The outdoors industry was rocked with the news that KUIU founder Jason Hairston, who also co-founded SITKA hunting apparel, died Thursday.
His family reported on the KUIU site that Hairston was found dead in his home in Dixon, Calif., Sept. 4 after taking his life. Hairston was 47. Donations are requested to be made to support CTE-related research at the Boston University Concussion Legacy Foundation in lieu of sending flowers.
KUIU announced the news on social media sites and the company’s website. From KUIU’s Instagram site: kuiu_official We are shocked and saddened to announce the tragic passing of KUIU founder Jason Hairston. His legacy lives on in KUIU’s spirit of relentless innovation.
Hairston talked openly about dealing with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and its effects, which he believed he had. The neurological disease is believed to be the result of repetitive concussive hits on the brain and is associated most frequently with National Football League athletes.
“I played linebacker, and the way I played the game, I led with my head. I played the way they tell us not to play now,” Hairston said in a 2016 interview with CNBC. “I have all the symptoms of CTE.”
Hairston grew up in a hunting family, with a father who shot traditional bows and passed on that love of the outdoors, archery, hunting and woodsmanship to his sons. Hairston explained his youth and deep passion for the outdoors on the KUIU site:
I started shooting when I was two or three. Every night after dinner we’d shoot in the backyard. And now, many years later, I’m doing the same thing with my son Cash.
Anyway, we took our bows everywhere we went. And at bedtime my dad didn’t read Cat in the Hat, he read stories about Howard Hill and Art Young and Saxton Pope. It was like living in the movie A River Runs Through It, only with archery equipment and deer, and instead of Montana we lived in Southern California.
Most of our annual trips and vacations were hunting-oriented. Every year at least once a year, we’d go to Colorado or Utah to hunt deer. I killed and field dressed my first animal when I was nine. My dad and I were hunting wild goats on Catalina Island. I snuck up on one and shot it. It was small but still it was an awesome experience.
Throughout High School, I worked in the local archery store in summers. I made arrows, cleaned up stuff, sold stuff, I was basically a shop-kid. I didn’t care if it was cool. I loved doing anything that had to do with hunting. It was weird, I’d go to parties on the weekend and have to leave at one or two in the morning because my dad would be ready to leave for a hunt in a couple of hours. I never missed a hunt, not once.
Hairston attended UC-Davis and played football at the Division II level while majoring in business economics. He set records as a sophomore linebacker, but during his junior season in the Division II playoffs sustained a neck injury and broken vertebrae. He returned for his senior season, was an undrafted free agent signee with the San Francisco 49ers for a year and then hooked on with the Denver Broncos for a season before retiring.
From there, Hairston put his outdoors skills and business degree to use. While on a hunting trip with his good friend, Jonathan Hart, they began picking apart what they liked, disliked and wanted in hunting apparel. They considered all the existing hunting clothing, the clothing worn by non-hunting outdoors folks who camped, hiked and skiied, and wondered why they couldn’t create their own top-level performance hunting apparel.
First step: we approached Mothwing. We asked them if we could adjust the colors for western hunting, and we asked for a year-long exclusive with these new colors. Mothwing, new and looking for customers, agreed to it. Then we went to an industry trade show in Salt Lake City
called Outdoor Retailer where we met with a guy who worked for Polartec. We told him what we were doing and why we wanted to use Polartec, and we asked if he knew where we could get our clothes made. For some reason he took us seriously enough to give us a lead on a cut-and-sew house in Oakland, California.
The sewing house was run by a lady who used to work in-house for The North Face. We met with her, dropped our Polartec contact’s name and convinced her (eventually) to make us a sample line. We had no idea what we were doing. We just went to REI where we bought dozens and dozens of technical garments that we liked and wanted to reference (we left the tags on so we could return them later) and took them with us to meet this lady, who was dubious to say the least, and explained to her one piece at a time what it was that we wanted to make.
That winter we went to Shot Show with our samples that didn’t really fit, weren’t really made from the right fabrics and weren’t really in the right colors. We shared a booth with Mothwing and convinced Schnee’s, the catalog to be in, to put our entire offering in their catalog. They liked what we were about and they trusted us to get it right in production – which we eventually managed to do through a factory in Asia that was willing to reverse engineer our samples.
After a successful first run of sales in the Schnee’s catalog and consumer demand going through the roof, SITKA was founded. They eventually sold the company to GORE, and Hairston was left with yet another quest to do something different.
I wanted to make the lightest and highest performing Mountain Hunting clothing possible. I wanted to create a brand that stood for uncompromised quality, uncompromised performance, and where the whole process—the design and technology and sourcing, are shared with the consumer. From my experience at Sitka, I knew this idea wasn’t viable or realistic within the existing retail model—everything I wanted to make would just cost too much. So I thought, why not bypass the retailer? Why not take the middleman out of the process and move everything one step closer to the customer? By selling direct online we could make the best products, keep the prices down and manage, to our standards, every aspect of the customer experience. So I started KUIU.
The rest, as they say, is history. Read the rest of Hairston’s bio here on the KUIU site to find out about it.
We at Grand View Outdoors join everyone else in offering our deepest condolences and heartfelt prayers to the Hairston family and KUIU family.
All Photos by KUIU