Made In America: Marsupial Gear
In this Made in America series, we’re going to look at companies with different beginnings, different specialties, wildly different histories, some old and some new. However, there’s a character and an ethic amongst these businesses and entrepreneurs that seems to be ubiquitous – cutting corners will never get you ahead, there’s always a way to make it better, people matter, the process matters. When the idea to spotlight brands and products that are made in America started, I wanted to give a nod to the companies of our industry who navigate the American supply chain and manufacture their products in the United States. What I hadn’t realized at the time was this was going to be impossible without telling the story of some special people. People who continually solve problems, people with creativity, and people with a work ethic only matched by their belief in themselves and their team.
“Family owned and operated” is a designation for a business that just about everyone loves to see. It tells us a lot about a company’s values, how they make decisions, and what kind of experience you’re going to have when you do business with them. In most cases, however, being family owned and operated is more of “just how things came to be” than a strategic marketing plan. The rise of Marsupial Gear is no different. Jim and Hannah Graham have been bootstrapping Marsupial Gear to where it is today since 2015.
At the outset of Marsupial Gear, Jim and Hannah worked relentlessly on building the business both while maintaining full time jobs - Jim working for his father’s roofing company, Hannah working in the mortgage industry. Entrepreneurial spirit displaying itself best after hours, the duo worked on Marsupial Gear every night – answering emails, shipping orders, and focusing on their brand all from their house. Where that spirit came from was no accident. Jim and Hannah both grew up in the environment of small business with fathers who owned their own businesses. And as tradition usually goes, raising a family amongst the hard work, the late nights, and the grind of building a business from the ground up was exactly what Jim and Hannah were embarking on when they had their first son in 2017. Two years later their second son was born, and two years after that their first little girl joined the team.
Over the past 7 years, the Graham team has lived and breathed Marsupial Gear. From the humble beginnings of fulfilling orders on the living room floor while playing with the kids, to the 55+ employees operating inside their 20,000 square foot building, Marsupial Gear has evolved in many ways. Customer service, fulfillment, production, and innovation has all benefitted from immense growth and success. What has remained consistent, however, is the strength, love, and support of Jim and Hannah’s marriage that makes the rest of it possible. Most everyone reading this article can appreciate that it’s the team at home that matters most. You may be asking yourself why any of this matters. Well, it only does if you value things that are cared about most by the people who make them.
A rugged forward opening bino harness, a sleek rangefinder pouch, and a thoughtful fishing pack. In 2015 Marsupial Gear built their first prototypes in these three products. As any successful businessman in the past two decades must do, Jim had to think critically about what problem he was going to solve for the end user. What was the focus, what was the niche, what was the bread and butter of Marsupial Gear? After spending several hours with Jim at the Marsupial Gear headquarters and getting just a taste of day-to-day operations and where the ideas are heading at the innovation table, I understood their secret sauce to be perfecting the wheel, not grasping at straws to invent a new one. Let me be clear – that is not to say there is no creativity or innovation involved. Improving upon pieces of equipment that have been engineered, reengineered, and produced by many successful companies before you requires true creativity and a knack for finding problems and solving them.
In 2015, if you were a guy wanting to make a bino harness for hunters, you were lining up against the big dogs of the industry. Alaska Guide Creations, also manufacturing their line in the U.S., had built a bomb proof utilitarian harness with a large base of die-hard users. Badlands, the powerhouse brand that began in 1992, built one of the most widely used bino harnesses that reached the Midwest whitetail hunter as well. And far from the smallest of them was Kuiu, in the era of Jason Hairston, who revolutionized how new technical materials could be deployed in a minimalist lightweight bino harness for guys chasing sheep in the mountains and those aspiring to be one. In the simplest of terms, developing a bino harness in 2015 took balls.
At the time, forward opening bino harnesses weren’t a thing, and neither was modularity in your chest pack set up. Now it’s the standard. So where did Jim and the Marsupial team hit the nail on the head? The details. To avoid using soft platitudes, I’ll use a quote from former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles who said it best - “A man’s accomplishments in life are the cumulative effect of his attention to detail.” By burning enough brain cells and hours on the sewing machine reinforcing key areas of stitching, trying new materials, embedding foam of different densities in different areas, and thinking through engineering changes that can make a difference, Marsupial Gear accumulates enough attention to detail to arrive at truly innovative and valuable pieces of equipment.
I realize to the average guy or new owner of a piece of Marsupial Gear that the value and amount of human energy put into it might not be self-evident. We tend to think more of the high dollar optics or custom rifle within the case than we do of the case itself. To give some context to the complexity and overwhelming bean-counting laboriousness of it all, let’s look at the Enclosed Binocular Pack, easily the hallmark SKU in the Marsupial Gear lineup. Each Enclosed Binocular Pack (without any accessories of which there are over 14) is comprised of over 30 pieces of fabric, padding, webbing, buckles, tethers, magnets, stitching, and foam. Each of these components, each raw material must first be cut to spec, ran through quality control, allocated to its appropriate station on the production floor, then hand sewn and constructed by a team of roughly 40 on site at the Marsupial Gear headquarters. Oh, and I almost forgot, one last and final look at the quality assurance stage before it gets moved to fulfillment.
From the outside looking in, Marsupial Gear has grown like a business that went into the exam with the answers written on its palm. After prototyping for a year, they went into production in 2016 with a lean order of 100 units of three products. In January of 2020 they moved into their own 5,000 sq ft. facility with 5 sewers working for them. By May of the same year, they grew out of that facility and expanded into a 10,000 sq ft. space. Two years later, busting at the seams, Marsupial Gear purchased their own building and began piecing together the infrastructure for even more growth. Earlier this year, Marsupial Gear began operations in their new 20,000 sq ft. building with over 40 full time people on the sewing team, and over 15 people working on the next big move for the company. What began as a passion project and a team of two with an initial prototyping order of three designs has evolved into a thriving business with over 420 SKUs in its lineup and no sign of slowing down.
However, from the inside looking out, from the vantage of Jim and Hannah Graham and the rest of the Marsupial Gear team, there were no answers to the test or fast track to where they sit today. What there was and is, day in and day out, is commitment. Not only to solving the constant problems of a large manufacturer or navigating a post covid supply chain, but commitment to their customers, to their employees, to their vision of what they wanted to build, and to their family. That’s Made in America if you ask me, plain and simple.