Volume 1: An Origin Story
December 2019 – William Todd Fairbairn, Founder & CEO of OTTE Gear
I grew up in a family with a lot of military service. My dad was a Marine, my grandpa was a Coast Guard Captain, my great grandpa was a seaman in the Navy. Two of my uncles were Navy and another was an infantryman and Ranger. As a kid around the dinner table I never understood the cryptic language of military acronyms. They spoke of their adventures in faraway places: Benning, Bragg, Lejeune, Korea, Vietnam, Germany, Alaska, Greenland etc. It sounded amazing, I wanted to be part of the club. After High School I enrolled at Boston University and joined Army ROTC. Our detachment, the Charles River Battalion, was run by a West Point Lieutenant Colonel who ran a tight ship. I learned a lot from the cadre, many were officers however I was lucky to have amazing NCOs as well and all of them were professionals. My summers were spent at ROTC training camps around the country and was lucky enough to have earned a slot at Airborne School. I arrived at jump school the week Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the military started sending material to the Middle East to prepare for the invasion. We didn’t know if there would be enough C130’s to jump out of or if we would have to use helicopters. It was an interesting time; I still remember watching truckloads of Rangers wearing 6 color desert uniforms (Chocolate-Chip) all over Fort Benning in preparation for war.
When I graduated with a BA in Geography I was commissioned in branched Infantry. It was 1991 and the Gulf War had just ended. President Bush was shrinking the size of the military and I was told that they did not need as many Infantry Second Lieutenants. So, when I was finished with the Infantry Officers Basic Course (IOBC) at Fort Benning, GA, I was put in the IRR (Individual Ready Reserves) and told that the Army would call me if they needed me.
I finished at Fort Benning in April, about a 4-hour drive from the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail in North Georgia. Thru-hiking the entire 2200 miles of the Appalachian Trail had always been on my bucket list and now I was in great shape and had the six months needed to complete it, so I threw everything into my rucksack and started hiking north. I had no idea what I was doing (I had never backpacked before) so I took 2 weeks’ worth of canned food right out of the gate. My food bag was too small so my buddies stripped the pillowcase off the pillow on my bed and I used that. I think it weighed 40lbs, there must have been at least 65,000 calories in that bag!
It took me 188 days to finish the entire length of the AT. I started clean shaven and bald to see which hair would grow faster and I am here to say that a beard grows faster! The trip was an awesome experience. I had thought it was going to be a solitary trip however it turned out to be very social with an amazing group of fellow hikers sharing the journey with me. I had such a great time I knew that the outdoor industry was a place I wanted to work.
I worked for a year saving my money and left the country for 2 years. I traveled around the world hiking and climbing. When I got back, I moved to Colorado where I got a job with The North Face and began my mountaineering apprenticeship. Every weekend I was out climbing, mountaineering, skiing, ice climbing and mountain biking with friends, getting my PhD in outdoor gear. I learned about how to dress & what to wear by activity; what was a well-designed garment/piece of gear and what wasn’t; what to pack and what to leave home. Between work and life I was happy and passionate, the catalyst that led me to start OTTE Gear.
Here we are 15 years later, and the outdoor lifestyle is still in my blood. I love filling a ruck with gear and heading out into the middle of nowhere with friends. I move a little slower, take more breaks and have more aches and pains but I still get after it. There is something about sleeping on the cold, hard ground that makes me appreciate my warm, soft bed at home. As I write this, I am heading out into the field on an 18-day trip to climb Aconcagua, Argentina, the highest point in South America and the entire Western Hemisphere at 22,841’ or 6962 meters. I have not done a big trip in a long time and I am looking forward to it. I told my wife that this trip is a cheaper mid-life crisis than buying a Harley or sports car (that didn’t go over too well). If all goes well, I’ll let you know how it worked out in my next blog posting.
This year we relaunched our website and spent time reengaging with our customers online, via our website, Instagram and Facebook. It is great hearing from all our customers – their love for the brand & products; comments and suggestions on our gear and how to make it better; and (best of all) posted pics of you in OTTE Gear. Your ideas on product improvements are a gift because we all benefit from design improvements. Part of our brand values is to check ego at the door, shut up and listen. We also are working to build classic lifestyle products you can use off-duty but fit seamlessly into your day job like Aloha shirts, belts, totes, packing cubes and t-shirts. More products are coming, sign up to learn more.
That’s all for now. More when I am back from Aconcagua. Thanks for indulging me!