How our onshore production allowed us to pivot fast—and create jobs—during the pandemic.

In March 2020 the world changed and with it, all aspects of our lives. The unknown loomed large, but we wanted to do something to help. Within nine months, we converted two factory floors and produced more than 12 million masks. That would never have happened if we hadn’t already been focused on manufacturing within the U.S. since day one.

“For the past 20-plus years we’ve seen a decline in domestic manufacturing that can be attributed to a long list of social, economic and political reasons but some companies, like OR, have chosen to maintain a foothold with factories based here in the States,” says Brent Zwiers, senior director of manufacturing and production at Outdoor Research.

Since our founding in 1981, Outdoor Research has been manufacturing gear and apparel within the United States.

Over the past three years we’ve conducted a comprehensive review of the U.S. supply chain and are in active development with textile mills and materials providers to expand and elevate the capabilities of products that are 100-percent American-made.

“To be competitive in the global market we cannot solve complex problems with brute force, old technology and inefficient processes,” Zwier says. “And OR has driven hard to modernize an industry that historically has not used technology and creative problem solving. We strive to make the best use of the highly skilled workforce we have in leadership, engineering, design and production.”

Before the pandemic, in May 2019, we opened a new manufacturing facility in El Monte, Calif., doubling the number of OR staff building apparel and gear onshore. It joined the manufacturing enterprise we’ve operated for decades at our Seattle headquarters and helped raise the bar for our innovation.

In March 2020 we converted our manufacturing facility in Seattle to produce Personal

Protective Equipment (PPE) for the medical community in response to the COVID-19 crisis. This enabled us to produce upwards of 200,000 masks per day.

We installed advanced medical manufacturing lines, allowing us to quickly pivot toward becoming an FDA- approved Class II medical mask maker. We invested in high-speed equipment and employee training that allowed us to produce surgical masks, N95 respirator masks and ASTM Level 1 fabric face masks.

In July 2020 our U.S.-made N95 Flat Fold Respirator Mask achieved NIOSH approval. At the time, Outdoor Research was one of only nine organizations to achieve expedited certification. And while many companies have entered the mask market temporarily by creating “face coverings” for general public use, we made a strategic commitment to expanding our manufacturing capabilities to build advanced medical devices, providing PPE to frontline healthcare workers during and after this current crisis.

In August 2020, we earned U.S. Food and Drug Administration Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for our U.S.-made surgical mask. This authorization is designed to help strengthen the availability of key products needed during public-health emergencies. Federal authorization of our PPE was the culmination of a months-long effort. We were one of only four organizations to achieve FDA authorization for U.S.-made surgical masks since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

By the end of 2020, we added 200 jobs in our manufacturing arm specific to PPE manufacturing.

As we move into 2021 and the world continues to change around us, we continue to adapt—keeping our U.S. manufacturing capabilities front of mind.

“I’m very passionate about building things in the U.S.,” Zwiers says. “I strongly believe in all the benefits that a solid manufacturing base can bring to our society and country. I believe manufacturing in the U.S. doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive and that there is space for companies, investors, employees, customers and products to all benefit from the ability to quickly react, own the development to production process and provide jobs in the U.S. This nirvana doesn’t come easily and requires that all stakeholders share the same vision and are willing to participate equally with each other to achieve this goal. We’ve proven, and plan to continue to prove, that U.S.-based manufacturing is a growth opportunity that can benefit everyone.”