PROUDLY MADE IN UTAH.

Mark Larese-Casanova

Jun 2, 2022 | Meet the Team

Mark Larese-Casanova was brought on as a product designer and is currently working on finishing out his degree at Utah State University with the Outdoor Product Development and Design program.

Mark is unique in that he switched his career from being a field researcher into the product design space later in life than most. We admire Mark not only for his insight into making cool stuff but also for his commitment to following what makes him happy and acting with intent and betterment on everything he does. Mark has been an incredible resource and most importantly a hard worker.

He shares some of his insight into what he likes about ULA, the future of the outdoor industry, the need for a sustainable method, and a little bit about what makes him tick.

P.S. The jacket and pants in these photos were made by Mark himself.

Profile

NAME: Mark Larese-Casanova
AGE: 48.
BIO: I’m from the small historic coastal town of Mystic, CT, where I learned to equally love the outdoors and the local history. I’ve lived in Logan, UT, for about 20 years and love the quality of life in this small western college town.

The Interview

ULA: What has your relationship with the outdoors been?

MARK: The outdoors has always been a big part of my life. I grew up spending a lot of time exploring the CT coast and camping on Cape Cod, MA. Some years, we would spend the entire summer camping! Short hikes through the forests were common. When I was in college, I’d travel to explore the Presidential Mountains in NH any season of the year. Summer backpacking was always fun, but summiting Mt. Washington in winter or on my bike in fall were great adventures.

ULA: Tell me about your previous career as a field researcher.

MARK: My life experiences in nature shaped my interest in wildlife biology while in college. I studied different species of turtles, from small freshwater turtles living on an island to enormous leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica. When I moved to Utah 20 years ago, I began creating and teaching environmental education programs all across Utah. It was an amazing opportunity to explore some of Utah’s most exciting places!

ULA: What are you currently studying with the OPDD program?

MARK: When the pandemic started a few years ago, I was spending very little time teaching because in-person programs were cancelled for a couple of years. I’ve had a lot of hobbies related to product design over the years. So, I decided to enroll in a few courses in the Outdoor Product Design and Development program here at Utah State University. It’s the first program of its kind in the U.S. and one of only a few in the world. I loved the courses so much that I just kept on going and now I’m nearly finished! My main focus has been on designing heritage-inspired outdoor apparel and softgoods using natural textiles that highlight regional crafts or traditions. I love working with handwoven Harris Tweed, water-resistant cotton Ventile, leather, and canvas.

ULA: What are some of your goals in regards to the outdoor industry?

MARK: I’m a huge textile nerd, so I love using interesting materials in my designs especially if they have a cultural or historical significance. I seek out textiles that were the premier outdoor materials over the past century to help tell the story of their relevance to the industry. In a way, I think my focus is a counter balance to the continual desire for the newer and better technical fabrics that are so common in the outdoor industry. Don’t get me wrong, I love my technical outerwear for being outdoors in difficult conditions. But, while I’m in school, I’m exploring my own little niche in the outdoor industry. I was given some advice early on to “make weird stuff”, and have pretty much taken that to heart. Stop by mlcasanova.design on Instagram to see some of my projects!

ULA: What is your role at ULA?

MARK: I work as a product designer at ULA where I do everything from design new products, test and refine patterns for existing products, and cut fabric to support the production team. We recently acquired a very large laser cutter that will be so helpful to the production and design processes! At the moment, I am working on digitizing all of our backpack patterns so we can cut fabric exclusively by laser. I’m really looking forward to designing a few new products this summer!

ULA: What made you want to work at ULA?

MARK: For me, having a hands-on role in prototyping and production is equally as important as designing new products. Here at ULA, we are small enough that I need to have a lot of different skills from sketching to patterning, sewing, and even product photography. Most product designers spend their time in front of a computer while factories overseas create the prototypes and products. Having everything in-house here in Logan gives us the unique chance to adjust designs and patterns quickly and produce new products from idea to retail in just a week or two. Plus, ULA is only a few miles from my house, and half of my commute by bike is on a trail that runs along the Logan River. Working at ULA helps me fulfill my ideals of a happy and sustainable career.

ULA: What do you think the future of gear and products in general look like?

MARK: I know sustainability may feel like an overused word these days. But, it’s so essential for our future. One downfall of any product-based industry is the need to produce more and more stuff to make more money. At ULA, we’re such a nimble company that we can quickly adapt design and production to make the best possible product that will last the user a long time without going out of style.

ULA: What made you want to change your career path at this stage in your life?

MARK: I think some of the keys to happiness in a career is intention, resilience, and adaptability. In reality, I think I’ve always kept a few different career paths available in my mind in case my interests or situation changed. When one career path no longer seems like it is fulfilling, I can focus on another. The encouragement from my family, friends, professors, and fellow students help me realize I’m on the right path. But, it hasn’t been without uncertainty! It all takes patience and confidence to make such a big change.

ULA: What gets you the most excited about product design?

MARK: I think I’ve always enjoyed designing and making things to solve problems. If I can design a piece of outdoor gear that helps someone have a great time in nature, or appreciate the amazing natural world around us, that makes me pretty happy. The ULA community of users is so supportive and positive that it’s great to hear their feedback and ideas. It’s especially fun to work with a customer to adapt their ULA pack to better work for their specific needs.

ULA: What’s your favorite outdoor activity?

MARK: It depends on the season! In the warmer months, I love road cycling through the quiet farm roads or the canyons, and hiking the less-traveled trails in the Bear River Range. If it’s winter, you really can’t beat the skiing at nearby Beaver Mountain. We’re very fortunate to have access to so many great natural areas right next to town.

ULA: What’s a major change you’d like to see in the outdoor industry?

MARK: Rather than sustainability being a cool new thing that some companies take on as an extra responsibility, it really needs to be the baseline for the entire industry as a whole. Our planet cannot support our production and consumption status as it is right now. It’s exciting to see more recycled materials like Challenge Sailcloth’s Ultra become so popular lately. Most importantly, we consumers can contribute by buying well-made products and using them for a long time. I’d also love to see more diversity in terms of gender, race, size, and ability in the outdoor industry. We’re making strides, but there’s still a long way to go.

ULA: What advice would you give to others that might be considering switching careers later in life?

MARK: The key is to just go out and try something! Thinking about a new career won’t make it happen. You have to do something. I took up leather crafting and sewing as side hobbies about 15 years ago and they gave me some of the basic skills that were so helpful in my new career path. It was a wonderful coincidence that USU has the OPDD program, and I saw it as a great opportunity to explore this new career by taking a couple courses to give the program a try. One of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to was Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. I highly recommend it if anyone wants to explore their career paths!

ULA: What advice would you give to those that might be considering a career path in the outdoor industry?

MARK: I think patience and flexibility are so important as well as developing as many relationships with people in the industry as possible. I’m a product designer at ULA in part because of a connection I made with a student (who was a product developer here at ULA) in the OPDD program three years ago when I helped teach a course. I was asked to help teach the course because one of the other instructors was a student in one of my courses seven years ago. It can take time, but building positive relationships with others is essential. So, make connections with people in the industry, thank others for the knowledge.

Rather than sustainability being a cool new thing that some companies take on as an extra responsibility, it really needs to be the baseline for the entire industry as a whole. Our planet cannot support our production and consumption status as it is right now. It’s exciting to see more recycled materials like Challenge Sailcloth’s Ultra become so popular lately. Most importantly, we consumers can contribute by buying well-made products and using them for a long time. I’d also love to see more diversity in terms of gender, race, size, and ability in the outdoor industry. We’re making strides, but there’s still a long way to go.

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