On July 17, 2015, Messe Friedrichshafen celebrated an individual, who has made a special contribution to the outodor industry. At the OutDoor trade show Mike Pfotenhauer, founder of backpack manufacturer Osprey, was named “OutDoor Celebrity of the Year 2015”.
Frank Wacker (Outdoor magazine), industry expert and presenter at the Messe Friedrichshafen award ceremony, praised Mike Pfotenhauer’s achievements. “Mike is one of the most highly talented pack designers. Thanks to his vision, Osprey has gone from being a small high-end outfit to one of the most influential backpack brands in the world – a very impressive achievement.”
California is the birthplace of many outdoor brands, such as Patagonia, The North Face and Marmot. It is also home to backpack manufacturer Osprey. Osprey started back in 1974 with just one sewing machine, a head full of ideas and a pioneering spirit to do things differently. The sewing machine, the ideas and the spirit all belonged to Mike Pfotenhauer.
Mike had just finished studying at Santa Cruz University, where he spent his free time repairing people’s backpacks. He realised that most backpacks could be made a lot better and started making his own – initially just for himself and his close friends, but word of their outstanding quality soon spread. Mike’s maxim was that backpacks had to fit user’s backs. Today, Osprey is famous for its custom-fitted packs.
In 1974 Osprey became an official company, named after the rare and endangered bird he had watched as a boy growing up in Wyoming. “Most of the competition named their companies after themselves. I didn’t like that idea – plus my name is not the easiest to pronounce,” Pfotenhauer said.
Mike Pfotenhauer was not just the founder and chief designer; he was also the authoritative quality controller. Every backpack was personally inspected by him – a practice that soon gained him legendary status, since no other company owner operated in such a meticulous, committed and hands-on manner. Mike also liked to experiment. In 1976, Osprey was the first company to use breathable mesh panels for greater comfort. In 2005, he developed the first hip belt that could be heated and moulded directly to the shape of the hip (custom moulding).
As the company grew, so did pricing pressure from the competition. Mike decided to relocate production to Vietnam. But unlike others who were outsourcing, he and his family actually moved to Vietnam, so that Mike could oversee everything and train the seamstresses himself.
At the 2014 OutDoor show, Osprey presented yet another innovation, which retailers hailed as the most important invention of the year: the AntiGravity 3D suspended mesh back system with fully ventilated hip belt that provides a whole new level of comfort. Mike Pfotenhauer still stands by his word. 40 years on – Osprey backpacks still match the quality of his 1974 specification.
Mike Pfotenhauer was chosen by an international panel of leading outdoor journalists and industry representatives: David Durkan (Bergans of Norway, Norway), Richard Jägrund (Haglöfs, Sweden), Susan Viscon (Recreational Equipment Inc., USA), David Laffan (Bivouac Outdoor, New Zealand), Wilfried Teller (Larca Sportartikel GmbH, Germany), Petra Thaller (Thaller Media, Germany), Natasha Bloemhard (Salt Magazine, Netherlands), Augusto Rabajoli (Ferrino, Italy) and Peter Schöffel (Schöffel, Germany).