From a Small, Custom Pack Maker to a Global Brand
Like many pack brands, Osprey was founded on the dream of creating the perfect pack. For Osprey founder Mike Pfotenhauer, this dream originated from memories of childhood backpacking trips in Oregon, wearing a pack that fit poorly and was uncomfortable. In a familiar story, similar to the early days of other pack brands, he set out to build a better pack on his own. However, Pfotenhauer didn’t wait until he was experienced in the business world or until he had worked in the outdoor industry. Instead, he took action immediately, asking his mother to teach him to sew and at just 16 years old, he had built his first original pack!
He opened his first retail store in the front of his house in Santa Cruz, California in 1974, building custom fitted, bespoke packs for hikers, backpackers and outdoor lovers under the name “Santa Cruz Recreational Packs.” Each of these packs was constructed by Pfotenhauer himself and took a few days. Osprey’s first customers were drawn to the small shop by word of mouth, as Osprey’s reputation for quality, comfort and attention to detail and fit began to spread. Osprey partnered quality construction and incredible fit with innovative design. In 1976, Osprey became the first pack company to utilize breathable mesh in their pack construction, which became a standard element of packs that continues today.
In 1986, Pfotenhauer brought his wife Diane Wren on-board, and they combined to grow the business over the next decade. By 1987, Mike and Diane moved they business and their family to Dolores, Colorado, with a team of seven or eight employees who took on the bulk of the sewing responsibilities. They started selling their packs wholesale and the reputation of Osprey packs grew from a small, custom shop to a major player in the industry.
In a move that set the tone for Osprey’s commitment to utilizing experienced, local workers in pack production, Mike and Diane hired a group of women from a Navajo reservation to sew their packs. These women had lifetimes of experience and skills derived from traditional Navajo sand painting and blanket weaving, which translated into a meticulous level of care when constructing each Osprey pack. In 1994, Mike and Diane expanded to Cortez, Colorado, eventually moving all manufacturing and business operations there. Cortez remains the headquarters for Osprey today!
A Commitment to Social and Environmental Responsibility
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, many pack brands that were made in the United States were forced to move production overseas. Labor costs made manufacturing packs and other outdoor goods in the US difficult, especially when the competition utilized the significantly cheaper labor in China, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Osprey had to make the move to overseas production in 2001 due to difficulty in sourcing pack materials and to keep costs stable, but they took a unique, hands-on approach to this transition that eliminated the usual shortfalls of outsourcing. Mike wished to continue to have close knowledge of the entire manufacturing process for Osprey packs, so he traveled to the factory in Vietnam constantly.
As business expanded, Mike and Diane decided to move their family to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, so that they could keep close watch on their factory. They began to visit the factory frequently both to ensure that production was running smoothly and met the quality standards that the brand was founded on and to uphold fair labor standards for their workers. While Mike and Diane originally intended to visit for two years in order to organize and establish production in Vietnam, they ended up staying and living in the country for four years. They hired local workers for production and sewing jobs, as well as for quality assurance and design positions, which allowed the factory to have a deeper community presence in the area.
While the headquarters for the brand remained in Cortez, Osprey established a design center in Vietnam as well as a product development office. This immersion in the local community provides a closer relationship between the US based elements of the company and the people who actually make and design their products, while providing Vietnamese workers with a sense of ownership in their work. All Osprey workers in their Vietnam factories work fair hours and receive vacation and their salaries are significantly higher than the national average. Osprey inspects and regulates working conditions in their factories to promote a safe and welcoming working environment.
In addition to Osprey’s commitment to the well-being of their international workers, they have also made a distinct effort to utilize sustainable manufacturing practices and support environmental efforts. They incorporate sustainable solutions like 100% green sourced power, waterless urinals, carbon shipping offsets, efficient buildings and tree planting at their Cortez headquarters. They also eliminated harmful chemicals and materials from their packs and use recycled or recyclable packaging for their products. Additionally the All Mighty Guarantee promotes repairing damaged or defective products rather than replacement, which cuts down on waste and extends the life of Osprey products.
The All Mighty Guarantee
In 2009, to coincide with the brand’s 35th anniversary, Osprey introduced the All Mighty Guarantee. Building upon their existing lifetime warranty, the All Mighty Guarantee offers customers with free repairs of any damage or defect in Osprey products. If the issue can not be repaired, Osprey will replace the product. The All Mighty Guarantee applies to any Osprey product, regardless of how long ago it was purchased.
To ensure that the repairs customers received by utilizing the All Mighty Guarantee met the stringent quality standards applied to new Osprey products, Pfotenhauer hired Marilyn Jones, one of the original group Navajo sewers from 1990, to supervise all pack repairs! Jones brings over 20 years of experience working with Osprey packs in some capacity. She uses this experience to ensure that every pack that comes back in need of repairs gets the same meticulous care that they did when she first started sewing for Osprey decades ago.
With an incredible commitment to offering exceptional fit and quality, as well as an unconventionally responsible business philosophy, Osprey packs a great choice for whatever adventures await you. With an Osprey pack, you can trust that your pack was made by workers who are treated well and that your pack will hold up to the rigors of time and hard use. If you need a new pack and you want the best, choose Osprey!