Episode 60: Find Your Guiding Compass with Ashley Rankin
This week on the show we have none other than Ashley Rankin, founder of SHREDLY! If you’ve seen a wild pair of women’s bike shorts on the trail, you’ve experienced the power of SHREDLY. Ashley shares how she stays true to her purpose, the conundrum of self-identifying as your business, and how naiveté can be an advantage when launching into the unknown.
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Iris: Hey, hey, all you outdoor industry professionals. Welcome back to Outside by Design. I’m Iris, and Lisa won’t be here on this episode because she’s busy crushing some project deadlines.
Today we have the amazing Ashley Rankin, founder of SHREDLY. SHREDLY is a women’s adventure apparel brand, but you probably know them from their mountain bike shorts. And if you don’t know them, then you don’t go mountain biking with very many women. Because chances are, when you’re biking with women, you’re going to see some fun, crazy, wild, colorful SHREDLY shorts.
And today you’re going to hear Ashley’s story of how she founded SHREDLY, she talks about finding her purpose and her guiding compass, which is our word of the month for October. She also talks about self-identifying as her business, and how that’s kind of a conundrum as an entrepreneur, whether she identifies as Ashley or as SHREDLY. And she also talks about how being a little naive has actually been her advantage in starting this business.
So let’s get started and hear what Ashley has to say.
Lisa: Ashley thank you so much for being here today.
Ashley: Thank you so much for having me. I'm honored to be your guest.
Lisa: Yeah, and the first question that we ask everybody is to say where they are and what they're looking at.
Ashley: Oh, I love that question. Okay. I am currently in Seattle, Washington in my office looking at my cute dog. Who's looking at me wondering what I'm doing.
Lisa: Aww. What kind of dog do you have? I've never met your dog.
Ashley: Oh, you haven’t? I... well I just got her last year, actually, right before Roam. She's a rescue, but she's kind of a rare rescue because she's a fancy French breed. She's a little white fluffy dog, which is never the type of dog I imagined to own. I probably would have told you that that's not a real dog before I got her. I grew up with like, labs and big dogs. And she just had kind of a crazy story and ended up not having a home after 4 years old and we ended up adopting her and now we love her so much. She's... having a small dog is the best. It's like having the baby that you always wanted, but still having a dog. And small fluffy dogs are real dogs for the record. Her name is Layla.
Lisa: Layla! Does she travel around with you?
Ashley: She does, actually, that's the other benefit about having a small dog. She can fly with me. So I go back to Colorado a lot and she's gotten to go with me a couple times and meet my family there. Who knows? Maybe she'll become the SHREDLY dog.
Lisa: Oh cute. Soon there will have to be at some type of dog shorts.
Ashley: Totally! Or collars. Well, you know Stephanie... Stephanie Jones made some adorable little dog bandanas with leftover SHREDLY fabric.
Lisa: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Ashley: They're adorable.
Lisa: Yeah, so for our audience who is not familiar with you and with SHREDLY, do you want to give the... kind of like the big picture of who you are and what you do?
Ashley: Yeah, so SHREDLY is a women's-specific apparel brand and we started primarily with women's mountain bike shorts. The industry was kind of suffering from black and boring or shrink it and pink it. So we… our core product is our colorful and fun printed mountain bike shorts, but we design everything to be multi-purpose. So overall we are a women's specific apparel brand with a concentration in mountain bike apparel.
Lisa: Yes, and your prints are so much fun and they're bright and they make you feel good and I love wearing mine.
Ashley: Oh, thank you. I'm glad to hear that. That's kind of the point. I feel like the impetus was wanting to enjoy the experience of mountain biking and so I totally agree, like, the point is for them to be fun and make you feel good and make you happy so that the fun of whatever you're doing starts from the moment you get dressed.
Lisa: Yes, and my... so one of my favorite things about SHREDLY is like the cult-like community it's created when you're out on the trail and you see another woman wearing SHREDLYs is how exciting... like you automatically have a friend.
