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Jim Markel Jr., Red Oxx CEO, testing bags during an overland trip.

Our Story



All journeys begin with a first step. For Red Oxx this step was taken by CEO Jim Markel’s veteran father, Jim Senior. After Jim Senior, Capt. Ret. completed his 20 years of military service, including time spent with both the Green Beret in the Army and as a Special Forces Officer in the Marine Corps Recon, he decided to retire here in Billings, Montana. A lifetime around parachutes included tours as a Jump Master, Parachute Rigger and S.F. Team Leader would contribute to the birth of the Oxx. Along the way, he maintained a passion for fitness and decided to create and sell some unique gym workout accessories. Captain Markel’s skills as a Rigger came in handy when creating lifting straps and weight belts. Crafting fitness products one at a time in his home’s basement, Jim Senior set in motion the vehicle that would one day grow into the Red Oxx the world recognizes today. “Back in 1986, our first products were made from military surplus webbing that had been slated for decommissioning.” says Jim Senior. This bootstrapping philosophy was thus genetically coded into the birth of the company. As each new lifting product was introduced and accepted by the local market, it became apparent that sales were fast outstripping the production capability of one man. Time to bring in the number one veteran son Jim Markel Junior, “We were both in the military for a small overlap, then Dad retired. I continued on active service in Marine Corps Recon. After I got out my Dad came down to Colorado and asked me to join him working with his fledgling fitness products company in Billings, Montana.” says Jim Jr.. Father and son then worked together to assemble a variety of sewing production machines. Eventually it was planned to move to a “real” factory location. No more cramped basement now, goodbye to spillover into the garage. The final straw was turning the kitchen range into a webbing cutter with a clever air “vent” in the form of a box fan in the kitchen window. At this point, they were garnering contracts from such notable names in the fitness industry as Weider, Parabody and local lifters Gold’s Gym, to name a few. As the company grew and diversified it was time to make some changes. Jim Senior moved on with other ideas and no longer works for Red Oxx, leaving the company in the capable hands of his son Jim Jr.. It was then that Navy veteran Perry Jones, also former Naval Parachute Rigger, joined the crew as company President. CEO Jim Jr. decided to expand to a line of rifle cases and shooting accessories for the local Montana sportsman market. The first factory and retail store combination was selected for its central location and low overhead. While locating the business in a blighted area was not the original plan, it turned out to be an excellent financial strategy over the long haul. Today, the Red Oxx manufacturing production facility is still located just down the street, now in its eighth location with plenty of room to expand. “Over the years, we’ve stayed connected to the local economy as our business expanded beyond the confines of Montana.” says Jim Jr. (hereby referred to simply as Jim).


Keeping the “made in Montana” viewpoint has been a tough road. Early on, Red Oxx weight training accessories were sold in over 200 stores nationwide, and a few international accounts as well. However, Entrepreneurial manufacturers on the fringes of our U.S. economy could not stem the rise of the Chinese Industrial machine. As one Original Equipment Manufactured (OEM) product after another was lost to off-shoring, it became apparent that Red Oxx needed to do something radically different if it was going to survive into the 21st Century. “Starting in the mid ’90s, our website Red Oxx dot com was established as a direct-to-consumer model from the word go.” says Jim. Tired of losing business to China, it became apparent that the game had changed, and change was happening all around the economy. No more would the Oxx be held hostage by a fickle corporate buyer or forced out of competition by subsidized currency. The Internet had provided the perfect channel to reach out from the backwaters of Montana to the cities and towns of the world. As the online business model began to flourish it was time to make the most difficult business decision to date. Ending the fitness product line that started the company was not something the Jim and Perry took lightly. Red Oxx had become a well-known, hard-earned, and respected name in the fitness industry. Leaving that security behind for the unknown World Wide Web was a bit daunting. The time had come to bet it all and move boldly forward with the changing times. Today the Red Oxx story continues with the world’s finest luggage and sporting gear, all meticulously made by hand by dedicated craftsmen and women right here in America. Building a culture of true quality and highly valuing customers to the point of not allowing any middle-man to come between them has led to our credo “Not sold at a store near you.”

We don’t just create our gear, we live the lifestyle, and test them every chance we get.

Hole in the Rock, Utah


“Since we live here in Montana, our bags are hand made in Montana instead of offshore. This is our dream to build local jobs for regular people. We looked at redevelopment of our blighted neighborhood. This meant more local jobs and the capacity to grow. There’s only so much time in life to do good work. There’s the heart and soul of Montana in the hands-on touch of the people that work for us that goes into every one of our bags.” says Jim. Today’s Internet capabilities with e-commerce communication, you can VOIP somebody in Scotland for very little money. So, it’s cheap and fast to do global business. You can truly do business while you’re sleeping. “We like to keep in touch with our customers on a personal level and we actually do operate a true retail “brick and mortar” store located in Billings, Montana, only a couple blocks from our factory.” says Jim.


“Made in America used to stand for mass production and the Unions. As high-tech as we are with our computers, our Internet sales, and customer service, we’re still basically a hand-crafted shop. We overbuild everything to military specifications (Mil Spec) for the civilian market.” says Jim. The questions Red Oxx asks include: “Are you going to build stuff at the mass market level, sacrificing quality for quantity or are you going to build things that are built-to-last in line with classic old world craftsmanship?” That’s where quality becomes perpetual.

Built in 1953 as a ball bearing warehouse, Factory #8 is now home to Red Oxx bag manufacturing operations.

Urban Renewal, Billings, Montana.

