Jim Markel is the CEO of Red Oxx Manufacturing in Billings, MT. RedOxx hand makes their soft sided adventure gear and luggage In Billings and is one of very few cut and sew operations that is fully based in-state. Their products are shipped globally from their factory, offices and retail store all located in the industrial are on the north side of Billings.
When I first met Jim, he was deep in thought about a future product while devouring a grilled cheese sandwich bought from a local food truck that had stopped off in the parking lot at Red Oxx’s HQ. It was my first visit to their retail store and more than just buying a bag, I also got an exceptional factory tour from sales manager Christian Hafer. After that, I got introduced to Jim (and his grilled cheese) which yielded a 3 hour conversation with someone who I now consider a close friend.
Jim came to RedOxx after serving his country in the Marine Corps as a Parachute Rigger, joining his dad Jim Sr. at the first iteration of Red Oxx. Back then they were focused on products for the weigh lifting/body building industry. As Jim Jr modernized the operation, his father moved on to other projects and Jim brought in Navy veteran Perry Jones as President of Red Oxx and the modern incarnation of the company was born.
Jim’s story, and the story of Red Oxx, is one of Montana legend.
Overland Montana: Tell us about yourself.
Jim Markel: I have always been the one to take a chance , whether on a business or a trip. Never satisfied with taking the beaten path I always seek out the less visited places on the globe. Then again I have always been interested in art and science and continuous learning. My overriding sense is that there is a perspective to be gained by seeking out new vantage points from which to observe the world. Being in perpetual motion is my favored state of being, building or designing the next thing. Whether it’s an ad campaign or an amphitheater I tend not to care as long as I am making something happen.
OMT: We’ve heard that Red Oxx started off manufacturing weight belts in the late 80’s. How did you go from that to making the world-class luggage you have today?
JM: Living in Montana is all about being outdoors from -20 to 115 degrees the climate and terrain here is from one extreme to the other. Couple that with a drive to do more with whatever hobby I am pursuing. So I found myself destroying outdoor gear at a fairly rapid pace. Never one to baby anything , my philosophy is to buy the best and beat the hell out of it. The patina just adds to the memories and are like a roadmap to great adventures. At this time products where being off-shored and quality was going with it… so I knew I could make better gear right here in Billings Montana… so we did… and the rest is history.
OMT: As other manufacturers have off-shored production, you have doubled down on keeping your entire operation in Billings, MT. Why?
JM: Something about MIL SPEC for the civilian market has always resonated with me. I no longer jump out of planes for a living but that sort of ethic is hard to let go of when you know the way. Making things here in America is crucial not only for our local economy but more importantly it ties together a base of suppliers in the overall ecosystem that is less reliant on a fragile global infrastructure. Self-reliance is something we value here at Red Oxx.
OMT: What has been your favorite journey?
JM: My favorite journey has to be Namibia , Etosha is a magical place and I have a proclivity for the desert and it all comes together there for me.
OMT: Who or what are you most inspired by?
JM: My father has been my role model and as a leader of men he has few peers.
OMT: What are you most looking forward to in the next year?
JM: Firing up the new Events Lawn Amphitheater! After several years of hard work and planning I am stoked to get this thing rocking.
When you head to Billings, be sure to go visit the Red Oxx showroom and events lawn and ask for a factory tour. To enjoy the full experience, follow up your Red Oxx visit with a meal at Burger Dive on 27th street.
There is a fantastic documentary film titled “Return”, which chronicles the story of Jim taking his father (Jim Sr.) back to Vietnam for the first time since 1972. It’s a powerful father and son journey that retraces his steps, confronts his PTSD and reconnect with America’s abandoned allies. Learn more about the film here.
We’re looking forward to seeing Jim and his team at RecCon this summer in Missoula where we will continue the search for Western Montana’s best taco.
To learn more about Red Oxx, including the Events Lawn Amphitheater summer schedule:
Overland Montana was founded in 2017 by Jeff Wright and Peter Kearns for the expressed purpose of getting people stoked on vehicle based adventure travel and exploration in Montana and around the Western US. They’ll be presenting “Six Questions” in collaboration with the Montana Outdoors Foundation on the RecCon Montana site. Follow them @overland_montana.