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BE Outfitter: Designed to Discover

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BE Outfitter: Designed to Discover

An interview with BE Outfitter co-founders Rory and Jeff Rogan
Written by Harriet Osborne

BE Outfitter co-founder Rory Rogan thought he was destined for a life at sea until he joined forces with his brother Jeff to build a thoughtfully designed adventure brand. A wildly successful Kickstarter campaign helped them to develop the Tahquitz backpack, a highly functional bag named after their first multi-pitch climb in California, USA, and later led to an acquisition. We chat to Rory about his authentic approach to business and breaking down barriers to the outdoors.

BE Outfitter co-founder, Rory Rogan, made his first rucksack on the floor of his barracks in 2012. Guided by curiosity, he pulled apart an old broken rucksack, revealing a pattern to create a new one using canvas he bought from a fabric shop in downtown New York. Rory used a sewing awl, a tool with a bobbin of thread inside a handle used to repair sails on ships. It’s a technique he learnt during his five years working at sea.

Rory, the middle child between two brothers in a loving family, grew up in Delaware on the east coast of America. His father was a ship’s captain while his mother looked after the children full time. Rory studied at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, where he learnt how to sail and navigate ships around the world. In return for his government-funded education, Rory was called for active duty, which involved five years sailing around the world and working on merchant ships, and eight years in the Navy Reserves. To this day, Rory still serves in the capacity of lieutenant. His younger brother, Jeff, forged a different path in marketing at the University of Delaware, and they joined forces to build BE, an outdoor brand thoughtfully designed for everyday use and tough enough for adventure.

Rory and Jeff made the first BE rucksack at the height of the ‘do good’ movement, when brands like TOMS Shoes disrupted the market with their One for One promise, working with humanitarian organisations to give a pair to children in poverty. Initially, Rory and Jeff named the company Be Packs to allow people to live without limits. ‘I was reading Do Something That Matters by the founder of TOMS, and it set me off on a journey,’ Rory says. They built a giveback model in partnership with The African Programme, which helps to fund children’s education in Zambia. ‘We wanted to enable students to become whatever they wanted through proper education that would otherwise not be given to them.’

BE Outfitter: Designed to Discover

By 2017, Rory was still working on the merchant ships and putting everything he earned into the business. ‘It’s funny how some moments in life shape its trajectory. One was on the floor in my barracks, another was going to Africa, and another was moving to California and interviewing for a new job. Everything on my CV was about BE, and the person interviewing told me I was perfect for this job. But that I should make something of our company instead. So I went for it,’ he says.

Rory and Jeff decided to change the narrative from a ‘do good’ story to leading with the quality and functionality of the product. They launched a Kickstarter and raised over $150,000 to develop the Tahquitz backpack, a highly functional bag named after the first multi-pitch climb Rory and Jeff did together. ‘We’re lucky in California because many climbing pioneers have their fingerprints all over these rocks – Royal Robbins, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, and The North Face co-founder Doug Tompkins. You can still see the old-school pitons in the wall and just imagine someone up there hammering them in.’

The Tahquitz pack is built to break down barriers to the outdoors. ‘Most people like us have nine-to-five jobs, and finding that hour before or after work can be tricky. We wanted a bag that would transition from climbing to backcountry skiing, hiking, and being able to take it to the office or travelling to make it a little bit easier for people.’ Rory has never fully committed to one activity, which has led to imposter syndrome when it comes to the outdoors. ‘I backcountry ski, surf, kiteboard, climb. I love all these things, but when I do them, there is always someone better than me. I admire people like Alastair Humphreys and Brandon Leonard because they are just about the experience. The outdoors will slowly educate you; if you’re mindful enough to take it in, you can learn a lot.’

BE Outfitter: Designed to Discover BE Outfitter: Designed to Discover BE Outfitter: Designed to Discover

The moment Rory realised they had created something special was when he saw people ordering the bags from all over the world. ‘It was pretty wild. For years, this idea lived within my friends and my family, and then Kickstarter gave us this platform to reach a global audience. It blew my mind.’ But the journey hasn’t always been plain sailing. ‘We’ve made many mistakes and taken a lot of wrong turns just because we weren’t aware of things – our first batch of bags from our incredible manufacturer in Vietnam came with a $17,000 tariffs and tax charge that I didn’t account for.’

In the summer of 2020, they received an email asking for a call to discuss a project. ‘Half of the time, these emails are junk, but this one stood out. I’d just got out of the sea from a surf and hopped in the truck in my towel. I was telling him about BE – and not sugar-coating anything. He said he definitely wanted to buy some bags and set up another call. Two months later, they acquired us. Jeff and I still operate the company and do all the design and branding; they just wanted to provide us a platform where we had financial backing and resources to help it grow.’

Rory believes that authenticity in business pays dividends in the long run. ‘This funny little thing that started on the floor of my barracks and we never thought would be anything has now turned into a global business. I think it’s important to pause and appreciate some of the wins, some of the losses too, and how they shaped you. I’m grateful for the company that acquired us because they’re not trying to change what we’re doing. They’re just trying to enable and elevate it. Hopefully, we can continue to make a positive impact by creating product that gets people outside.’

Written by Harriet Osborne // @harrietosborne
Featuring Beoutfitter // @beoutfitter //



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