I recently visited the factory where Ultimate Direction products are made. This was extremely worthwhile: I met all the people we work with, saw the entire production process, reviewed prototypes for our completely revamped 2014 product line, then discussed the changes and improvements we wanted to make directly with the people who will be implementing them.

And, since the factory is in the Philippines, my morning run was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, followed by a quick swim. Very different than the 11 inches of snow and 8 degree temperature in Boulder this morning!

I also wanted to check on working conditions over there – I’ve always wondered if there really are “sweat shops” – what was our factory like? To be socially, environmentally, and technically progressive is very important to me personally, and thus I always want to move Ultimate in that Direction. And (presumably by coincidence), this town happened to be the start of the infamous “Bataan Death March” in WWll!

Upon arrival, my worst fears were realized: working conditions were really hard …

This is our Designer, Erin Doubleday, in the middle of a 3 week trip to Asia, away from her home (and dogs), working non-stop 10 hour days. Shocking! Unfair labor practices?

On the other hand, while the Filipinos were really hard workers, they were quite happy and relaxed:

Pardon my little joke there – couldn’t resist – the truth is this is a very well run factory. I was impressed, so I’ll briefly describe how it all works for those of you who like me, want to know what goes on behind the curtain.


1. Set the Direction

As Brand Manager, I outline where we are going: what we are going to produce and why. I analyze pricing, profit, and costing spreadsheets, but in truth, the Ultimate Direction comes from my 40 years of competitive and recreational running experience, and especially, from all my friends. What will help my friends?

2. Design Concept

I also establish the product concepts – the Signature Series is a good example – but now that our UD design team has become established, the concepts often come from them. Erin Doubleday is the UD Designer, and she literally wakes up at night dreaming about cool new hydration packs. If she feels passionate about something, we go that way; if she doesn’t, we don’t go that way. You’ll see what I mean in the new 2014 product line – there are some interesting innovations!

3. Design Specifications

Erin draws sketches, and sometimes constructs actual packs, utilzing the sewing capabilities of our in-house Advance Development Center (more on that sometime). Once we like what we see, she will draw up a complete set of Plans and Specifications (she has a degree in Industrial Design), which are emailed to the factory.

4. Prototype and Revision Sequence

Using the Specs, the factory then makes prototypes of the new packs in their Sample Shop, which is separate from their production lines. They send these prototypes to us – we test and review them – Erin draws and emails a Revised Spec Package – the Sample Shop makes up the revised prototypes and ships to us – we review again – this process repeats for months!  It’s an excellent factory – these people are really good – and fortunately, don’t mind that we change, adjust, and tweak the products until they are just right.

5. Final Samples

Kevin Gallagher is our UD Product Manager – he has been involved all along, especially obtaining the special material we will be using (the 2014 Line has some surprises!), and as the design process culminates, he establishes pricing from the factory.

6. Production

We take one last look at the “QA” (Quality Assurance) samples, then production starts.  We take photo’s to go the websites, the salesmen show the samples at the Outdoor Retailer Show in early August, and retailers place their orders, even though the production pieces won’t arrive for a few more months.

7. On Sale

What we were working on in the Philippines two weeks ago will be available to you starting January 1. That’s how long it takes.


Here are my overall impressions:

1. Everyone is really good: the Owners, the Managers, the Sewers.

2. Everyone likes what they do: The vibe is good! I walked freely everywhere, and everyone was very friendly.

3. These sew shops are very labor intensive and capital unintensive – I like that a lot of people are employed – your money goes into wages instead of machines.

4. Because the outdoor industry requires high quality and patterns are changing constantly, it’s better to just hire a lot of people to sew than to construct a giant machine to do it automatically.

5. This one shop (factory) employs 7,000 people (!) – most of whom are sewing together packs using individual sewing machines such as you could have in your house.

6. Much of the outdoor industry makes their products in the same location – I saw Black Diamond climbing harnesses being made, as well as Arcteryx packs, etc.

And the Bataan Death March? I certainly didn’t have time to do the whole 160km – turns out there’s an annual race (held at night to avoid the heat) – but I did turn on the Strava App on my phone, and now am “King of the Mountain” on the first 3k of the route! 🙂