One of the more recent businesses to really make a splash in 2014 has been the gear created by Ogden Made. --- A company creating a variety of bags ranging from messenger and laptop carriers, to tote bags and dividers of various sizes. But what made these extra special is that every single product is put together in Ogden, bringing in local jobs to the economy and putting a thriving business on 21st Street. The bags have earned quick notoriety in the city as well, with Ogden City Mayor Mike Caldwell sporting one of the bags in his usual bike runs.
Today we chat with co-founder, Gregory Schern, about his career in this industry, starting up his own brand, the challenges and tasks in doing that, and a few other topics. (All pictures courtesy of Ogden Made.)
Gregory Schern (left, with Mayor Mike Caldwell and Sarah Hamilton)
Gavin: Hey Gregory! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Gregory: I’m a husband, a father to three awesome kids, a serial entrepreneur, a jack of all trades yet master of none, a wanderer, an introvert, and just like most people find there are never enough hours in the day, believe there are too many stones left unturned but will try anyway, and realize there is way too much to learn but still hold on to the belief that by working hard enough I can learn about everything. I also tend to speak and write in run-on sentences.
Gavin: How did you first get involved with the outdoors and traveling around?
Gregory: For as long as I can remember, and even beyond, I’ve sought adventure in all its forms, which by default means that I’m going to be outside and traveling. When I was three, I would sneak out of the front yard in small mining town of Morenci, Arizona and crawl up the hill to sit under the only stop light in town and watch as the cars flew by just because I needed to know what all the action was up there. The police would get a call reporting a toddler on the loose and know exactly who it was. Now, before anyone gets bent out of shape that some how I was neglected — trust me, there is a box full of gate locks and loving mother who would beg to differ. I have just simply never been comfortable and content, always wanting to see what was over the hill. My dad helped encourage a love for the outdoors with backpacking trips, my teenage years were spent exploring the deserts of Arizona and as an adult, I can’t seem to keep enough open pages in my passport. The world is a big place, it was meant to be explored which is why after selling our last business, we sold our house, loaded up our kids and traveled the country, just because it sounded fun — and it was.
Gregory: When I stop to think about the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done in less than four decades, it’s almost unbelievable. I’ve walked the streets of Paris, been chased by alligators in the Everglades, explored the jungles of Vanuatu, sat at the top of Castleton Tower, rowed the waters of the mighty Colorado, walked for miles on end through the fields of Brazil, jumped out of an airplane, got a pilot’s license to fly it too, photographed lions dining on a wildebeest in Botswana, ridden through the streets of Ho Chi Minh on a scooter, and hitch hiked through national parks. And that’s just the beginning of the list. I should really write all this down sometime.
Gavin: When did you start turning your attention toward making outdoor products?
Gregory: When I joined the Gura Gear team, I sort of found myself moving from solely the imaging industry on to a bridge combining photographic equipment with with outdoors. I look at it now and realize that we are an outdoor goods company that happens to make products for photographers, but its the outdoors and travel that drive everything.
Gavin: How did you first get involved with Gura Gear and what was it like coming in to an already established company?
Gregory: Gura Gear was founded by my friend, wildlife photographer Andy Biggs, as a result of trying to build his perfect bag for photo safaris in Africa. I watched from the sidelines as the idea matured and when he saw a need to expand the business I ended up getting suckered in to it. I say that with tongue in cheek as it’s been a great adventure and the company was still early stage so it’s a lot like every start up I’ve been involved with. I knew nothing about bags which has provided a great opportunity to learn.
Gavin: When did the idea of Ogden Made come about?
Gregory: I can’t point to a single conversation or light bulb moment that resulted in Ogden Made. Quite frankly, it started as a, “wouldn’t it be cool if...” statement that got so out of control it turned in to a “I can’t believe we actually did this.” The idealization in between was always focused on a few key ideas though. The product should be made in Ogden, each product should be treated as an individual with a signature, and it should absolutely be fun.
Gavin: What was it like coming up with the designs and creating these different types of models on established ideas?
Gregory: The design process is one of the funnest parts of the business, and there is no single person sitting around designing all day. It truly is collaborative and always inspired by some object, need or selfish desire. Typically, we start with an idea that we sketch on a white board, a napkin, an iPad or whatever else happens to be handy. We learned that building a paper model helps visualize the idea better, so like most 3rd grade classes we have lots of fun with butcher paper, scissors, tape, staples and glue. Once we get a paper model right, we turned to the sewing machines. It’s amazing how many iterations it takes to get to the final product, but I think that may be a result of the fun in trying new things.
