For nearly fifty years, Propper has been making tactical gear with a purpose. Founded in 1967 by William T. Propper, a manufacturing entrepreneur, the company landed its first contract with the US Navy, manufacturing the “Dixie cup” covers so iconic among sailors today. Today, the brand is renowned for its apparel, bags, footwear, and more for uniformed professionals all over the world. They make gear for individuals of service, who make tactical decisions every day, and who need garments that can keep up with their jobs.
We had the chance to learn more about how Propper approaches their mission. Explore how this brand operates and believes in their mandate.
Tell us a little bit about the history of Propper’s relationship with the military.
After landing our first contract way back in 1967 with the Navy, we’ve been the largest uniform supplier to the Department of Defense. We provided millions of BDUs, ACUs, MCCUUs, and ABUs over the decades, but because of discretion in brand labeling, many service personnel didn’t realize they were wearing Propper. If you’ve served in the military in the last 40 years, there’s a good chance you’ve worn Propper and not known it.
But as we completed those contracts and fulfilled our promise to the DOD, we grew our offerings bit by bit, eventually including law enforcement and civilian tactical apparel and bags. We grew our brand, and today we continue to be an industry leader in uniforms and tactical gear, because we pay close attention to the detailed specs required by these customers.
What sense of value do Propper employees get out of their work?
It gives us a tremendous sense of pride to know that our uniforms and tactical gear go into battle and into the streets every day. Military and law enforcement communities depend on our gear to do their job, and it’s incredibly humbling. It means we have to work extra hard to make sure it delivers as promised. And we’re proud to say that that commitment to quality extends to all our civilian customers as well.
What challenges does this industry pose? What are some obstacles you’ve come across?
When you have new companies entering the tactical market nearly every day, you have to keep innovating and staying competitive. We’ve got our marketing, sales, and product design team all under one roof, and we’re in constant communication with each other about what feedback our customers have. If there’s a design that we sell that’s getting a particular kind of feedback, or even a complaint, we put our teams to work on the problem. The product team will propose a new design, and we test and retest until the best product is made. Having everyone under one roof here in St. Louis—a whole team of dedicated people who listens to what our customers say—is how we’re able to be fast and efficient with what we make and what we provide, and it’s how we stay competitive and retain the customers who’ve grown to rely on us.
Tell us more about that customer feedback. Do any reviews or comments stand out to you?
Well, there was one review we saw online that raved about our Lightweight Tactical Pants. He talked about how durable the ripstop fabric is and how weatherproof they are, with plenty of pockets for all the gear he carried with him, but then he ended the review with a story about how the pants “survived the wrath of a charging boar!” We’ll admit, we didn’t have charging boars in mind when we made the pant, but we’ll take credit for whatever we can get, and we’re certainly glad that customer is ok!
In all seriousness, we take all the customer feedback under consideration. Both the good reviews and the critical responses. These comments are our most valuable resource for designing new products and improving old ones. We may not be the biggest name in the industry, but it feels great that our largest customer group is repeat business. That says a lot about the level of quality and service we deliver. Whether it’s on the phone, by email, or in person, we encourage dialogue and honest feedback, and we want to know what you think.
What’s new for Propper?
We recently introduced a new full line of innovative protective body armor to keep the men and women in our law enforcement communities safer. We’ve got external carriers and concealed vests, and even helmets with the best ballistic protection we could build. We’re always looking for ways to improve on our gear and make new ones, and this line is something we’re really proud of.
Many of the new companies entering the market today will be gone in the next few years. It’s just what happens in a marketplace as competitive as this one. But the ones with rich histories of innovative products—and listening to customers about how to make even better ones—are the ones that will survive. We believe we’ve held true to our core values of being authentic, deliberate, and responsive, and that’s why we believe we’ll be around for many more years to come.