133: jason duncan, outdoor research, a herculean pivot: the outdoor research journey to fda-compliant ppe

“We all say, ‘The needs of yesterday are not the needs to today or tomorrow.’ I would say across Outdoor Research, in all departments, we’ve had that attitude, to lean in and protect those that protect us. That goes for everyone that works in the building.”

– Jason Duncan


Imagine you’re sitting with your team at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, in one of the early and most active hot spots, Seattle, Wash. You lead a manufacturing team at a 39-year-old outdoor apparel and gear company that’s been a U.S. manufacturer for the entirety of your brand history. You all know there’s a bigger role to play. Within an instant, you all agree to go forward and go big to serve in the COVID-19 crisis. 

In this instant, the reality of pivoting to become a manufacturer of FDA-compliant Personal Protective Gear for front-line healthcare workers, starts to become real.

It’s an industry you know nothing about. Your factory is not set up to safely operate in COVID-19 conditions, let alone as an FDA-compliant protective equipment manufacturing space. 

Yet you go for it together anyway. Five weeks plus of 24-7 work and dedication ensue. 

It’s at the five-week mark that I was able to sit down with Jason Duncan, who leads Tactical, CSR and the U.S. manufacturing operations at Outdoor Research. What you’re about to hear is a story of an incredible company culture (you’ll hear first hand the emotional bond and strength this crew finds in the word “team”), a level of human resilience in employees of all ages and focuses at the brand, and the incredibly fast progress that’s being made.

It all started in one moment when the agreement was made to serve in a way that’s much broader than the teams’ known before.
For almost two months now, Jason and his team at Outdoor Research have been leading the charge and have transformed the manufacturing arm of this incredible legacy brand with deep US manufacturing roots into a PPE cranking machine. Through thoughtful processes, an all-hands leadership team and creativity, the story of their pivot is incredible, albeit inspiring.

The Channel Mastery podcast has offered in-depth interviews going deeper into the commitment, results and tenacity of several outdoor brands and organizations. It was truly an honor to facilitate the original panel, and to share the inspiration and gumption of the individuals using their brands and organizations as vehicles for positive change.

I get a sense that the broader outdoor recreation community is just getting started as engines of opportunity to build the future that’s ahead. I look forward to journeying through the forthcoming innovations with you, right here on Channel Mastery. 


Jason Duncan

Jason Duncan is currently lead Tactical, Innovation, and CSR teams for Outdoor Research. He has over twelve years of management experience supplemented by business administration education and eight years of chemistry experience (academic and private sector), prior to working in the outdoor industry. Duncan received an MBA from the University of Washington Foster School of Business as well as a BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics from McGill University.


Pivoting to produce PPE, Outdoor Community, Jason Duncan, Outdoor Research, Seattle based company and PPE production


“But, we’ve had some great people. Like I said, the who in our journey is people that can execute quickly, have agile minds, pivot mentality, and manufacturing experience. There’s a lot of dynamic teamwork going on. Like I said, your job yesterday might’ve been mechanical engineer, but your job today is FDA test coordinator. You may have three degrees, but today you’re in charge of ear lids. You’re the ear lid person.”

“We all say, ‘The needs of yesterday are not the needs to today or tomorrow.’ I would say across Outdoor Research, in all departments, we’ve had that attitude, to lean in and protect those that protect us. That goes for everyone that works in the building.”

“Well, we’re in this business {manufacturing PPE} for the long term. The investments we’ve made to date
are significant. This is not a short-term investment from us. Is it going to be profitable in the future? I hope so. We didn’t take the time. We just did it. But, I think there’s a need, for sure.

“One word we have right now, and it sounds cliché, but it’s team. If our experience internally has shown a path, it’s the fact that a team with an agile mindset to produce an effective solution will get us through this crisis. For this particular challenge, it was all about research, efficacy, agility, and speed. We had to be nimble, and we had to show courage with a problem that we haven’t encountered previously. I will say it’s one of the rare instances where altruism, community, national security, and corporate needs all align. I can’t remember any instances in my career where they aligned so quickly and so purely.”




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