Taco Bell Artist Turns Her Special Sauce Into Climbing Apparel


Leslie Kim founded the climbing apparel brand Dynamite Starfish in 2015. Since then, she’s brought a community of climbers together with her art and given back to organizations in need.

Kim is an artist and entrepreneur who helped design the hilarious and well-known Taco Bell hot sauce packets that guarantee us all a good chuckle. She has also partnered with organizations like Access Fund, Patagonia, and Friends of Joshua Tree to make commissioned artwork.

When Kim started making her own art about climbing, she had no intention of starting a business. Her initial motivation was to simply share her own experience as a climber and make “art about the nuances of climbing and the culture that surrounds it.”

It all started when some friends asked her to make shirts incorporating her artwork. About a month later, she began printing shirts in her living room, asking local gyms if she could set up as a vendor for the night, and bam! — Dynamite Starfish was born.

Dynamite Starfish Climbing Apparel

Dynamite Starfish climbing apparel
(Photo/Dynamite Starfish)

What Does Dynamite Starfish Mean?

The brand is named after a climbing move labeled “dynamite starfish.”

The site defines the move as “tightly gripping handholds, simultaneously flagging out both legs, then proceeding to violently kick downwards and inwards in a desperate attempt to produce upward motion, making the climber resemble an explosive bottom feeder.”

anatomy of a dynamite starfish
(Photo/Dynamite Starfish)

Climbing isn’t necessarily always a stoic dance between humans and rock. In fact, most of the time, it’s a struggle bus that features lots of falling and flailing.

This type 2 fun comes with a community of people who share these experiences, and Kim makes sure that community is at the center of her brand.

Dynamite Starfish includes all climbers in the conversation and emphasizes that being a climber doesn’t have to look just one way. “We seek to create spaces where individuals are free to be themselves,” states the brand’s site.

The Community

Between Dynamite Starfish’s social media and blog, Kim has built a following of about 10,000 people. The cool part? Each week, she highlights a different climber. The even cooler part? The people she highlights range from recreational climbers to pros.

Her goal is to break down the stereotypes of what being a climber really means, and we can all agree with her that there is not one definition.

climber interviews
(Photo/Dynamite Starfish)

Anyone who has spent time in a climbing gym or at their local crag can attest to the array of people they’ve met over the years. Individuals from different backgrounds come together because of their love of sport and adventure.

Nonetheless, climbing is unique. It is mostly an individual sport, yet we climb with a crew who supports us. And if you’re attached to a rope, that support goes far beyond your partner yelling encouragement.

Kim’s outreach has encompassed just how massive the impact climbing has had on people all over the world.

Dynamite Starfish Gives Back

“Climbing really has expanded my horizons and changed my life, and sharing my artwork is just my way of giving back,” Kim said.

Before Kim began printing, she researched organizations that have done conservation work in areas she has climbed. She understood that there was more work to be done than just sharing her message of inclusivity and stoke with the climbing community.

Dynamite Starfish donates a percentage of its profits to organizations in need, including but not limited to: The Navajo and Hopi Families’ COVID-19 Relief Fund, The Access Fund, Friends of the Inyo, Central Wyoming Climbers Association, American Safe Climbing Association, Planned Parenthood, and the American Himalayan Foundation.

Let’s Talk Products!

Dynamite Starfish shirts
(Photo/Dynamite Starfish)

In the seven years since launching, Kim has built a successful business and offers an array of products on her website. From T-shirts to hoodies, stickers to greeting cards, and even coffee mugs, you can find her Dynamite Starfish artwork on all of them.

Many of the shirts are screen-printed in Los Angeles, Calif., by Kim herself, while any made-to-order items are printed using a network of printers. The best part is that all of these items are chosen carefully in order to have the least environmental impact.

Most of Dynamite Starfish shirts and tanks are within the $30 range, while sweatshirts are a little pricier, sitting at $40-$50. Customers have the option of buying individual stickers or packs of three, five, or the full collection of 18.

If you aren’t into apparel or decking out your water bottles with stickers but still love her art, mugs, greeting cards, and framed prints are also available.

Whether comical, encouraging, or just flat-out really cool, there are countless illustrations for boulderers, sport climbers, and trad enthusiasts alike.

Dynamite Starfish products
(Photo/Dynamite Starfish)

Great Brand. Great Message. Charitable Causes.

Dynamite Starfish may just be a climbing-inspired apparel brand, but founder Leslie Kim’s impact on the community has been felt. Through her talented efforts, she’s successfully empowered a circle of humans who share a love for climbing and the environment.

Her art speaks to the fun-loving and cheerful culture around climbing that doesn’t get focused on nearly enough, while the company itself gives back to causes that impact our communities.

Go check out Dynamite Starfish for yourself, or get to know Kim more through her website!

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