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OSPREY – Behind the Seams: A Lifetime Commitment to Quality

By 27th October 2015 Drifters News No Comments

Since Osprey was founded in 1974, every single product design bearing the Osprey name has passed through the hands of owner and founder Mike Pfotenhauer, undergoing relentless scrutiny. From stitching the first lines of custom-fitted packs, to meticulously designing innovative products with intuitive features, to forging personal relationships with the sewing operators who construct the packs, Mike has been the unbreakable thread that makes Osprey a company like no other.

Mike remembers backpacking as a young boy in his home state of Oregon with his brothers and father, wearing a backpack with an awful fit. With the help of his mother, he learned to sew, and created his first backpack at age 16.

As a young entrepreneur in Santa Cruz, California, Mike opened a retail shop in the front of his rented house where backpackers and travelers – drawn by word of mouth – came to get measured for the custom-fitted, made-to-order packs. Each was constructed by Mike himself over the course of several days. To these avid travelers, the legendary packs were worth the wait. The original name of Osprey Packs was Santa Cruz Recreational Packs.

By 1987, Osprey started selling wholesale and Mike delegated much of the sewing to seven or eight employees while he focused on design. As the demand for the great-fitting packs increased, Mike and business partner/wife Diane Wren found themselves in Dolores, Colorado, population 864, the exact day a local Gore-Tex factory was closing down. Soon after, they rented the 8,000-square-foot building – originally built in the 1920s as Ford Model-T factory.

They recruited a team of women sewers from the nearby Navajo reservation, many of whom had built upon their traditional sand painting and blanket weaving skills to sew at area factories. Mike trained these experienced sewers in the art and science of constructing Osprey Packs. In 1994, they expanded sewing operations to Cortez, Colorado, and five years later, Osprey moved all operations to this facility in preparation for more expansion.

By 2000, manufacturing in the U.S. became increasingly challenging. As domestic fabric mills closed, sourcing quality materials became more difficult. Moreover, Osprey’s competitors had moved manufacturing overseas to reduce product costs and prices. There were issues with capacity. As Osprey signed on with distributors around the globe, the company was missing deadlines and business opportunities. Moving manufacturing overseas was crucial to the company’s survival.

Osprey began working with Korean manufacturers that owned and managed facilities in Vietnam. Distance didn’t dilute Mike’s incessant desire to ensure that his packs were built with the utmost quality and according to his design specs, which meant he was spending months traveling between Cortez and Vietnam. The trip alone took two days.

In 2003, Mike and Diane relocated their family to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and set up a design center where Mike could more closely manage production. Intending to live there for two years, they stayed for four. Mike recalls, “We visited the factories almost daily to make sure production was running smoothly and that our designs were produced accurately and faithfully.” Mike hired a Vietnamese designer to create the prototypes and samples. Then he hired another local to manage quality assurance. Now, Osprey’s fully-staffed product development office continues to ensure face-to-face relationships with the factory technicians as well as transparency with the company’s suppliers.

To celebrate its 35th anniversary in 2009, Osprey launched the All Mighty Guarantee, an enhancement of a lifetime warranty that was already one of the most robust in the industry. Free of charge, the company will repair any damage or defect in its product – whether it was purchased in 1974 or yesterday. If Osprey is unable to repair the item, it will happily replace it. The All Mighty Guarantee: any product, any reason, any era.
Mike isn’t the only one ensuring that every product meets the exacting standards worthy of this lifetime guarantee. Hired in 1990 as one of the original Navajo sewers, Marilyn Jones has had a hand in creating Osprey packs for 20 years. She is now responsible for all pack repairs. “Sometimes a pack comes in and I’ll recognize it,” Marilyn says. “I see how it’s held up over the years, and what adventures it’s been through. Then, I make sure it goes even further.”

Mike says his innovative designs and commitment to top-notch manufacturing shows in every product, even, or especially, decades later. “Osprey is, in large part, about exceptional relationships,” says Mike. “Between the pack and its wearer. The pack and its makers. The company and its staff.” He continues, “So many of our staff have been with the company for decades. It shows how fervently we believe in our process and products. The All Mighty Guarantee proves it.” No wonder there’s such a close relationship between the words “Osprey” and “quality”. You could say it’s a lifetime commitment.


