Jason Hairston, a former college and NFL football player who founded two outdoor brands, has died. He was 47 years old.
Jason Hairston was found dead in his Dixon, California, home on September 4, 2018, the result of a confirmed suicide. He is survived by two children and his wife, Kirstyn.
Football and Hunting
Hairston enjoyed a successful collegiate football career at UC Davis while pursuing a business economics degree. Despite fracturing two vertebrae in his neck in his senior year, he advanced to playing in the NFL for two seasons. Continuing problems with his neck forced retirement at the age of 24.
Hairston grew up backpack hunting with his family. After football, he returned to the wild places while enjoying success as an entrepreneur. The performance of the available hunting gear during his forays far into the wilderness didn’t impress him. So, for days at a time, he envisioned hunting gear made with the same attention to weight and performance as technical outdoor gear.
Sitka and KUIU
In 2005, Hairston sold his business interests and started Sitka, creating appropriately camouflaged gear with technical fabrics and fit. Sitka was an immediate success. Three years later, Gore offered to buy the brand Hairston had grown out of his garage.
Sitka had become a well-known hunting brand. But Hairston yearned to create higher-performance “extreme hunting” apparel for use in the mountains. He became increasingly disenchanted with the retail model Sitka followed. The competitive demands of retail pricing structures stifled his visions of mountain-worthy gear.
The sale of Sitka freed Hairston to embark on a different business model: selling direct to the customer through the internet. The direct sell model would allow Hairston to pursue designs that met his standards of performance and consumer pricing constraints.
Hairston began a blog titled “Building KUIU,” to share his philosophies regarding his direct sell mountain hunting brand. His grassroots blog posts immediately gained followers and momentum. His transparency regarding all facets of building a hunting brand and associated gear garnered a loyal following before product was even available.
Follower engagement fueled design changes, and product development was on public display on social media and other online channels. This ethos of complete transparency thrives today. KUIU continues to design and release highly technical hunting gear to meet the demands of hunters venturing out to remote terrain in the most challenging conditions.
Hairston in Social Media
Jason Hairston also carried this public openness in his social media posts of personal hunting trips, sharing his preparation and hunt results. Hairston employed evidence-based training for his mountain hunts.
He underwent physiological testing and utilized theories and protocols customarily reserved for elite athletes. Hairston shared all of it online, ushering in a unique hunter-as-athlete mentality.
He also never shied away from publicly showcasing his views on hunting, politics, land and game management.
KUIU as a brand will continue to innovate and improve hunting gear. But I feel Hairston’s legacy will also include impacts outside of the boardroom. A few years ago, KUIU reached out during a campaign to gain media coverage in the general outdoor markets: backpacking, hiking, etc.
I was shocked that Hairston called me personally and never imposed a time constraint. The conversation eventually turned to the ethics of hunting. I admitted that I was not a hunter and I was quite the opposite, having a long history of anti-hunting views.
Never judgmental, Hairston methodically made me realize how disconnected from my food I was — I was and still am a meat eater — unlike hunters. He exposed a gaping hole in my understanding.
Hairston then explained how hunters like him are animal conservationists. They’re just as concerned about land management and other issues important to other outdoor adventurers. That conversation has permanently and positively affected my view of meat, hunting, and hunters.
GearJunkie sends our condolences to Hairston’s friends, family, and colleagues.