over the crest of the hill. He kept turning around and noticing a few more of us, and then a few more of us until finally, we all arrived. He was clearly so happy to look around and see us there. It felt like he really wanted to be with us and be part of what we were doing. That was such a nice moment because I got the impression that he’s not used to seeing that many other Black faces outdoors.”
Fatinikun also remembers walking in Edale with the group and seeing a “middle-aged Black guy who was hiking alone.”
She describes how he spotted their group and had to come over to ask what they were doing. “We told him we’re a hiking group for Black women and you should have seen his face; he was so happy. It was such a wonderful moment and it makes me feel emotional to think about it.”
The walking group has taken Fatinikun to extraordinary places, and not just in terms of exploring the countryside. “I did my first co-hosting recently for Kendal Mountain Festival’s 40th anniversary. I presented the Women in Adventure session and it was incredible.”
But what has been her biggest pinch-me moment? So far, she describes it as ever-so casually noticing that Bear Grylls was following her on Instagram. “He’d commented on one of my pictures saying he’d love to work with the group, and now I’m on the line-up for his festival next year. Looking at the promo for the festival, there was Nicola Adams in the top corner and there I was in the middle. I couldn’t believe it! I was thinking: ‘the people on this line-up are all famous!’”
For 2021, Fatinikun hopes to immerse Black Girls Hike further in the community by working with both the youth and elderly to involve them in hiking, whatever their ability. She explains: ” I want to start working with youths to help them on their pathways and with their career development. While I’ve also noticed that the terrain outdoors isn’t very accessible for older people so I’d like to help people reconnect with nature everywhere and not think that it has to be about hiking.”
She also wants to promote diversity in the outdoor instructor industry by partnering with Berghaus to facilitate leadership courses and training weekends for Black Girls Hike members. “The plan is for our own leaders to get trained up so that eventually when we hire an instructor to take us out and do something, we’ll actually have our own bank of BGH instructors who we can work with.”
Considering the incredible success that Black Girls Hike has witnessed since only March last year, it’s clear that 2021 is only going to see their community growing stronger.
Images: Black Girls Hike / Instagram