Orvis Pro
Man in waders

A Product Development Story

There comes a moment in every industry where all that’s gone before becomes, if not obsolete, then certainly average. A single idea, a fresh point of view, a “what if we did it this way?”—and suddenly things are never again the same. We sat down with Jim Kershaw and Jesse Haller from the Orvis Product Development Team to discover the genesis of the Orvis PRO Waders: how they were designed, developed, tested, and brought to market.


Why Cordura®?

“Given these were built with Alaskan guides in mind, guides that are wearing these 12-14 hours a day, jumping in and out of boats and airplanes, they want a reliable, durable bomber wader that is fail-safe. CORDURA® uses a blended nylon that’s certified to meet their quality standards for high abrasion resistance and durability. The fabric is unmatched as a durable outer layer that protects the working layers underneath.


No one thought it could be done. We could have taken the easy way out and chosen one of the traditional wader fabrics, added some new features, changed the fit, but essentially it would be the same as the competition. We wanted to do better.”


How long did it take to develop the fabric?

“We were initially told we couldn't do it, not by CORDURA®, but by the mill itself. Essentially, they said they tried it before, and it doesn't work. We kept pushing back trying to find a way, and it took two years, but we finally got the first fabric. We're used to CORDURA® as a heavy-duty ballistic fabric, but the difference here is in the weave. That's where we worked on the right hand, the right density, the right size of yarn, and yet still maintained the same performance properties expected from a CORDURA® fabric.”

“They have been indestructible. I truly believe they will change the wader game.”

– Dana Lattery, Orvis Field Tester

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Men's and women's Pro waders

What’s the most important aspect of good product development, in your opinion?

“Interestingly enough, it’s failing. And by that, I mean failing fast. Try it quick and acknowledge when it’s not going to work. Walk away. It’s okay to try anything, but don’t waste time if it doesn’t get there. Recognizing this as soon as possible is critically important, and this is where field testing comes in.”


Who are the Orvis field testers?

“The testers are guides and industry professionals we’ve vetted and selected for their ability to give us good feedback. We need both consistent use and ability to provide great communication. In 2018 we used 77 testers, over 22 programs with over 3,000 days logged on product. A third of those were on PRO Waders alone. That’s the crux of good development.”

A man wearing waders balances on a cable while working on an airplane propeller.

“Our field-testing team is committed to helping us build the best product possible.”

— Jesse Haller, Orvis Product Developer & Field Testing Coordinator


When does field testing start?

“We have a process which begins within the building, and it starts with ideation: ‘This is what I’m thinking.’ ‘Seems like there’s a path here.’ That begins the design phase. Then comes a design review, initial refinement, and materials. If it gets past there, we build a first prototype. It’s here we begin to see what will and what won’t work. Again, this is in-house, and we want to fail fast.


If the feedback is good, then field testing begins. We build field test samples and put them through a process using 30-day check-in periods to get feedback and make adjustments. Generally, we send the product out for 90 to 120 days.”


What happens after field testing?

“Once the testing session is over, I get the product back for analysis in a lab situation to gain more information. Even if everything works perfectly, we want it back anyway to take a close look at seam construction, what worked, what didn’t, and sizing. For PRO Waders we also had phone call debriefings with every field tester—that was an important step in providing a lot of ideas for the future”

A man wearing waders climbing over the pontoon of a float plane.

“I have beat the hell out of the wader for the last 150 days. Running through heavy brush, sitting in boats, to walking 4-5 miles during my walk wade trips.”

— George Daniel, Orvis Field Tester


What were the hurdles you ran into and had to overcome with PRO waders?

“When we got these into the field, the validation was there for the fabric, but we learned a lot, and there were some initial failures. Fit and patterning were significant learnings and had a direct effect on the design.


In field testing, we worked to pattern the seams to take out stress that could become failure points and get them away from certain environments that might cause issues. We worked extensively with the factory to be sure they could sew the fabric properly, especially when you bring five layers into the mix. It’s stiff, heavy, and initially we got this big, bulky seam. We did a significant amount of work with them, adjusting stitch per inch to get the seams in the lower profile needed in a wader that is not only durable, but comfortable for guides who are living in them 12-14 hours a day.

A smiling man wearing waders

We added a crotch gusset, took out some seams, adjusted the height of the removable knee pads, tweaked the design of the gravel guards to make sure they didn’t tear. Small failures, but those small failures helped us build a better wader, and that’s why you field test.”


THE MOST DURABLE WADERS ORVIS HAS EVER MADE.

The Orvis PRO Wader is built to withstand the abuse from professional guides. Every detail has a purpose, every feature has been challenged, and every piece has been rigorously tested.


YOU DESERVE ORVIS PRO

Jim squatting in the river, holding a monster catch

Jim Kershaw

Jim went to school for industrial product design at Appalachian State University. He began his career designing tools for construction, refining designs and ergonomics, and field testing for durability and function.


“I am attracted to design for function and use. After designing tooIs, I moved to STX Lacrosse, designing protective gear for STX and Nike. It was a good blend of taking what I learned from designing durable tools and translating that into sports. This led to a balance of developing softgoods in combination with designing hardgoods. Through that time, I learned a lot, most importantly, learning to listen to elite athletes and the things they wanted. Eventually, my love of the outdoors led me to Orvis, bringing the design background here and creating product I’m passionate about.”

Jesse standing waist-deep in the river, wearing waders and casting a line.

Jesse Haller

Jesse is not only a product developer for Orvis but oversees the entire field testing protocol for Orvis outdoor. Jesse has spent the better part of his life fly fishing, growing up in the Driftless region of Wisconsin and then guiding in Colorado and Vermont before joining Orvis.


“Whether fishing personally or guiding, I really gravitated toward understanding usability and function, and finding those little things that make a big difference. Why did they put those here? Little nuances of why things work and make things easier. This was always interesting to me. Things that work best are those things you don’t think about. It lets you focus on what you’re doing. We want anglers to be dry and warm, all the tools to work, and everything seamless.”