Osprey History Timeline
1953 – Mike Pfotenhauer, Osprey Packs founder and Head Designer is abandoned as a newborn in Roswell, New Mexico – complete with sample patterns and an odd assortment of buckles in hand
1974– Mike Pfotenhauer and Laurie White start up Osprey Packs in Santa Cruz, California

1976 – Breathable mesh panel introduced on Osprey packs
1979 – First Osprey travel pack, the Outlander, released upon the masses
1986 – Osprey adds partners Gabriella Salinas and Diane Wren and begins selling packs wholesale
1990 – Mike Pfotenhauer and Diane Wren move Osprey into former Gore-Tex factory in Dolores, Colorado (population 864). Hires new skilled workforce, primarily from Navajo Reservation.

1993 – Osprey introduces the Isis an innovative custom fit women’s backpack, the first in a legacy of women’s custom fit
1994 – Osprey moves production to new location in Cortez, Colorado.
1995 – Pika kid’s pack receives Backpacker Magazine Editor’s Choice Award
1995 – Recycled HDPE framesheets introduced in Osprey Packs
1998 – Mike Pfotenhauer literally dreams the Straightjacket suspension compression system
1998 – Osprey ErgoPull hipbelt closure and introduced to the masses and changes backpack hipbelts forever.
1999 – Osprey expands facility in Cortez and all operations are moved from Dolores.
– Osprey begins to move some production offshore to Korea and Vietnam
2001 – Aether pack graces the cover of Time Magazine

2002 – Aether 60 receives the Grand GG award from Outdoor Life Network

2003 – Aether 75 receives the Outside Magazine Gear of the Year Award
2003 – Osprey partners Mike Pfotenhauer and Diane Wren and family move to Vietnam
2003 – Design and Quality Control Center in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is formed with Vietnamese staff
2004 – Switch 55+5 is awarded Editors’ Choice by Backpacker Magazine
2005 – Osprey introduces Custom Molding technology
2005 – Osprey Atmos 50 is awarded the 2005 Outside Magazine Gear of the Year Award
2006 – Osprey Meridian 22, the first wheeled travel pack designed by Osprey Packs, wins the 2006 Outside Magazine Gear of the Year Award
2007 – Osprey Circuit daypack designed using 71% recycled materials by content is awardedOutside Magazine’s Green Gear of the Year Award
2007 – Osprey expands Cortez, Colorado headquarters incorporating LEED like standards and adding an additional 3600 square feet of office space
2008 – Osprey Packs Inc awarded REI’s Vendor Partner of the Year Award
2008 – Osprey expands U.S staff to a total of 29 Team Members while the Vietnam Design Studio increases to 12
2008 – Osprey selected by Outside Magazine as one of America’s Best Places to work
2009 – Osprey celebrates 35 years of independent design and innovation
2009 – Osprey Exos 46 awarded Outside Magazine’s Gear of the Year Award
2009 – Osprey Ace 48 receives Backpacker Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award
2009 – Osprey receives Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work Award for the second year in a row
2009 – Osprey awarded REI’s Vendor Partner of the Year-Camping Division
2009 – Osprey Packs expands product warranty coverage introducing the All Mighty Guarantee-Any Reason, Any Product, Any Era
2009 – The Osprey Exos 46 wins a 2009 Good Design Award for the World’s Best Design
2009 – Osprey Manta 25 hydration pack receives Gold Industry Award for design from Outdoor Europe
2010 – Osprey releases first dedicated hydration packs, the revolutionary Hydraulics™ Series featuring the Manta and Raptor.
2010 – Osprey Raptor 6 receives 2010 Best of Adventure Award from National Geographic Adventure Magazine
2010 –
Osprey establishes Mill Valley, California design studio to help meet the challenges of 21st Century Design
2010 – Osprey receives Men’s Journal Magazine 2010 Gear of the Year award for the Raptor 10 hydration pack
2010 – Osprey receives Outside Magazine’s 2010 Gear of the Year award for Sojourn 25″ / 60L travel luggage
2011 – Osprey hits 15,000 Likes on its Facebook page
2011 – Osprey’s Pro Deal Donation Program breaks all previous records donating a total of $10,470.00 to select nonprofits including the Breast Cancer Fund, Women’s Wilderness Institute, Colorado Environmental Coalition, American Hiking Society and The Conservation Alliance.
– Osprey expands operations to include an additional five warehouse complexes in addition to the main headquarters and distribution center
2012 –
The Aether 60 is awarded 2012 Best Buy from Outdoor Gear Lab
2012 –
Osprey releases the Poco Series to critical acclaim raising the bar on technical child carriers forever.
2012 –
Osprey becomes the first corporate sponsor of American Hiking Society’s Hike the Hill event supporting trails, outdoor recreation and conservation.

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