Interview with Michelle Fleming, Stanley

Introductory slide for interview with Michelle Fleming, Stanley

Tell me a little about you. What led you to where you are now?

I grew up on a ranch outside of Great Falls, Montana. I was able to grasp the concept of field-farm-to-table really young. This instilled in me the love of public lands. This is what made it important to me. Being in the outdoor industry showed me kind of the insanity going on in the environmental crisis. I never thought I’d be in the outdoor industry. I went to school for art. I moved to Seattle from Bozeman in my twenties and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I worked odd jobs, worked for an optician, and then I got recruited to work for a hunting and fishing magazine.

Tell me about Stanley. What’s the inspiration behind it?

The Stanley product has been around since 1913. William Stanley was an electrician that was later hired by George Westinghouse to be his Chief Engineer. Back then having your coffee in your thermos was really important to people to take to work. These were the people building bridges, building America. Coffee flasks at the time were glass-lined. If you dropped them they broke and they weren’t cheap to replace. Stanley decided he could do better. So he invented the first stainless steel vacuum-sealed bottle that was durable and reliable and for everyday life. People still have that need today, whether they work in the outdoors or they’re a commuter. People still want their coffee hot wherever they go.

Michelle with a fresh catch

How does sustainability play a role in your brand and in product development? 

I was in the Gulf of Mexico fishing and one of the guides threw his beer can overboard, and then his plastic water bottle. It was mind-boggling to me that that shit literally gets thrown overboard. I want to be able to fish for the rest of my life and I want my nieces and nephews to be able to as well.

We’re really excited about a program called Kick Plastics – they’re focused on reducing single-use plastics specifically for fishing guides. We’re working with Washington area guide services directly to supply them with water alternatives for single-use materials. I figured if we started with guide services that are taking thousands of people out fishing every year, that’s a good place to start. If you just do a little, it can make a difference. If we can make a small difference here, it will last. 

We take our CSR seriously. We’re constantly reducing our carbon footprint. We’re ethically manufacturing our products. Our products remove the need for single-use plastic.

Tell me about technology and innovation at Stanley.

We are constantly trying to make products that are going to last a really long time and solve human problems. Every vacuum-sealed company is using the same technology that William Stanley created in 1913. Now we have our Master Series. You want your coffee hot longer? You got it. The Master Series products come in similar capacities to our Classic vacuum bottles, but with Quadvac Technology. The easy way to explain that is that it’s twice the vacuum insulation as our classic double wall vacuum insulation, keeping it hot longer. It’s also just as durable. You can run these over and they will just go into the ground – somebody actually tried it, that’s how I know! It just went into the dirt, concrete might be a different deal, but I would be more concerned for the tire.

We recently released our Ceramivac products. These are vacuum-sealed tumblers and bottles that are finished with ceramic on the inside. No more drinking out of metal. There are a lot of people I know that just really love this. Eric Shear, the VP of Stanley, is the ultimate product nerd. He combs through data. He really gets into what people are asking for and what they need and then just makes it happen. He learned that people did not like drinking out of stainless steel, especially for beer. So we gave them Ceramivac.

Michelle during a fishing trip

What does wilderness mean to you?

Some people go to church and get all of their spirituality there. I just go outside. I get away and calm down. I notice a change when I go home to Montana - the straight up peace that comes to me. It’s overwhelming in a way, but also really necessary. It’s that peace, just knowing that you can escape that craziness of life - it’s really important. It’s really important for everybody to have access to that. It’s always there for you and doesn’t ask you for anything other than to just take care of it.

25 years from now, what would be the legacy that you would hope for your brand to leave behind?

Stanley has already left an amazing legacy. It’s over 100 years old. It brought technology to a place where people can have hot or cold beverages at all times. The legacy now is memory. When people of think of Stanley they think of that green vacuum bottle. They think of trips with their grandpa or with their dad. They think about the experiences and memories associated with them. I also hope that we can turn around our “disposable environment,” purchase and throw away mentality. We want people to purchase and KEEP FOREVER, that’s why we have a lifetime warranty. Hopefully that reverses the waste that’s out there, helps keep rivers and oceans clean. That’s what we always wanted to be behind so that we can keep creating memories outside, so that we can keep doing the important things.