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Skip Yowell speaks during Honors Conference Week

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Hannah Cline & Andrew Dittmar

Staff writer

On February 7th, Roanoke College welcomed Jansport co-founder Skip Yowell to campus, as the key-note speaker of Honors Conference Week.

Yowell spent a busy day on-campus, eating breakfast with Honors students in the Commons, dropping in on a variety of classes throughout the day, interviewing with John Stang ’13 for Stang’s WRKE (the interview will air during Stang’s show on February 13th, between 7 and 8 PM), and dining with a handful of Honors students and faculty at Mac’n’Bob’s, all before his key-note lecture that night.

The emphasis of all of Yowell’s presentations and discussions could be boiled down to one word: Passion.

“Have a passion for what you’re doing. If you have a passion, you will have fun, and be successful,” Yowell said during his address, which attracted numerous students, faculty, and community members.

Yowell certainly has led an interesting life. His talk focused on the wide range of his travels, which include expeditions on Mounts Everest and Kilimanjaro, to his business ventures that have sent him everywhere in the world, from Asia to Africa, Europe to the United States.

A self-proclaimed outdoorsman-hippie, Yowell founded Jansport, alongside his brother Murray and his brother’s girlfriend Jan, in 1967. Their initial design was American flag backpacks. From there, the business evolved into camping gear, a variety of backpack styles, and even collegiate sweatshirts—Roanoke College’s own sweatshirts and hoodies are from Jansport.

Throughout Yowell’s history with Jansport, he’s also led a number of outdoor programs focused on mountain climbing and other outdoor skills. The key emphasis of these programs was to encourage people to expand their horizons, learning about and experiencing other cultures.

More recently, Yowell’s outdoors expeditions have given way to involvement in the Big City Mountaineers program, a non-profit organization aimed at under-resourced urban teens aged 13-17. Volunteers in Big City Mountaineers take the teens into new terrains in Colorado and California, amongst other places.

Yowell also emphasized that it’s okay to take a risk and not succeed. He himself found success in his business ventures through trial-and-error. One of these errors was a series of dogpacks. The dogpack was designed to carry the dog’s food in one side and a 6-pack of beer in the other. 100 dogpacks were commissioned by Yowell himself (against the wishes of some of his business partners), and no more than a handful sold.

Yowell’s talk also touched on other subjects, including the business side of Jansport’s relations with North Face and a move to a more sustainable manufacturing style.

But at the heart of his speech was passion. Yowell found his passion and was able to turn it into a profitable business and career. To his audience, he encouraged the same—reach for excellence, aim high, but above all, remember to have fun.