Contributor Jon Custis reached out to Jayberry Miller, owner of Tuff Possum Gear, to discuss his recent arrival on the everyday carry (EDC) and pack scene. As Jon learned, Jayberry has turned a passion for the outdoors and bushcraft at a young age, into a growing business. His humble aspirations should not be mistaken though, for anything less than a devoted concern for customer satisfaction, functionality in design and American craftsmanship. At the sharp age of 21, he has a long path of success waiting for him.
Jon: Jayberry, thank you for taking time out of your day to discuss Tuff Possum Gear and your vision for its future in the soft goods realm. As a relatively recent arrival to what looks like the worlds of everyday carry, camping and even personal security, it is exciting for me to have a conversation with such a young brand.
JM: Absolutely Jon! I seriously appreciate the opportunity to do this.
Jon: So, why the name Tuff Possum Gear?
JM: Really, it all started in a conversation with an old hillbilly that my father grew up with. He is a bit of an outdoorsman mentor of sorts to me and when we were discussing brand ideas, he hit on the fact that Possums have pouches and people need them too. Really a pretty versatile little animal that is very iconic among the central/eastern woodlands that our heritage and upbringing stems from.
Jon: Were pouches the first items you produced three years ago?
JM: Yes sir, the early beginnings stemmed from me as a kid, doing what kids do in the outdoors: hiking, camping, exploring, etc. You need pouches and bags to carry your “kit” with you, of course. I would have my mother sew various pouches and such, until when I was about 13 or 14 and brought a small pack design to her to make. She said, “It’s time for you to learn to make these yourself.” The following fall an old family friend gave me a small machine and I spent the next three years sewing pouches and stuff just for myself. I started posting them on an online discussion forum and folks started asking for me to make some for them.
Jon: Your mother and father seem to be a key part of TPG, but were you ready to make it commercial, or was it more of an accident that just had the right timing?
JM: It was honestly more of an accident than a planned enterprise. When I first started posting stuff for sale, it was merely to fund my own gear acquisitions, but the demand slowly grew until I realized that this is actually a thing that I can do as a career. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor online from an early age, Eric Au over at Skinth Solutions, who really showed me that this was a legit thing a person could do. By the time I finished high school, I had been working part-time at a small metal machining shop for three years and it was either go all in or let TPG suffer
Jon: So you’ve been inspired by Eric Au at Skinth, and have a partnership of sorts with Sagewood Gear. I’ve also heard that you are connected with FirstSpear for production. What other sorts of relationships do you have and rely on?
JM: My goal with some of the things like the Sagewood Gear and Red Eyed Hog Seasoning that I carry in the online store, is to find those small makers that make products that I really enjoy and use, and bring those to my tribe, so to speak. Earlier this year, we started working with FirstSpear out of Missouri to do some of our larger items, leveraging the incredible manufacturing capabilities and talent they have. We have a small fixed blade knife design in the works with a great company down in Texas called JB Knife and Tool. Solid folks. We also recently released a neat collaboration with Delta2Alpha Design out of Canada, the “SlapSack”, which is a coin purse of sorts that acts as a self defence tool for folks who have to travel in some pretty sketchy places.
Jon: Yes, I peeped that the other day and it makes more sense to carry that, rather than trying to travel with a pair of brass knuckles. Did this relationship with FirstSpear start around the time of the Gen 2 Minimalist Haversack? And did it transition to the Shackleton EDC Satchel, or are those completely different designs?
JM: Those are two different designs altogether. The Minimalist Haversack line started back in the early days before the name and idea of TPG. It has been through several variations and I am actually working on a 3rd, even more stripped down version to fulfill its purpose as more of a gathering/foraging bag. I made the very first Shackleton EDC Satchel prototype in the Fall of 2017, around the same time that we officially launched TPG as a brand. It’s definitely more of an everyday carry and day hiking bag. It was about 90% complete, compared to what it looks like today. I used it almost daily for about two years, until I found the right partner in FirstSpear, to produce them for me.
Jon: Can you recall your toughest day as a businessman, and offer three pieces of advice to other folks who dream of doing what you’ve accomplished?
JM: It’s a bit hard to recall a single hardest day. I struggled quite a bit with burnout in the early days. Sewing when the sales aren’t coming and wondering if this is really worth it. Times when there were deadlines or prototypes that just weren’t working and sewing ‘till late at night. The three most valuable pieces of advice I wish I would have known would be balance, focus, and learn to price custom work accurately. Keep a healthy amount of work/life balance. Focus hard on the work when you are working, then (unless you absolutely have to) try not to have to work when you should be enjoying time with your family or on other creative mediums to “clean the slate”. One thing that bit me quite often was custom work, which I am sadly too busy to do anymore. There is a balance of taking on new ideas to test them and push your skill set to new boundaries at a low enough price to learn on, and taking on too many for too little compensation, that you end up burnt out.
Jon: Your Multipurpose Survival Scarf was inspired by wilderness expert Mors Kochanski and you did a limited run with additional features inspired and approved by Ed Calderon. Who else do you draw inspiration from?
JM: I try to study people of action. My slogan is “Trustworthy Gear for People Who GO Places and DO Things”, so I really try to look at a wide variety of folks. From wilderness survival skills instructors like Mors Kochanski to world travelers like Ed Calderon from Ed’s Manifesto, to gear designed by the classic mountaineering world and even the old-school woodsmen writers like Horace Kephart and the like. One defining inspiration or guidance for me is Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Good Design, as well.
Jon: Michele Fasano, who I interviewed for a Carryology article, referenced Dieter Rams as well. Great design minds think alike. So as a final question, where do you want to see Tuff Possum Gear ‘GO’?
JM: It’s really all about the people, so surrounding myself with folks who are far more knowledgeable in various areas of adventure and travel than I am. Doing more community events. Developing and branching out into more areas of gear and working with the community to hear what they are needing. Taking that and figuring out solutions that are practical, but enjoyable to use. It’s easy to hack something together that will kinda work, but to really design it well so that they don’t have to worry about the gear, is the goal. The sky is the limit!
Jon caught up to Jayberry a few weeks after this interview, on a Zoom meeting with a few other pack enthusiasts. He asked him what he uses to measure the success of Tuff Possum Gear by and Miller gave a very thoughtful, down-to-earth answer that says a lot about his dedication to a U.S.-based supply chain and craftsmanship.
Miller says he measures success by satisfied customers who make use of what they purchased. The gear has to live up to their expectations and he has no intention of letting them down. At the end of it all, if he owns a nice home on a few acres of land that allows him to enjoy his outdoor pursuits, he figures that he’s accomplished what he set out to do by establishing Tuff Possum Gear.
Watch this space for updates on his future designs.