Ashley: Yes, totally and it's funny because I never could have expected that. I didn't expect it. And I don't think you can create that even if you want to. So that has been such a blessing for us that it has become... I mean, there's a community around it. And just like you said, if you are out on the trail and you see someone else wearing them, they're easy to identify as SHREDLY and then you have a new friend. And we hear stories like that all the time. And sometimes I'm like, is that even true? Did that really happen? But it does and it seems to repeat itself over and over. One of my favorite stories is there's this famous trail in New Zealand and we had a customer send us a picture of her in three other women all wearing SHREDLY. And the story is that they all met at the top of this trail in New Zealand. They’re from different countries. They didn't know each other. They recognized SHREDLY, it sparked a conversation, and so they were like, oh, we have to we have to snap a picture and send it to them. So it really unexpectedly has created this global community around the brand which is so fun.
Lisa: Absolutely, and I'm so happy for you and all the growth that you've had with SHREDLY and I am so excited that it is a global community.
Ashley: Thank you. Yeah, it's been super fun.
Lisa: So the word of the month on the podcast is purpose. So everybody is going to be talking to what that means to them this month. So when you hear the word purpose, what comes up for you?
Ashley: Well, I love this word, and recently this has actually come up for me a lot in so many different ways, which I think is why I was so excited to see that this is the word. Reason being - I think that there are so many times when purpose is kind of your guiding compass. Like when I started SHREDLY I had... I needed a purpose. My purpose was I wanted everyone to wear... I wanted everyone to have access to cute bike shorts. But then as that evolved, there became so many layers of purpose in that. And when you have a business, your business needs to have purpose. So your purpose can be personal. Your purpose can be what is the purpose of your business. And then for us since we offer physical products, all of our products have to have purpose. So I really love it because I think that it trickles down, it trickles up, it trickles all around like it - it just has so many layers to it.
That I... like I said, to go back to the beginning that it kind of... having purpose is your guiding compass and I really try to ask myself whenever I'm designing a product, what is the purpose of this product? And how does that tie to the purpose of SHREDLY? And really try to stay true to who we are. And of course, as you grow and evolve, who you are as a brand can change and evolve but I think you have to always remember what is our purpose and be making decisions based off of that.
Lisa: Wow, that's a phenomenal answer.
Ashley: Oh, thank you.
Lisa: How did... how are you so self-assured in finding your purpose? I think that's remarkable and awesome.
Ashley: You know, it's - I'm glad it sounds that way, but I think it's something that it's okay to wonder sometimes. Like, what is my purpose? Is that... and revisit that question. And I've had to do that a lot. Especially with my business, I think it's also easy to feel like you lose your personal purpose in your business. And that's something that I've really had to have an awareness with. Like am I SHREDLY? Is SHREDLY me? And as we, you know, are going through these changes and growth, does that still ring true? What does that really mean?
And so I think that it's okay to understand that your purpose might change. I don't think that that means that it's not authentic and it's not true for you. I think that for me it's just an awareness of being really honest about what that is. So it's... it's constantly evolving and changing and I think that there's still some roots there, which is why it's so important. But I… I try to revisit that question and I have to be reminded sometimes by mentors of that question.
At the beginning of this call, what you guys didn’t hear is that Lisa asked me to, to say, to explain what SHREDLY is. And we had to re-record it because that's a really hard question sometimes for me to answer. Which is so funny because this is my business and it's my passion and it's what I love and it's what I do all the time, but for some reason, sometimes I have a really hard time explaining what we are very succinctly. And I think it's because for me it does have so much purpose. And it's a little deeper answer than that. That sometimes it's hard for me in layman's terms to just describe what SHREDLY is. So I think that that's like diverting a little bit from what we were talking about. But does that make sense in a way?
Lisa: Oh, I'm so excited by this. It's all excited by where this conversation is going because as a business owner myself, I... like... this just lights me up. Because you've created something so much bigger than yourself and so much bigger than shorts. And you know, you've created this... this community that makes women feel really good as a byproduct of you just wanting to solve a problem in the mountain bike industry. And now I'm sure you're left with like, do you self-identify as your business? Or like, where is that line when you're just Ashley?
