Industry Profile: Brandbase Founding Partner Trent Bush
08 Sep, 2009
Shay: Tell us a little bit about yourself
Trent: Born and raised in Boulder, CO. I live here now with my wife Stacy and 2 kids Astrid and Trent Jr. We’re now officially a snowboarding family. I met my wife through snowboarding (she was a competitive snowboarder in the early 90’s, competing in the US Open, etc.) and now my kids officially ride top to bottom. They are now 5 and 6 and starting to hit boxes, trying to jump, and I feel my 2nd childhood coming on, even though I haven’t quite finished my first one. Snowboarding has kept me a kid by profession. I love it.
Shay: What is your job title?
Trent: I’m a partner at Brandbase, which is the company that owns/operates Technine, Nomis, and SOUND.
Shay: Did your parents question your job choice?
Trent: Not really. They were pretty much used to my brother (Troy) and I doing our own thing, and they supported it completely. In fact they were very proud of all we were able to line up at an early age. They were a little bummed because Troy and I were the first ones in the history of both my mother’s and father’s families with a chance to graduate from college, but we decided school would always be there, and if our plans didn’t work out, we could always go back. I have 12 credits, so I think that makes me a freshman?
Shay: What was your first set up?
Trent: Early no-binding Burton Backyards, Backhills with 1 binding and 1 back strap, and a beat up yellow Sims Lonnie Toft with skyhooks. The first board I owned was a Burton Performer. Wood base, skegs, waterski bindings. I think I got it for my birthday when I was 12.
Shay: What is your current set up?
Trent: Technine MFM Pro, Nines, or Enforcer depending on where I am and the terrain/conditions. In any case I run our new Lucas Magoon Pro binding with the Scrub Hook.
Shay: What was your first job?
Trent: I worked at a store called Wave Rave in Boulder. (It was the original tiny one room Wave Rave location, not the amazing one in Mammoth) Troy and I met the owners Sandy and Brett when I was 12 or 13. They sold surf clothes and parachute pants. We talked them into carrying skateboards, and then snowboards. Troy got a job there, and I started shortly after when I was 14. I’ve worked in snowboarding ever since, and have never had a job outside of it. That’s been 25 years or so. It sounds like a long time, but it’s been pretty crazy all the way, and I have never felt old, probably because it’s easy to stay young when snowboarding is your life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Shay: What’s a great day of snowboarding to you?
Trent: Every day is great, in one way or another. Whether it’s a day I get 2 runs, or I get a heli or cat day, it’s always good for sure. Lately, it’s been getting to ride as a family. Crazy for sure!
Shay: Who are your influences?
Trent: They have definitely changed over time. My earliest influences came purely from skateboarding and the whole DIY lifestyle that surrounded it. When snowboarding started to happen, I had the obvious influences like Kidwell, Kelly, and Palmer early on. My brother Troy is 2 years older, and he’s been a very strong influence on me too, especially in the early years when we were out on our own trying to build our first brand. I guess the most dominant influence in my career in the snowboard industry has always been the riders though. My biggest influences, and guys that have changed a lot of things that make snowboarding what it is today are guys like Tarquin Robbins, MFM, Jay Nelson, JP Martin, and Adam Merriman, and my partners back in the early days Troy, Amani King, Evan Hecox, and Justin Hostynek. Without those guys, snowboarding would be very different right now. These days, I get the most influence from my partners in the company: Ethan Fortier, Cole Taylor, the Chamberlain brothers (Simon, Mat, and Andre) and Marco for sure. Plus our team and all of the people I work with add a lot to what I do. I also think a lot about the friends I’ve lost along the way, and especially Jeffy Anderson. His memory is my motivation in a lot of ways. He was a true original, and I miss him a lot.
Shay: How long have you been snowboarding?
Trent: Almost 30 years. I never really thought about it, but I’ve only bought one snowboard that whole time. I guess that has been one of the perks of this whole thing: pretty much everything from gear, passes, travel, rooms, drinks, etc. are free because it is part of the job.