“Since we deal directly with the customer, if there’s any kind of problem with the product we can change gears immediately, and rectify the situation. But when you’re dealing with huge sea container loads of goods in the global market place, our kind of personal touch doesn’t occur. The feedback time is too long. Competing bag companies are ordering from China or Vietnam a year in advance. Red Oxx on the other hand, is building your bag one to one.” says Jim. Red Oxx is training the staff with the LEAN Manufacturing training program offered by the Montana Manufacturers Extension Center. The idea behind this was to bring all of the new hires on-line by operating with LEAN principles, and understanding manufacturing theory, and of course, to empower them with self confidence. “What this means is bringing jobs downtown, good paying jobs, not just service jobs, manufacturing jobs, jobs that require skillful training. We’re building bags and worthy careers. We’re looking to improve all the physical properties located around here and build big. So far this is about half-a-block of redevelopment. This would bring small companies to move in adjacent to us, or across the way.” says Jim. Imagine a business model that includes a website and a local brick and mortar store. For example, a meat company, they could sell meat products on the Internet. “Another local renewal project that we’re involved in is called Rescue the Rims. We’ve picked up a couple tons worth of garbage and we’re still trying to get some tow trucks to pull abandoned vehicles from the bottom of the rims.”

CEO Jim Markel helping carry boxes of paracord, fit to be tied.

Guatemala, Central America.


Red Oxx supports corporate responsibility programs. “You can’t fix the whole world, you just have to fix the little part you come in contact with.” says Jim. “Look for opportunities to fix the little parts you can.” For example: Red Oxx uses an accessory product on all of their bags called the Monkey Fist Zip Knot. Red Oxx discovered that a small village in Guatemala ties the zip knots. “Years ago, I would travel to Guatemala and when I visited the village I saw they were living in a rather poor state.” says Jim. Their standard of living was below par, barely at the subsistence level. Imagine this in one of the poorest countries in the world. “Immediately we renegotiated the contract price for the Monkey’s Fist and offered the villagers what the knots were worth. They were being hosed by the other guys! After examining the situation in Guatemala, we decided to invest in a new clean, and dry workshop. Our workers have a nice place to work and cook lunch while they’re tying knots.” says Jim. “The next major need I could see was need for sanitation. There was not a flush toilet around so we decided to invest in a flush toilet and a shower for the workers there. It was their first flush toilet. Consequently, with the sinks, the toilet, and the nice clean workspace, overall sanitation-based health has improved. Their standard of living has started to climb; even little things like owning a radio, reading books, having money to pay school tuition fees, which are paid out of pocket in counties like Guatemala. This has made a major impact by going there and making sure my people are getting paid well.” The Fair Trade experience has been something that Red Oxx is proud of. Therefore, it was quite a surprise when they approached Red Oxx for a micro-loan to build a molino. Spanish for corn grinding mill, molinos are the central hub of village life. Women gather and grind corn every two or three days to keep it fresh. “It’s more of a social program to own a business like this and provide for a community. It was quite a shock they were going entrepreneurial. They became inspired to go out and start their own business. Having a little bit of capital from doing the Monkey’s Fists has allowed them to dream big. It’s going to be a store, living quarters, a laundry facility, and a bathroom all-in-one.” says Jim. “My other project that I’m working on has been the Mossi Nets project in Africa. These mosquito nets help keep malaria at bay there. As a bonus, it keeps dollars local by buying the nets, which are made nearby and that’s a lot different from just writing a check. While there, we do a spot health check, hand out nets, shirts and dresses for little girls and end up going to some real remote locations. So bringing them some rare free healthcare has become a little ray of sunshine in their lives.”

June 5, 2017 • Minister of Information

Jim Markel Jr., Red Oxx CEO, testing bags during an overland trip.

Red Oxx Factory Showroom. Billings, Montana U.S.A.


“A noble warranty is the kind of warranty that I myself like to have for products I buy.” says Jim. When you make an investment with Red Oxx Gear, you expect it to last. In the event that something does happen, you want to be able to get it repaired. “We’re not here to ask you why it happened, just send it back to us and we’ll fix it. If we can’t fix it we’ll ship you a new bag, it’s that simple.” The famous Red Oxx “No Bull” warranty is a safe bet because our bags are built to last. “Once it’s out the door, I don’t want to ever see it again.” says President Perry. Think of it as worry-free peace of mind.


Roadster Mini Ruck Rucksack.“I used the Roadster everywhere. Hiking, biking, and I even took it to the beach.”


“A noble warranty is the kind of warranty that I myself like to have for products I buy.” says Jim. When you make an investment with Red Oxx Gear, you expect it to last. In the event that something does happen, you want to be able to get it repaired. “We’re not here to ask you why it happened, just send it back to us and we’ll fix it. If we can’t fix it we’ll ship you a new bag, it’s that simple.” The famous Red Oxx “No Bull” warranty is a safe bet because our bags are built to last. “Once it’s out the door, I don’t want to ever see it again.” says President Perry. Think of it as worry-free peace of mind.

Proposed Original Project.

The original plan was to recycle shipping containers for the front and back section of the building.


“Your bag will last your lifetime because it’s a classic design. Like a pair of favorite Levis 501 jeans. By making 501 jeans the same for more than a century, there’s a sense of trust. We know they’ll fit every time and how long they’ll last. You can wear them for almost any casual event.” says Jim. Another example is the Tri-fold Nylon Rigger Wallet. “I remember getting one as a kid. I still use mine now,” says Jim. From the Market Tote Green Grocery Bag to your Rigger Wallet to an Airline approved Carry-on Bag for a trip or a School Book Backpack for yourself or your kid, Red Oxx has the kind of gear meant for use in every day living.

Grainmaker Mill in action.

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Red Oxx’s famous Monkey Fist Zip Knot.