Red Oxx: American-made luggage are handmade by veterans

Somewhere out there, there is a graveyard of bags that have met their demise prematurely due to broken zippers, torn tires, split seams and the soil is so sawn-off you would swear that they started with mesh.

But you would be hard pressed to find a Red Oxx bag to rest in peace among them. “Tactical force without looking like you are going to war,” is how Jim Markel, Red Oxx’s co-founder and CEO, describes his company’s products.

And Markel should know. The former US military parachute rigger and served in the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company in Okinawa, Korea, Guam, and California — and he signs off on every bag.

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In the factory in Montana.

(Thank You To The The Red Oxx Mfg. )

After his retirement from service, Markel at his father, also a veteran, in Billings, Mont., Jim Sr. had started a small business sewing fitness accessories made from discarded military supplies.


That was in 1986. Thirty years later, Red Oxx no longer makes weight belts and pulling straps, and it is no longer located in Jim Sr. s kitchen. In fact, Jim Sr. has of the business and Jim Jr, 50 years old, has a new business partner — another veteran named Perry Jones. Last year, the Small Business Administration with the name Red Oxx Mfg. Montanas Veteran-Owned Business of the Year. The highest product accolade came when Outside Magazine named her Safari-Beanos Bag PR5 ($205) one of the best pieces of outdoor gear of 2004.

“It’s pretty dang cool to see a Red Oxx bag when traveling and know that it came from a small factory in the centre of Montana,” said Ryan Morrissey, 27, who started out as a sewer three years ago and now runs Red Oxx the quality control department. Another employee, McEddie Sam O, an immigrant from Nigeria, has been with the company for more than five years. With the help of the Red Oxx, he is now an AMERICAN citizen.

Markels wife, Amanda, is the CFO, and Harvesting, their Rhodesian Ridgeback, can often be found sleeping in the retail showroom, just up the street from the factory, where the Red Oxx makes up to 400 bags per day.

There are 25 more employees who “range from 20-year-olds to almost 60,” says Lacy McDougall, Red Oxx’s lead designer purse. “They come from all walks of life — religious, her hubby is a preacher, tattooed and crazy.” The company has five sewer; the others are in the assembly.

With all materials manufactured and assembled in the USA, Red Oxx nearly embodies the Made-in-America dream. The bags are mainly made of CORDURA® Brand Nylon, the same material that replace of the doctrine in the AMERICAN soldiers boots in 1991, and is used in the Army of backpacks. (During the second world WAR, cordura is a material that is used in the tires of military vehicles.)

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Thanks Red Oxx Mfg.

But there is a small, but significant, component that all the time in a different country.

Red Oxxs signature monkey fist zip knot on the end of each zipper, is made from Us paracord that is cut and tied in a rural village in Guatemala. Markel visits once a year to meet with the artisans and their families. His company has also helped the village to the financing of the first mill and the installation of a toilet, a novelty in the community.

The sending of the cord in the abroad are to be cut and bound may sound extreme, but Red Oxx is proud of its fair trade agreement. It also knows that the small knot at the end of the zippers, making them easier to open and close.

Markel knows all about paying attention to details. He can do no more sewing parachutes for the fight, but he can still make sure that every Red Oxx bag has double box-x stitching, and redundant cross-points.

We never leave raw edges, even in our bags. Everything has a finished edge,” McDougall says.

The handles are wrapped around the outside of the bags so they can carry more weight, and each component is the best in its class. For example, the v-rings Red Oxx applications are intended for the sailing. The men – and women-specific product line has everything from Rigger Wallet Expedition Series duffle bags and items run from $35 to $305.

Red Oxx the brightly colored bags are conversation starters, because they look like the Jeep 4×4 luggage and are easy to find in an airport.


But if you are not in Billings, you wont find one in a retail store: 97 percent of the Red Oxx’s $2.5 million in annual sales online, directly to the consumer.

“No one comes between us and our customers,” says Markel.

The company says that it treats every customer equally, which is ideal for a lifetime, and makes no use of the term “customer service”. It gives preference to customer care and offers a rarely used “No nonsense” warranty.

“No questions, no ifs, ands, and buts,” says Howard Gray, Red Oxx minister of information. “If something breaks, we are amazed. Then we solve it.”

That is why you will not find a Red Oxx bag of the satchel cemetery. But if you do, make sure that you have the tag. It is probably a knockoff from China.

Katie Jackson is a travel writer. When she’s not working, she is chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus.

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