Ashley: Yeah, it's so funny... and I didn't ever think I had a thing about it. But recently I was at a wedding and very excitedly only because of being proud, I kept being introduced as SHREDLY and not as Ashley. And my boyfriend said something, you know, like, does that bother you? And it made me think about it, when really, I... it's true, you know, like that I've kind of always been introduced... the connection is clear, obviously, right? Because for those of you who don't know, SHREDLY is just small. We're a team of two right now, but I started it when I had a full time job and then I went to a part-time job and then I only went full time with it after year three. It started on Kickstarter, like, SHREDLY very much is a product of Ashley. So it's not anything that I have a complex about but it has made me wonder, is there a defining line there? And I think that... you know, I don't know fully what I think about that. I know that I've had different feelings about it at different points in time and I could see how it would be easy to lose your identity in your business. But I think since I love what I do so much that that for me is not like I'd be losing any part of me and I'm proud that that is so closely tied to me. So it's not a bad thing, but it is an interesting thing to just be aware of and understand how that could affect someone.
It's such an interesting question because there are times when yes, I think that I could start to get a complex about that. But then when I step back and look at the big picture, I think that would be overthinking it a little bit too much because it's only good things. I'm proud of SHREDLY. I love what SHREDLY is. I love our core values. And so I think I would only start to have a complex about it if I over thought it.
Lisa: Right, right. I, uh, I go through a very similar thing where sometimes people introduce me as like, oh, this is the Lisa Wheelie. Which is not my last name, you know, like I do run a company called Wheelie, but right now it's nine o'clock on a Friday night and I just want to be Lisa.
Lisa: Or, whatever, right? And you can never... you can never just break away from that which is...
Ashley: And you know, I probably... this maybe indicates a little bit more of how I feel about it - in Colorado where SHREDLY is based, where I'm from, and where I had lived up until two years ago, whenever... like I'm from a small town, so when I’d go to the post office because I used to hand deliver all of our orders at lunch. So I got to know all of the postal people really well. And I was known, you know, as Ashley, she started SHREDLY. And so it was very much synonymous. Then when I moved to Seattle, which is where I live now, nobody knows me here. And it's actually kind of nice to be incognito. And while I miss the small-town charm of everybody knowing me and you know, you can... you can talk to someone when you need help at the post office instead of getting stuck on the 800 number or something like that, funny things like that I miss. But it really is nice to kind of be invisible if I would like to here. So I guess it is nice to take a break sometimes from that. But it's still, I don't think, a negative connotation for me, but that is funny. And also I think it makes you... maybe anyone else who's out there thinking about starting a brand, if you're going to be called by your brand name, make sure you like the name. I maybe would have picked a different name if I knew I'd be called SHREDLY. And people ask me if I named it after myself - like Ashley ends in L-Y, SHREDLY ends in L-Y, and the answer is no. I did not.
Lisa: [laughs] See, I've never gone there, never thought that, but I can see where people could go there.
Ashley The reason why that is L-Y is like to make the word SHREDLY girly. That is the reason. Which is still kind of funny.
Lisa: It is. It is. I love that. I really do love that. And so yeah, even the name ties back to your purpose of you know, making a better short for mountain biking.
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Iris: I love what Ashley has to say about self-identifying as your business. This is a conflict that a lot of entrepreneurs have. Once they found something it becomes so much a part of you that sometimes people forget that you’re still a person and not your business. And it seems like Ashley has a healthy relationship with this problem, she loves what she does so much that she’s not losing her identity in her business. And we’re also going to hear a little bit more on this topic from some guests later on in the month, and it’s interesting to see how different entrepreneurs view being identified as their business versus as their own self. Some entrepreneurs hate being identified as their business, and some have the opinion that Ashley has, that SHREDLY is her because she created it. So let’s get back to Ashley!
Lisa: So, like, how often when you're sitting - because your... your background is in design, right?
Ashley: Yes, well, I should be fair about that. I have a degree in Apparel Design and production and then also a degree in marketing. I never went into the design world. I didn't have any, like, real world experience when it came to that. It was purely just, like, my passion and then my education.
Lisa: Cool, that's awesome. So when you're sitting down to design a new product and it's... and you're just killing it lately, it's... I'm so excited every time I see a new products come out.
Ashley: Aww. Thank you.
Lisa: But when you sit down to do that, are you basically still coming from that mindset of like hey, this is something I would be really proud to wear. This is something that's answering... answering a question or a problem out in the industry. Is that still your…
Lisa: your guiding force?
