An Interview With : Kalen Emsley

11/08/2018Jake Ryan

For a long time now I have followed Kalen Emsley on Instagram. For anyone who doesn't know, Kalen is an incredible photographer and also the Co-Founder of tentree. 

Kalen takes some absolutely breathtaking photos as he travels the world and does this while helping to plant hundreds of thousands of trees as part of the tentree promise. 

I recently asked Kalen a few questions about his photography, life and tentree. See what Kalen had to say below. 

I love your photography, has photography always been a passion of yours?
It wasn't until I spent my first week in the rockies that I got a passion for photography. Seeing the incredible landscapes blew me away and I remember shooting some stills on my phone and thinking "this doesn't look anything like what I'm seeing with my eyes" so when I got back I bought a camera and started learning how to shoot landscapes. Shooting people and portraits came out of necessity for our business, tentree. It was so expensive hiring good people and they often didn't give us what we wanted to it gave me a great opportunity to learn a new skillset. I've been shooting for 3 years now. 

Did you study photography or are you self taught?
I am mostly self taught but have also spent time with some of my favourite photographers learning how they shoot and edit. I think the key is that anyone can learn and how fast you want to learn totally depends on (1) how much you shoot and (2) if you're willing to reach out and ask people questions.

You’ve visited some amazing places, whats the best memory you have from your travels?
My life's passion is to help protect and revitalize the environment - it is something that inspires wonder and awe and adventure in people. As part of that my friends and I started tentree, where we plant ten trees for every item we sell. Since starting we've been able to fully sponsor villages, giving every member a steady income and teaching them how to plant and protect the trees.

My best memory was landing in a village called Mahabana, Madagascar. I went on the site and from Regina, Saskatchewan (where I grew up) it is the farthest place to go. It took us 30 hours of flying, 4 hours by boat, and finally a helicopter ride to get this village, where people live off the land and have no contact with civilization. We had sponsored the village and were employing over 140 people at the time (now we have 400 people in the village sponsored) but when we landed the helicopter, everyone from the village ran over and lined up. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life seeing how thankful every single person was -- becoming friends with people who don't even speak the same language as you. 

What have you learnt about yourself while travelling?
I learnt how small we all are in the big scheme of things. I think it is incredibly humbling to sit in front of a giant mountain seeing snow fall at the top while sitting in the hot sun. 

Who inspires you?
I am really inspired by Dylan Furst, Samuel Elkins, Callum Snape, and Hannes Becker. I am fortunate enough to call a lot of those guys my friends after working hard to learn from them. 

What makes you happy?
I am most happy when I know that I've been able to help other people overcome obstacles and/or pushing myself to overcome obstacles. tentree is just that -- helping people to make a difference, we are constantly working with locals and helping them to overcome obstacles. Our world is facing an extreme obstacle regarding climate change -- that's the ultimate obstacle!  

Can you tell us a little about tentree?
tentree is a company that plants ten trees for every item purchased. We started it about 6 years ago now. tentree is a unique company in that we started it with the intention of helping the environment -- not selling clothes. None of us have a background in retail or apparel but we have backgrounds in treeplanting. We wanted to do something that allowed people to make a difference and clothing seemed like an easy way to allow people to contribute and wear something that represents the impact they are making. It's been a wild ride learning how to make clothes but treeplanting is what we are good at. 

Where did the idea come from?
This is and oldie but it tells it best. 

It’s crazy to see how many trees you have planted since you started, did you ever expect it to be this successful? 
We had no idea it would get this big. We had hoped to plant 100,000 trees in our first 3 years. We're almost 6 years in now and about to pass 25 million. It's insane. 

What’s been the proudest moment during your life?
It's hard to narrow down to one moment. I mostly just feel humbled and thankful for having a life where I get to help people, travel, and spend time with amazing people on a daily basis. 

And finally, what are your plans for the future?
Continuing to grow and learn and try things that push me outside of my comfort zone. That's what keeps life interesting!

Thank you so much for Kalen for taking 
the time to speak to TravelFoodFilm.

All photos in this post are property of Kalen. 

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  1. The place looks so lovely and beautiful. Thanks a lot for sharing the informative blog post.


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