Jason Hairston, co-founder of Sitka has once again managed to innovate. Indeed, Kuiu came to life in the suburbs of Sacramento, more precisely in the sunny little town of Dixon, California. After putting passionate about reading the blog « Building Kuiu » and I was to trying the brand’s products, I was convinced of the need to interview Jason order to know more about him for the french readers of Charc magazine in 2013.
– How did you first become interested in archery ?
My father, Mike Hairston, is a traditional bow hunter who gave me the virus very early. Hunting in general, particularly archery, is a family tradition. I shot my first arrows at the age of two or three years. Every night after dinner, my father and I would train in the courtyard behind our home. Now, 30 years later, I do the same thing with my 4-year-old son. At night, before falling asleep, my father read me stories about avid bow hunters: Howard Hill, Art Young and Saxton Pope. Growing up, family vacations were often hunting destinations for my father. Every year we would go to Colorado or Utah to hunt white tail deer.
– Do you remember your first game ?
I killed my first big game at the age of nine. My dad and I were hunting wild goats on Catalina Island. I approached a small goat and shot her. It was a great experience.
– What big-name bowhunters do you admire ?
Some have no doubt had an influence on my life. In the 80s, my father read Dwight Schuh and Larry Jones. These two archers were both writing about backpack hunting and getting further off the main roads. Shortly after, my father bought a backpack and we began to go hunting in more remote paths. It was a new challenge in difficult conditions, but it was far more rewarding. It paid off too, we started having a lot of success. Gradually, we began to search for new, difficult to access, hunting locations in Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Idaho.
– How do you physically prepare for your hunts ?
I played football until I was injured at the age of 24. Although, this injury stopped my career, it is important for me to stay in good shape. I run between 20-45 minutes almost daily and about 2 hours each weekend. I also do some weight training to prepare for the physical demands of mountain hunting.
– You have hunted and taken a lot of animals during your career. What do you consider to be your favorite game animal to bowhunt and why ?
Sheep hunting would have to be my favorite type of hunt, and also my favorite animal to hunt. I also like the fact that this hunt requires several days. Having to leave the house with a backpack on my shoulders, a sleeping bag, and food is spectacular. My fondest hunting memories are sheep hunts. The hunt remains etched in your memory. Spending several days alone in the mountain becomes a powerful and spiritual thing. Even after the game has been shot, the adventure continues as you head back to your car. Sometimes your car is parked more than ten kilometers away. Hunts like these are what inspired me to design lightweight and reliable equipment.
– How did you get into hunting gear ?
I was working in real estate, and waking up Monday mornings had become a struggle. It seemed to me that working for money was not enough. Then it all began in 2004, during an elk hunk in Idaho, with one of my friends. We started a discussion about clothes based on a multilayer system designed specifically for hunters. We talked about what worked, what didn’t, what was missing and what we thought was useless. By the end of our four days of hunting, we had discussed everything from technical fabrics to camouflage and had a well thought out plan for a range of technical clothing. It still took six months before Sitka was launched, and people loved it. It was the first time that technology, dedicated to hunting, was available on the market. I saw a great demand for such products. In three years the company took off incredibly. But, it was still missing something, so I ended up selling my shares to WL Gore and Associates. I started to go to Asia to meet with fabric designers and manufacturing companies.
– Is that when you started KUIU ?
With KUIU I wanted to focus my energy on designing lightweight gear dedicated to mountain hunting. Additionally, I had a new business model in mind. I wanted to make the highest performing clothes possible, but from my Sitka experience, I knew that this idea was not viable or realistic with the existing retail model. What I had in mind would be too expensive to be sold in conventionally. So I decided to bypass the retailer and distributors to create a direct contact between the manufacturer and the customer. I love being able to talk with the client and to tell them why I exactly I buy my fabric. In fact, most manufacturers do not disclose this type of information because it allows them to make changes or purchase cheaper fabrics when desired. I wanted full transparency in my brand, so I decided to disclose everything about the production process in a blog. And so people kind of went crazy. We just design the best equipment because that is one of the challenges of word of mouth marketing; if you build a poor product, nobody will talk about it.
– What equipment do you use when you bow hunt ?
I don’t like to shoot a bow too strong. I bow with my favorite three-piece removable Thunderhorn longbow. It measures 64 inches and is 52 pounds in my draw. I also, use a Port Orford Cedar equipped with Eclipse broadheads.
– Can you give us some secretes about the future development of KUIU gear ?
We are a young company, that has made a great start, and we are determined to stay focused. Our goal is to continue developing a range of equipment with increasing novelty and sophistication. Our unique business model provides us with tremendous opportunity, and I want KUIU product users to have absolute confidence in what we do.
– What hunts do you have planned for this year ?
I just returned from New Zealand hunting for Tahr and Chamois. I am heading to the North West Territories for Dalls Sheep and Mountain Caribou in August, Utah for Elk and Alaska for Brown bear in October.
– How would you like to be remembered you ?
As someone who was not afraid to chase his dreams.
– Do you have a story that particularly enriched you as a human being ?
When I was 9 years old I did not make my youth American football team, I was « cut » as they call it here. I was cut again after trying out when I was 10 years old again. This inspired me to train and study the game. So much so I became an All American in College and Played Professional American Football for the San Francisco Forty Niners. This experince taught me to never give up and that I can achieve anything in life if I put my mind to it.
The same type of inspiration happened when my business partner sold Sitka to Gore-tex behind my back and pushed me out of the company. This inspired me to build a stronger brand with better products and service for my customers and to take all of my customers away from Sitka.
– You travel a lot for Kuiu and your hunting trips. Do you think that this is a necessary source of inspiration to always be the best ?
I do travel a lot. I am very hands on with the factories, development rooms and materials because I am very particular about what goes into each product, how it is made to insure the quality and performance. Working closely with the Fabric Mills and Factories allows me to learn from them and we work together to always improve our product lines.
– What is your view on the economic underpinnings of our modern consumer society and the questioning today of some of these aspects ? – how would you like people to perceive Kuiu ?
KUIU is a consumer direct brand so I can build product without cutting quality for a price point a retailer can sell a product for. I give back the retail markup margin to my customers so they can buy the best equipment in the world at a very reasonable price. This brand is all about our customers.
– A question I have for people who spend a significant portion of their lives in natural environments: Are you personally involved in protecting the environment ?
I believe in hunting and conservation. It is disappointing when people question a hunters intentions because we hunt the game we love. The hunting community alone donates millions of dollars each year to protect the animals and their environment we hunt.
– You became a person who moved to the line twice in the hunting world, How do you wish to be remembered ?
I am very passionate about my work and this passion is what has driven me to create two significant brands in this industry. I am very proud of this. However, I still feel I am just getting started and look forward to continue to push this industry further and see what we have accomplished in 20 years.