Ashley: Yeah, it is, and kind of just by default. I mean we're still so small, that we have to be very strategic and very intentional. We can't just make products to make more products. But also that's one of our core values, like, I am as a consumer very aware of being a conscious consumer and right now I think that we are faced with some very important problems that need to be solved. And we admire Patagonia so much for the leaps and bounds and effort that they're making in even just creating a more circular supply chain.
And so from the big question to the small question, I try to look at the big picture and I try to think responsibly: do we need to be making these products? Do they serve a purpose? Is there a market for them? And since we're so small and intentional, almost everything that we make is being pulled from us. And I really like that. I like it when products are being pulled from us, from the market, from the customers. And since we're so small we have these direct conversations with our customers, where I go to a lot of events and so I get to see our products on a lot of different body shapes and sizes and a lot of times incognito. So when I do that and I'm fitting people - we have a traveling little trailer that is redesigned as a boutique - so when I'm fitting people, they don't know that I'm the designer. But I'm constantly looking and seeing, you know, is there a common denominator in the way that these are fitting people that we that could maybe come out in a in a different style short, which is where we got our curvy short.
And then based on just customer requests, people will email us and tell us what they like, what they don't like. We love that. We like it when you're nice about it, that makes it a lot more fun, but we love that because it's important that we're making things that people need and that... that they want, you know, we're not big enough nor would I ever want to just be creating these massive lines that are just existing to exist. And so taking all of that into consideration that's kind of a long-winded answer, but yes, I'm very intentional about when I'm designing these products, what they're for. And that is also what excites me because it's like solving a big problem: Okay. So where do we see gaps in the marketplace? What are women asking us for? What do we see as an opportunity? And how does that all come together, you know strategically in- in the new products that we can offer. And we can't do them all at the same time. So we have to rank them in order of priority. And so I love that I'm still so connected to a lot of aspects of the business because that helps me make all of these decisions.
Lisa: Yes, and I always say that creativity comes from conflict because. If there wasn't conflict there would be nothing to solve and there’d be no need for creativity. So even if it's a good conflict or you know, not the toughest conflict, I still think that's where creativity is born.
Ashley: I love that.
Ashley: I think yeah, I think that that's so true. And I think that when you are creative that it allows you to deal with it so much easier. Because I think It would be easy... and this is something that I've really had to deal with - or not deal with, but find a better way to approach it - is when someone tells you that they don't like what you're doing, to hear the reasons why without that being personal or offensive. And then to identify where the opportunity is there. And I think that when you look at it creatively, that all of that is so much easier to digest and then turn around to work for you instead of against you.
Lisa: Ooh. Yes. And to see opportunity instead of defeat.
Ashley: Mmhmm. Mmhmm. And then, just is like easier for you to process emotionally, too, because it's not emotional and it just is... it is what it is.
We've even had to learn how to like remove tone from email because email so hard to begin to communicate with anyways that when you're on the customer service side of things if you can hear email without the tone that you think was it was maybe written with especially when there's all caps involved it's a really funny social experiment. And anyone who has never worked in customer service, you just have no idea what that's like, but it's... well, like I said, it's a very interesting human experience to begin with. And then second. It's learning how to take that and use it and turn it around is, I feel like, an enormous skill set if you can... if you can do so.
Lisa: Absolutely, and like, a lot of people don't realize that when you put caps lock on it feels like you're yelling.
Ashley: Yelling! Yelling!
Lisa: [laughing] A lot of people send emails in caps lock and it does make me laugh when it's just like, whoa.
Ashley: It does make me laugh. One time, not from an angry point, but my production manager’s computer got stuck on caps. So we had this like email exchange for a week where everything she was sending me was in all caps. She knew it so she had to be like, I'm sorry, my caps lock is broken! But it was just like, kind of intense there for a week, too.
Lisa: Yeah, where you’re like, woah!
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Iris: Ashely has such a great attitude about taking criticism and conflict and I love that she sees criticism as an opportunity to be creative instead of just hearing it and maybe trying to learn from it. Not only does she try to learn from it, she tries to find a creative solution. So she uses it as her fuel to be creative in her business and in her life. And that’s a great outlook that I think we can all take the next time we have trolls or haters or mean emails in all caps.
Lisa: So where like, where have you kind of honed in on this skill set? Was it hard to break into the bike industry when you were first getting SHREDLY going?
