Outfitter profile: Caitlin, materials specialist at Base Camp

Caitlin has taken a long and winding road to arrive at Base Camp and Bass Pro Shops. After growing up in rural Virginia and going to school at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, she wanted to get back into the open spaces, where she could enjoy more of the great outdoors than Manhattan could offer. A job offer at Cabela’s in 2012 made that possible, and she landed in Sidney, Nebraska. She moved on to Base Camp after the acquisition of Cabela’s by Bass Pro Shops in 2017, and has found her home.

My core responsibilities are pretty much sourcing and developing materials, which includes fabrics, any trims, zippers, buttons, snaps, whatever it is. I am responsible for sourcing that across the business, which includes apparel, hard goods and footwear.

At the beginning of the season, I often have pretty specific problems – whether it’s a cost savings, new supplier, or a specific need I have to find. For example, find a lightweight mesh to fill a certain category. Those are relatively specific. However, part of my job is also providing innovation to the team, which is a pretty blank slate, to say, “This is where I think your white space might be,” based on history or what’s out there on the market.

I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. I didn’t want to live in New York City. That place is a jungle, and I was out the week I graduated. I happened to be working for what’s called a knit converter, and they had a contact at Cabela’s who was a Director of Materials. I got lucky enough to go out there for an interview, and then joined that team.

Growing up, I was one of those kids who was always outside, running around barefoot, bringing salamanders home. I don’t think I ever spent a full day inside. We lived on 4 acres that backed up to the woods, next to a horse farm. In the woods was creeks and everything that you could ever want as a kid. I spent so much time trying to get out of that place in Virginia, and now all I want to do is get back to a place like that.

I knew that I wanted to work with an outdoor brand after graduation. I remember being at school at FIT and wishing they had some courses that better represented the outdoor industry. That was always where I wanted to be. I loved Cabela’s, obviously, but I didn’t see myself living in Nebraska forever, so I was actually really happy to move to someplace like Springfield, that was a little bigger, just more opportunities for things to do.

I was really pleasantly surprised by Base Camp, the town and by the headquarters in general; it was the first time I had seen that store and had never seen a store that big. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy the transition was for the most part, and how much I like Springfield. It’s a good size – it’s big enough, but not so big where you never know anyone.

From a welcoming standpoint, working here at Base Camp, people will drop what they are doing and come help someone. In general, I’ve found that people want you to get involved in the culture here. I think a lot of it also is what you put into it, and if you’re willing to put your neck out there a little bit, I have found that people are willing to give you what you need.

In the summer, I’m on the river almost every day. If I can get out at 5 p.m., when it’s still light, I’ll get out to the river. I didn’t kayak that much before I got here, but I met up with a group of friends and that’s all they do every weekend. As much as we can, that’s what we’ll do.

Conservation is my No. 1 priority, to be honest. That’s the reason I wanted to get into the business. For me, that’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, go work for a company that represents that.

What excites me the most about the future here is the amount of runway we have for innovation, and I think we have really good leadership that is asking those questions, about how are we going to be the next big thing with hunting and fishing. I think people are asking the right questions, about how do we stack up and how to we make our products stack up while still providing great value? We have a lot of work to do there, but I think in talking to the teams, we all are ready to take on that work.