Gavin: What made you decide to keep everything local as opposed to having the production done overseas?
Gregory: The entire idea behind Ogden Made was make product locally, promote Ogden the place and have a damn good time doing it. Pretty simple business plan. The only way we felt the product would have the soul it needed was if it was made and signed by the very people that love Ogden the place. There are obvious pros and cons from a purely analytical perspective, but when there is a focus on doing things locally, you adapt to make it a profitable venture. Quite frankly, lower volume premium-made goods can be made in the USA because the labor efficiencies of producing overseas are outweighed by the savings in duties, freight, carrying costs, etc. As long as people are willing to assign a value to American-made goods, the rest can be solved. Sewing local also means we can customize the product with more than 80 color combinations, develop new products quickly with no factory minimum order constraints, and refine products based on the feedback of not only the people using them, but also the people actually making them.
Gavin: When launching the brand, what made you decide to go to Kickstarter to fund the project?
Gregory: Ogden Made wasn’t exactly an idea that fit within our core business, and so it was both a potential risk and, frankly, not in the budget. As a team we looked around at how to prove out the idea and provide funding. Kickstarter simply made the most sense. Throw the idea and passion in front of perfect strangers, if they like it, they’ll support it, if they don’t like it, well, cool idea and that’s that. Without the support from the Kickstarter community, there would be no Ogden Made.
Gavin: You nearly made six-times what you asked for in the campaign. What was it like seeing the outpouring of support from the community to get it off the ground?
Gregory: We were blown away at the support for the project. We funded in hours, not days. It was a huge relief to have people telling us with their hard earned cash the idea was worthwhile and knowing that there was a path to make Ogden Made a reality.
Gavin: Being a locally made product, what's the process that goes into making each bag?
Gregory: Ogden Made bags are literally made by hand. Each day the production team assesses the orders and begins cutting and assembly. We have a very clean and efficient process that allows for custom production and singular attention, but still minimizes set up times. Once the parts are cut from the various color combinations for the day’s orders, they get distributed to individual sewers for full assembly. When you look inside an Ogden Made bag and see a signature, it truly is the handiwork of the individual that signed it, not because it was the last step of a process, but because they are truly proud of what they made.
Gavin: What was it like launching Ogden Made and what were the first couple months like for you?
Gregory: Launching Ogden Made and hitting the big green button to start the Kickstarter campaign was a like a party. We worked hard, laughed, played a lot of foosball in between planning and then WHAM! reality struck that there were hundreds of people that were going to need bags, websites needed to be built, sewers needed to be hired and trained, materials had to be ordered, patterns perfected, processes implemented, and on it went. The first couple of months were an incredible amount of work but also very rewarding because the daily results were visible. Once bags started coming out of the sewing room and hanging on the wall for inspection, it was time to just take a big breath and enjoy the moment.
Gavin: You've been running for just under a year now, how has it been establishing your business in Ogden and being a part of the community?
Gregory: Ogden is a great community, absolutely misunderstood by the state of Utah and a real gem of a place. The good news is that the longer people go without realizing that, the longer we have it all to ourselves, but let’s face it, nothing stays hidden forever. Ogden has a great group of young up and coming businesses that are creating a fun atmosphere and positive energy. It’s just fun to be a part of it.
Gavin: Do you have any plans to add new items to the product line yet?
Gregory: Yes! Just this week we introduced the 25th Street Tote. It was designed by Sarah, who has a closet full of totes and always felt they were too big, too small, too cheap, missed a few simple features, etc. and decided with summer on the way it was time to cure the tote issue once and for all. The resulting bag is awesome.
Gavin: Are there any plans to expand the business yet or are you comfortable where things are running at the moment?
Gregory: Those who are comfortable are usually dead and don’t know it. We are always looking for ways to improve and expand the business. Now that we have gained some proficiency we are ready for wholesale expansion in to small shops around the area. We have been and will continue to be careful not to grow at a pace that allows us to maintain the awesome quality of our bags.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and Ogden Made over the rest of the year?
Gregory: Ogden Made plans on introducing a few more products this year and we’ll be attending local events and fairs hawking our goods. As for me, well, you just never know.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Gregory: This is part of the conversation that I’m sure most businesses use to promote themselves, a product or a website like GuraGear.com – but it’s part of our mission to promote Ogden. If you haven’t been to Ogden in a while, come on up, enjoy some pizza from Lucky Slice on 25th, take in an Ogden Raptors baseball game and top it off with some great ice cream from Farr’s.
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