Shay: How many days do you get to ride a year?
Trent: It all depends. I travel about 2 weeks out of every month on average. Luckily, a lot of the travel is to places with good snow and good friends. No complaints. I love every single day I get out there, and I make it a point to get out as much as I can. There are still a lot of days I just load up by myself if I can’t find anyone who can go out. We ride nights a lot too. Between Echo Mountain and Keystone, there are 2 night parks within an hour twenty from my house. I also do a lot of local riding still. Whenever Boulder gets a foot or more, I have a lot of lines I’ve been riding since I learned in the local mountains decades ago. It’s rudimentary riding, and I hit tons of rocks, but it really brings me back to the early days, and old habits die hard.
Shay: How did you get your start in the industry, what opened up more opportunities for you?
Trent: Like I mentioned before, my real start was at Wave Rave. At that point it was one of the only snowboard specialty stores on the planet. At that time in Boulder, you could buy snowboards from the hobby shop, a hardware store called McGuckin’s, and a windsurfing shop. I think my first glimpse of the industry came from a guy named Fran Richards though. Fran worked at Bob’s Toys and Hobbies, which is where I bought my first board. All I wanted to do those days was skateboard, and I used to buy all my skateboards from Fran. I would hang out there all the time talking to him about skateboarding, and then snowboarding when that came along. He was very connected in the industry even back then, and he gave me a glimpse into it. He came to work at Wave Rave and it quickly became a hotbed of snowboarding in Boulder. (Fran went on to head up marketing at Transworld and now is the VP Marketing for Spy) Troy was already working there, and they gave me a job working after schools and weekends in 1984. Soon after, Brett (one of Wave Rave’s owners) sponsored a team. It ended up being one of the best early teams back in those days. Riders like Tim Windell, Kevin Delaney, Dave Dowd, the Pappas brothers, Nick Perata, Quinn Sandvold, Adam Merriman and guys like that. On the outerwear side, I put a bunch of Wave Rave logos on some Quimbola Man pants with a paint pen and all the team guys had stickers on their gloves and Wave Rave sweatshirts. We went up to the World Snowboarding Championships in Breckenridge and people were asking where to get Wave Rave pants, gloves, etc. Some photos of Windell and Dowd got published in ISM (International Snowboard Magazine) people from all over were calling to ask where they could buy the gear. This gave Brett the idea to start making clothes, and we made a round of team jackets. From there the Wave Rave clothing company started became one of the leading outerwear brands from the late 80’s through the early 2000’s. That trip was also my foray into the social side of the snowboarding industry. I was 15 and Brett had a party at our condo. All the other guys were in their 20’s, and it was a who’s who of the early days. I remember Damian Sanders and Shawn Palmer, Shawn Farmer, and tons of other guys going off to a level that I didn’t even know existed. The party got super wild as the night went on, and the next day after we got back from the contest, all our shit was out on the deck piled up because the manager didn’t want that night to be a repeat of the night before and he kicked us out. It may be that exact moment that I decided to stick around and try to make a life in snowboarding. This was also a glimpse into the almost unbelievable trip the last 2 decades have been. For better or worse, things haven’t changed that much…
Shay: What prompted you to create Twist in 1989? What was it all about?
Trent: The snowboarding culture in the late 80’s got really weird. Everyone was head to toe in neon, corporate sponsorships were starting to happen, and it started to look like it was only a matter of time before snowboarding was assimilated into ski culture. It was getting really close to the same mentality as freestyle skiing was at the same time in a lot of ways. We lived and breathed for skateboarding and we wanted to “skateboard on snowboards”, not ski on them with racing and bump contests. Roller blading was also getting huge then, and we hated that culture even worse. We started hanging out with a lot of guys who had a similar take on the future of where we wanted to see snowboarding go.