Ashley: That is a great question. So my naivety has kind of always been one of my biggest competitive advantages and I do get asked this question a lot and I think. Surrounding a lot of the conversations that are going on right now about the inequality... inequality in the workplace and in our market, in the sport, in racing.
So those are all very important conversations to be had. So I do get asked that question and even though mountain biking in general has a reputation for not treating men and women equally when it comes to product offerings, or race rewards, etc., etc. - and it's a bigger and deeper seeded issue than just those things - but I have amazingly never felt at a disadvantage for being a woman in what I'm doing. And I think that I have a couple things that isolate me or separate me from the other issues. I am a woman designing women's products. So I think we can all agree that that's an advantage right there and I have never had a man question my ability to do that. Now if we were talking hard goods, that might be a different scenario. So I think that just based on the product specifically that I'm making that that is going for me. And then secondly, I just didn't know what I didn't know. So I didn't know how the rest of the industry worked. I didn't have any experience in the industry. I didn't know how it worked. I didn't know how all of these other businesses operated when it comes- came to business models or just, you know, kind of like the inner workings of the industry. So that was great for me because I could just kind of formulate things how I needed to to make SHREDLY work. But also I just wasn't aware to all of these predispositions that could have really intimidated me.
So I do like to share that with people that while I think these are incredibly important conversations that need to be had, I do not think they should be the main conversation for anybody and I do not think that they should be anybody's main concern if they're wanting to start a business because they think that there is a lot of power in naivety. Because for me I have made some of this a non-issue. Like I said, there are some advantages for me that I think have mitigated a lot of that but also I really do think that my naivety just has helped me proceed without all of that background noise. Does that make sense?
Lisa: It does. And I bet you rolled into shops early on and showed... showed buyers what you had and they probably thought like wow, she's going against our classic model, you know, like they were probably very impressed. But you had no idea that you were breaking a boundary. Or like breaking - not breaking a boundary, breaking a mold, maybe, or breaking through a stereotype.
Ashley: Yeah, and I think that what also helped is that offering a new product that didn't exist, that in itself was kind of breaking the mold, but then it would trickle down like what we were talking about before and kind of break that mold in other ways. That would have never been easy to identify. And I did have one experience - I did, I traveled around with my little white plastic hangers just walking - I would make appointments with bike shops that would see me and I had one experience that was not great. So I hate to even bring that up because all of the other ones were so wonderful, but I had one experience where I walked in. And it was a male buyer and he said whoa, those are so loud. And I was like well, yeah, that's the point. And I kind of wanted to be like, “why did you even take this meeting with me if you weren't interested, did you look at anything I sent you?” Because the shorts are very loud. That's the point. And I could see that if that was constantly the exchange that I was experiencing that I might be answering this question differently, but that is literally in my 10 years the the only experience like that that I can relate to... to… that type of behavior and interaction. And I don't even know if that was because I'm a woman and he's a man. I don't think that that... I think that was just a personality thing. But I think that there is a lot of that that's in the bike industry and that's why there is this reputation. That's why it's gained the reputation that it has.
Lisa: Mhm. But, I mean, I think you really were at the forefront of changing... changing the mountain bike industry in a really positive way for women.
Ashley: Thank you. Yeah, it's kind of crazy and I guess it was just so hungry for a product like this that when it was so well received, it caught the attention of the bigger brands more quickly than I think if one of the bigger brands had tried to do it. And I think for so many reasons, like, I think that just the story of a woman starting a business in the bike industry and making mountain bike clothes that women actually wanted to wear, that made them excited. You know, I think we garnered support based on the product but then based on the story, and based on women wanting to support women. And then since then, this market has exploded. I mean, I feel like women are starting to mountain bike left and right of all different age groups, which is so cool to see. So now not only do we have the bigger brands trying to find something that will appease that SHREDLY customer but there's like some copycat brands starting and so it is cool to see because that's just the natural, you know, evolution of... of I guess a product. But it is cool to see that it did spur change.
Lisa: Yeah it did.
Ashley: Makes you feel like you can really make a difference.
Lisa: Yeah, that's so cool. Is... is there anything else that you would like to tell our audience that I haven't asked you about?
