Many of us live in southwest Colorado near Osprey’s headquarters in Cortez. Nestled at the corner of the rugged San Juan Mountains and on the edge of vast sandstone canyon country, this landscape provides us with constant inspiration and a superb testing ground for our packs.
Things at Osprey move full circle. Starting with the people, influencing the product, and then back to the people for the lifetime of the product.
Our mission is to create innovative high performance gear that reflects our love of adventure and our devotion to the outdoors. We succeed when we meet the demanding expectation of our most discerning customers and they are proud to use our packs.
You’ll find the rest of us, often Osprey founder and head designer Mike Pfotenhauer, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Here, surrounded by heat, endless bustle and vibrant energy, we design and build our packs to the exacting standards expected of Osprey. Living in HCM City provides many benefits, including the ability to ensure fair labor standards and face-to-face relationships with the factories that build our packs, cultural enlightenment, and the design inspiration of a cosmopolitan city.
Every couple years, we take a group of our retailers and media to visit our facilities in Vietnam. The trip gives them a chance to see first hand the unique systems that we have set up there and an opportunity to truly understand the challenges of developing and producing packs. To really understand where we are today, let’s rewind about 15 years.
In the late nineties, Osprey found itself in the position of many U.S. backpack brands. Sourcing was becoming more and more difficult with fabric mills in the southeast closing and in some cases going bankrupt. Fabrics and hardware for building backpacks were becoming widely available in Asia at a fraction of the cost. Many major brands had already shifted sourcing and production to Asia but we chose to maintain our facilities in Cortez - we had excellent talent and most importantly, founder and lead designer, Mike Pfotenhauer could directly interact with the production team – something that has given us an edge in our pack designs throughout the history of the company.
An example of this would be when a designer creates a pack design that in modeling looks great but once patterns are cut and the sewing process begins that design can sometimes be very hard to sew or look ill proportioned. However, a simple alteration in the pattern can make the pack easy and quick to sew. A designer can’t learn this without direct interaction with the people who are actually building the pack.
Inevitably and far beyond our control, sourcing continued to dry up in the US and by 2001 we had begun work with Korean factories on our larger model packs with the bulk of our production still in Cortez. Our persistence in this, nearly resulted in the demise of the company but it also gave Mike and the rest of our team time to strategize a system that maintained many of the advantages we had worked so hard to establish and in particular, direct interaction with the factories.
As a result, Mike moved his family to Vietnam in 2003 where they lived for four years. The end result was a product development office that now employs nearly 30 people and is home base for Mike’s continued and regular visits to Ho Chi Minh City.
The Osprey Vietnam office is located next to the Saigon river in what was formerly a French villa. The team there work on product development and design and ultimately, all that is needed to get the products produced and shipped from the factories we work with.
The team in Vietnam work in three distinct areas; The first (and arguably the most important) is Design and Sampling. Two designers work in tandem with Mike and the team in the US to develop concepts and new products that can then be fed through our in-house sample room to create a prototype to feel, evaluate, test and then improve. Having a dedicated sample room enables us to remake samples in as little as a day and continually improve a design until it is truly ready for the market.
A second part of the team works on then ‘industrializing’ the product and preparing it for mass production. This involves carefully specifying materials and construction techniques to make product that stands the test of time and maximizes efficiency.
Finally a team of five inspectors quality control the production of Osprey Packs within our factories on a daily basis. They work to check product as it is created, ensuring problems are avoided and that the factories have the best systems in place to monitor and control their standards to the highest levels.
Having a local workforce in the country of origin offers benefits in both rapid communication but also in gaining a unique understanding of the everyday conditions within factories and their workforce that few other brands achieve.
Our group of retailers and media arrived for an interactive day of education at the office. Following a tour each was set to task at three stations – stuffing foam into a harness strap, inserting the cross-bar into an AirSpeed™ suspension frame and sewing the flap onto a FlapJack or FlapJill pack.
Performing these tasks really gave the group a keen sense of the skill involved in building our packs. Foam is stuffed into our harness straps by pulling the outer fabric (which is sewn inside out) over the foam and into place. Our AirSpeed™ suspension design utilizes a double bow cross bar that tensions the whole system. It’s a simple and elegant design but requires some directed skill to do. Check out our repair video on how to do it. Finally, everyone loves to operate a sewing machine and the process of actually sewing a pack together produced lots and lots of laughs. Each person received a rating from 1-10 with the highest only netting a 7. Adding insult to injury, every single pack was pulled apart and resewn before being gifted to our guests!
We also take our guest on tours of the factories we work with as well as giving them a taste of Ho Chi Minh city via a cyclo tour. There is always a great adventure too as in our recent bike ride over Hai Van pass. Everyone comes away with a better appreciation for the products we sell as well as personal insight into the people who make them. We are proud of our Vietnam operations and will continue to share what we do there with all our customers.