The accidental seamstress

Marilyn Young looks back at her 23 years with Osprey

Marilyn Young repairs a buckle on a backpack in the Osprey repair shop. Behind Young are boxes of all the different styles of buckles used over the years on Osprey packs. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Marilyn Young repairs a buckle on a backpack in the Osprey repair shop. Behind Young are boxes of all the different styles of buckles used over the years on Osprey packs.

Marilyn Young hasn't packed her bags yet. But she's certainly bagged a lot of packs.

Back on Oct. 31, 1990, Young went to work for Osprey Packs.

That's when Osprey owner and founder Mike Pfotenhauer decided to move the operation to Dolores and hire skilled workers from the Navajo Nation to piece together the high-quality backpacks.

Young was one of those first hires.

"I am the surviving one," she says. "Just like life, I just keep going."

She punctuates most of her thoughts with a laugh or a chuckle. She loves her job and never attempts to hide that fact.

Many of the workers from the Navajo Nation remained with the company when it relocated to Cortez in 1994.

When Osprey went the way of many U.S companies and moved the production operation overseas in 2003, that was the end of the line for most of those skilled workers who started back in 1990.

Young said she was offered the chance to go to Vietnam but she wasn't about to leave her home.

"No way, I wasn't going to move. This is the only place I want to be," she said.

Today, she's the only remaining worker who started back in the fall of 1990.

At 54, Young commutes 37 miles to work from the far end of McElmo Canyon on the Navajo Nation in eastern Utah. She grew up on the reservation - it's always been home. Her mom was a seamstress and weaver, and still is today.

But for Young, a future as an Osprey seamstress seemed a little ludicrous when she was growing up.

"I was scared of sewing," she says laughing. "I failed home economics in high school."

She laughs again when she thinks about that home economics class. "I tried to put a skirt together and I couldn't, so my mom put it together for me."

Eventually, her mother's lesson's with thread and needle finally took hold with Marilyn.

Now, she's a master seamstress that has survived layoffs and many changes at Osprey over the years. She's now the Osprey expert when it comes to quality work.

Today, she's mostly in charge of repair work at the Cortez operation.

But one has to ask - how did someone who failed to put together a skirt back in school, become a master seamstress for a large company like Osprey?

Flashback to the early 1980s, when Young needed a summer job.

"Back then there were a lot of sewing factories around here," she says.

She was back from college and popped into a factory that was located where the Notah Dineh gift shop is today. She got the job, but that's when her fear of sewing materialized again.

"I was just scared that I would make a mistake," she says.

But she didn't give it up and soon fabric became a big part of her life.

"I guess I'm good with my hands, so I stuck with it," she says.

Once she started at Osprey she got a sign that she had found her destiny.

"I would dream about sewing and these packs would jump up at me and more bags would jump up at me," she says. "If you dream about something, that must mean you're good at it."

She laughs about all the different kinds of equipment she's worked with over the years.

"You name it and I've wore it out," she says and laughs.

She admits that she's "had many hats" over her more than 22 years at Osprey. Sewing, supervising, organizing, making sure the assembly line was humming along - lots of hats, lots of different jobs and duties.

Whenever her job shifted, she adapted, and now she likes it even better.

"Back then it was more sewing, over and over, doing the same thing. It was monotonous and it drives you crazy," she says. "Now there's variety."

Sewing different things, repairing packs and using different fabrics. Variety spiced up her work life.

When it comes to Osprey packs, color runs the spectrum.

"I like purple but we don't usually have purples. But we're getting them," she says with a laugh.

Now in charge of repairs, Young gets an up-close look at how the Vietnamese operation does things.

"I like to tear (the packs) apart and see how they are put together," she says.

Then she puts them back together.

She prides herself on being a quality person in charge of quality control.

She worked with the "main boss" and says she was like owner Pfotenhauer's right-hand person after she started.

"He just kept hanging on to me until everyone was gone (from the production operation)," she says.

She says it's a good company to work for and she still loves her job, so she's not planning on stitching together a retirement plan anytime soon.

"As long as I can thread a needle, I'll be here," she says laughing. "I'll just keep hanging on until it stops."

If that long-ago dream is any indication, working at Osprey is a dream job for her.

"I tell them, if I die with this (sewing) machine, you better bury me with it," she says with an even bigger laugh.

For the accidental seamstress, her career keeps threading along at the Cortez Osprey operation.

It's just the fabric of her life.