Ashley: Well, I think that what I get asked the most is people want to know like where do I start? I have this idea and I just don't know where to start. And I like to tell people that that's okay because I don't think that you need to know where to start. Because if everybody knew where to start this would be easy and it's not easy. So I think what I did which helped me is instead of looking at the big picture of where I knew I needed to land to even get product to market, I just took it one step at a time. And I know that that's cliche but I really told myself, if I accomplish at least one thing a day towards SHREDLY and I don't even know what that looks like right now, but I will at least feel like I'm accomplishing something and I will slowly work my way there. And it took me a year from when I first incorporated to when we actually launched. And that wasn't on the fast track, but it… it's less daunting that way. So if you have an idea, don't be overwhelmed by the end product, just take it one step at a time.
Lisa: Ooh, that's great advice. What was the first store that you were... like, that you got a yes? Like, yes, we want to carry these shorts.
Ashley: Oh, so dear to my heart. So my first store, so have you been- so for everybody out there, I'm sure if you're a mountain biker you've been to Moab. It's the Mecca. And the coolest store in Moab with women- with the best selection of women's product has iconically always been Chile Pepper Bike Shop. And Wendy Palmer was their buyer forever and she did such an incredible job. I mean you'd walk in and there was this whole wall of women's stuff. And their sales were 50/50, which is kind of unheard of. 50% women’s stuff, 50% men’s stuff. And I can't speak to if that's the case now, but I remember that just being such an impressive stat because that is... like I said. unheard of. And so I had a friend... I didn't know Wendy at the time, but I had a friend who at that point. since I didn't know the industry, it was just like mountain bike friends. Like, hey, do you know anybody at the shop or do you know, you know, based on where you live, what's your favorite shops? So there was just so much networking like that. So I had a friend connect me to Wendy. And she was so nice and sweet and I was so nervous walking in because literally like I had the ugly... I don't even know why I couldn't buy better hangers, but that's something that sticks out in my mind was I had the ugliest hangers. Like these big thick white plastic hangers that I had all my samples hanging on and I literally just walked in with them draped over my arm and looked for Wendy. And she was so nice and she was so sweet and she made it... she was so easy to talk to.
And I remember she asked me, “so what kind of riding do you like to do?” And I didn't... I didn't know how to answer the question because I... like, I didn't come from racing. I didn't even know, like, the different distinctions and types of riding. So I was just like, “I don't know, I like riding on trails a lot” and I just had some funny answer and she was just so sweet and she didn't make me feel like I didn't know what I was talking about and she loved what she saw and she was like, I love this. I love what you're doing. We're for sure going to carry it. And she was like my biggest supporter early on and it gave me so much confidence that first year. And we're great friends now, I adore her. I named a short after her, which I do... we name all of our shorts after people as like a thank you or an ode to them for this or that and so the polkadot Wendy short will always be dear to my heart. And she's been hugely instrumental, too, in just development. Like, so much of this ove the years has been that I'm not going to claim to know everything. I mean, I'm... I love to mountain bike, but I don't define myself by just being a mountain biker. People ask me if I know a lot about my bike and bike parts and all that kind of stuff. No, like, not at all. I know more than I used to, and I'm learning more because I should know more and I want to know more about my bike, but... I'm very much on, like, still, I-want-girls-to-have-cute-shorts side of things. So I have tried to utilize all the resources that I've had over the years and... and... and you know. relationships with people like Wendy is one of those of, you know, just sharing my ideas but asking what she thinks the market needs and very much just making it kind of a collaborative effort.
And it makes it a lot easier to feel like not all of that is just up to me to come up with. And I think that that helps kind of keep us as an approachable brand just being very open to feedback from everybody and having friendly relationships in the industry, too.
Lisa: That's awesome. I love that story.
Ashley: Aw, thanks.
Lisa: Cool. Thank you so much for being here. Where can people find you and follow you online?
Ashley: Yes, so SHREDLY.com and that's S-H-R-E-D-L-Y is the best place and then our handle is @SHREDLY. So just @S-H-R-E-D-L-Y on all the social channels.
LISA: Perfect. Awesome. Thank you so much Ashley.
Ashley: You're the best. Thanks Lisa.
Iris: Thank you so much to Ashley for being on the show this week. You can find her links in our show notes as well as a link to the transcript to this episode. We’re so excited for the episodes that are coming out this month on Purpose, we can’t wait for you to hear some incredible stories that our guests have to share.
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