Rosie Mansfield is the product manager for Osprey Packs, a brand that creates innovative, high performance gear that reflects a love of adventure and devotion to the outdoors. During our interview at Outdoor Retailer, Rosie's passion and excitement showed through her thoughtful, original and insightful answers to my questions. In this exclusive interview with Rosie, we delve into Osprey's sustainability mission, what capital G good means, and how Osprey inspires people to enjoy the outdoors. Rosie is what I would call a capital G good human being! May this interview inspire you to live your values and carve out time for adventure in daily life.
Tell us about yourself. Who are you? What inspires you? What drives you? What brings you joy?
I was working on the sales floor at Eastern Mountain Sports and one day I got a call for my dream job offer. I was offered the climbing and accessory buyer position for EMS. It was truly a dream come true because climbing is one of my passions. It was overwhelming and exciting. I got thrown into the deep end but I had amazing mentors. I was hooked right away. I loved the balance of talking climbing gear and also diving into business analysis. I loved the complexity of it. I fell in love with the industry and was delighted by it. When I found out about the job opening at Osprey, I applied and moved to middle of nowhere Colorado and I have now been with Osprey for 3 years. The first week on the job was a backpacking trip in the dessert with retailers. On that trip I fell in love with Colorado and the culture at Osprey. I learned that time out of the office is just as important as time spent in the office, an outdoor industry ethos and a personal one too.
Tell us about your company. How does your own life mission fit into the company mission?
Osprey’s commitment to quality is something I value and love so much. It is the pursuit of capital G good, defined by a depth and substance that you know when you see it. You feel it when you see it. We have a reputation of a 40 year start up because we are always innovating to ensure that we are designing the best product. The capital G good is hard to pin down to a specific thing because it is everything we do - fit, feel, design, and construction, and it is why we have the reputation we do.
Another one of my life’s mission is being with people in a place where everyone wants to be where they are. I had that at EMS and I have that at Osprey. People are aligned and in pace, charging forward. Not only does everyone want to be at Osprey, they are doing work they believe in.
How and why did you became interested in product management and design?
I have a journalism and economics degree and it’s the combination of those two interests, the numbers and the story telling, that have always inspired me. I grew up on a farm in the midwest and I didn’t know anything about outdoor gear. When I lived in New Hampshire I got into climbing and from my first time out, I knew I would always climb. After college I was working in DC for the Sierra Club and thought I wanted to be a writer. DC was too much for me though. I had to change what I was saying or who I was to push forward an agenda that was a meaningful goal but not in alignment with how I wanted to live.
I didn’t know what product management was but my aunt’s best friend had job in the industry. When I visited my aunt, her friend was there and talked to me about her job traveling to source for the brand she worked for. Learning what it takes to put any product on the shelf was so amazing to me. I realized product management incorporated the story telling and the analytical numbers with the opportunity to travel too, which led me to explore that path.
What is your favorite aspect of your job and why?
I love the collaboration aspect of my job. Being a product manager, I get to play a role in marketing, sales, design development, and sustainability. My responsibility is to ensure that all the different departments are in alignment. The product management team gets to be this great hub and ambassadors for each of these teams. We are the hopper of ideas and have the opportunity to apply business analytics to creativity.
For example, when we are in Vietnam working in our design and development office, we present the marketing and sales perspective as much as the product management opinion. The secret is, ultimately, they’re all the same. We all want to make the best product. I love being the facilitator of the relationships between all the different departments. If I was a tool, I would be a clamp, the pressure to bring things together.
How does your company design sustainably with the planet in mind?
Number 1 is our repair facility. To me that is first and foremost. One of things we can get overwhelmed by in our industry is how we perpetuate the consumer culture by producing new products. At Osprey, we don’t want to just be making more things so we make bags that last. Quality is number one for sustainability because then when we start to look at eco friendly materials, we ask ourselves, is it better to have an eco friendly process or build something that is going to last longer? We strive for both and are excited as we just hired a new senior product director who has a background in sustainability in materials. With quality at the core, we also have the relentless pursuit to create new things, to innovate our industry. I am excited to see how we can contribute in innovating sustainability in all our new products.
How does your company inspire people to get outside? What do you love to do outside?
We are making good products to go outside. I think of the bag being the thing that holds everything. It’s hard to go backpacking if you don’t have a pack that is comfortable. We get outside and use the gear. Getting out ourselves in the bags we make builds our passion and that can be felt in the product. When everyone is aligned and stoked you can smell it in the bags, the dirt from the trips, the jelly beans, the granola bars. We walk the walk.
What are some of the obstacles the company has faced in holding itself accountable to higher standards of design and function?
It is a fast moving train. It’s really hard. We’ve been looking for a pause button so if you see one, let me know. Going back to the old start up mentality, when things are good you want to celebrate but you have to keep innovating. We are trying to take time to look at the bigger picture and think about where we want to be in the next 30 years in commitment to sustainability for our retailers, to our consumers, to the industry, to the world. Time and resources are the biggest challenges. The love and the why are there but the how and when is a constant process.
What is the biggest challenge you face today in your role at Osprey?
Time. We have recently been more diligent about protecting the time to be creative, to get into the market places, sit on park benches and watch the world. Now I pick flights with longer layovers at airports just to people watch and see how they interact with their bags. There’s so much that happens just in an airport. As we continue to develop our lifestyle and travel products, it becomes so much more important to get out of our small town in Colorado to know what consumers want and need today. Taking time to go to not only Denver, NY and SF, but Atlanta, Chicago and Austin too to work with the right focus groups and partners is important. I try to remember slow is fast. Our technical line is inspired and informed by the desert to our west and the mountains to our north and east.
What keeps you creating when you don’t feel like it? What is your biggest source of creative inspiration?
Capital G good. I have a big role of butcher block paper that I found in the back of the Osprey warehouse. I roll it out on a big table and have tons of pens and just start mapping the calendars, list, goals or better identify who the core consumer is for the product. I like to doodle and so when I get stuck, I doodle and write and expand it out. It resets me to put pen to paper. I like to do that at Tuesday at 10am when I feel like I am not going to get anything done to remind myself I can innovate.
Getting outside is a key part of creative inspiration for me too. Backpacking, fishing, climbing. Getting outside is the best perspective change.
What piece of advice do you have for people pursuing product management/design in the outdoor industry?
Figure out what your capital G good is and show up. Showing up is about not wanting to be anywhere else. Ask questions. Figure out what ignites you. What products inspire you. What do you love and get after it. Don’t take your interests for granted . You have unique ideas and perspectives. Figure out how you can contribute.
What advice do you have for women who want to be in this industry?
My advice isn’t different. I might say it with more inflection, really show up! Find mentors, ask questions. Don’t let yourself be overridden when you know better.
I use to judge my intellect, sense of humor and strength comparing myself to men. It wasn’t until two yeas ago when I realized I don’t have to do that. I have so many great strong, women role models in my life to inspire me. My grandmother is one who wrote in the first line of her memoir: I was born the year women got the right to vote. The rest of the memoir maintains that tone.