Perspectives: A Chat With Ben Johnson, Orvis’ Menswear Guy

We all know about Orvis.  They have been a part of the outdoors conversation for as long as you and I can remember.  One part about Orvis that seems to play second fiddle to their outdoor gear is their menswear selection.  I don’t know why…they carry a TON of great stuff that fits squarely in #menswear domain.  Have you seen their sweater collection?  Their buttondowns?  Harris Tweed?  Pondering this question, Ben Johnson and I had a chat about it.  Be’s official title is Divisional Merchandise Manager for Menswear.  He’s the guy who is responsible for Orvis’ menswear selection.

He’s a super cool guy that gets it.  He has one foot solidly planted in the Orvis tradition, but one foot in the forward-looking perspective of the next great #menswear thing.  Here’s a little more about Ben and his perspectives:

How long have you been with Orvis?  I’m coming up on 10 years. I started out in the field managing our store on the north side of Indy, transitioning to the head office in VT in early 2008.

How do you approach the Orvis catalog of goods? Orvis is different from other retailers that I’ve worked with in the past. We have a number of “heritage” items that have been with us for years. Our customer loves the fact that they can come back to Orvis and continue to find “that old friend.” As such, we continually look for product that will draw upon that heritage and compliment many of our long running items, while also being relevant within the marketplace. Further, we also look to introduce our customer to products that represent the same commitment to quality that they’ve come to expect from Orvis (this would include products such as Barbour, Schott, Tellason denim, Kletterwerks bags, etc.).

‘Orvis’ has always been associated with ‘Quality’. How do you determine, test and approve the level of quality on what is offered from Orvis?  It’s pretty simple. We have a saying within the company: “Is this something that we are proud to own or give?” That seems to do the trick. However, sometimes we get it wrong. When we do, we fix it. We have a very strong “Voice of the Customer” (VOC) team at our distribution center in Roanoke, VA. They relay concerns of not only our customers, but also Orvis associates in the field. Through the VOC team, we continually look for products that don’t measure up to our standards.

What is it like working at Orvis?  Fun, exciting and challenging. We have tremendous latitude to do what we think is best for the brand and the business. Orvis has also enabled me to enjoy some activities that I otherwise never would have had the chance (Sharptail hunting in Montana; fly fishing on the River Test in the UK; attending the Goodwood Revival for the past 4 years).

What do you like to do outside of work? Pretty extensive traveler. Tend to be a pretty big audiophile. Lived in Chapel Hill/Raleigh from 89 – 96 and had the opportunity to see a great band just about every night. A little more challenging in VT, but I try to see live music whenever possible. Read about anything I can get my hands on.

What is your ‘Everyday Carry’?  I tend to be a bit of a minimalist—keys and a phone.

Who are some of your style icons and inspirations?
Willis & Geiger—the original outfitter.
Ralph Lauren
Hackett—I always love to see what they’re doing.

What is your favorite ‘thing’ from Orvis?  Wow, that’s a tough question. Probably has to be our Gokey Heritage Duffle . The first item I ever had from Orvis was a piece of Battenkill luggage that I received from my future wife in ’94. I feel the piece personifies quality, heritage and commitment to craftsmanship.


What do you think?  What’s your favorite thing from Orvis?


1 Comment

  1. Roger C. Russell II
    01/20/2015 / 8:46 AM

    Gokey, no doubt strives to put quality items out to the Orvis customer? However, are they just going to become a luggage supplier? Gokey makes boots that scream of quality. These products are very under represented by Orvis the past few years. I will say Orvis or Gokey should experiment with fitting the modern foot. If you do not have a narrow or medium shoe size you can run into difficulty with the Gokey products. In general Orvis and Gokey are both great companies.

    Roger C. Russell II

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