My brother was always making plans to literally take over the world. He used to have a piece of paper tacked up on his bulletin board that said “Plans for world domination” that pretty much laid out a plan from our parent’s bulletin board to where we got to with Twist. We started with baby steps, buying a screen printing press and printing shirts. We came up with the name Twist from a song we liked, and started making shirts. We then bought a bunch of polar fleece and supplex, and had our mom sew some basic items. From there, it was beg/borrow/steal to get it to happen. We dropped out of college and went for it. Our first partners were Amani King and Dan Ravine. We were working on Twist while I was still still working at Wave Rave, and one day this kid and his cousin came in to rent boards to try snowboarding. I rented them each a board, and Troy and I spent the entire next day lapping them and spraying them every time we passed them. This kid ended up being Tarquin Robbins, who in my opinion is to this day one of the most influential riders snowboarding has ever seen. We sponsored him pretty much immediately because he had this skate style that really came to represent the entire new school movement of the early 90’s. We also met a scrawny little kid out of Denver who had a 2 foot pony tail and could skateboard better than anyone I’ve ever seen around Colorado. He was just starting snowboarding and we decided to hook him up and help him out all we could. That’s when the whole relationship with Marc Frank Montoya started and I still work with him on everything I do. (He’s also a partner in Brandbase)
The thing that also really put Twist on the map in the early years was the fact that it was really one of the first companies to be based around artistic expression, and not just snowboarding. A local artist named Evan Hecox was just out of school when he joined our crew. Evan’s art is instantly recognizable these days, as the main artist for Chocolate Skateboards. He’s blown up and has a thousand imitators, but Evan’s work in those early years helped shape where the entire youth market is now. (Check him at EvanHecox.com)
About the same time, Justin Hostynek (now Absinthe Films) moved to Boulder. He was a top snowboard photographer at the time, and he became a partner in the business and became our team manager and helped on marketing and international sales too. Pretty quickly we had a roster that spanned the best of the old school and all the emerging new school kids. Justin also had interest in making movies, and we bought a bunch of equipment and put together a movie called Anthem. This movie is an incredible document of new school snowboarding in the early 90’s.
We went on to make 4 movies: Anthem, Plaster Caster, Color, and The Gift. By the way, if any of your readers have a copy of The Gift, please hit me up because I lost track of it over the years and I desperately want to track it down. Even Justin doesn’t have a copy… Just send a mail to SoundCrew@SoundSnowboarding.com and I’ll make it worth your while for sure!
We also started a magazine to cover the Colorado new school scene with our friend Trey Cook. It was called Crucial Leisure and we used it as a way to cover the huge shift that was taking place in Colorado back then that the mainstream mags were missing. It was super fun.
So between all the partners, we had all the angles covered. We had a sunglass license deal with Bausch and Lomb, and then we launched another brand called Titan that was a little broader in distribution that Twist. We actually made some of the very first women’s specific gear at Twist, and it was so popular that we spun off our women’s gear into a company with Shannon Dunn and Tina Basich named Tuesday. Between the brands we actually sponsored an amazing list of riders. The list includes innovators like Tarquin Robbins, J2, Dale Rehberg, Russell Winfield, JP Martin, Adam Merriman, Jay Nelson, Dave England, (from Jackass) Gilligan Yoder, Stevie Alters, Kurt Wastell, Jimmy Halopoff, Nate Cole, Wes Makepeace, Mike Ranquet, Ingemar Backman, Daniel Franck, Shawn Palmer, Jacob Soderquist, Jeremy Jones, (jib) MFM, Janna Meyen, Tina Basich, and Shannon Dunn. Our cover of our ’95 Titan catalog also had a pro rider named Ethan Fortier on it. He was founding Technine in Vail at the time and now he’s one of my partners at Brandbase. It’s crazy how these things can go full circle.
Shay: What were some of the challenges of starting your own outerwear company?
Trent: I honestly don’t even know where to start with this question. It wasn’t like it is today. Snowboarding (and snowboard outerwear) wasn’t really a big business yet, and kid started companies weren’t really around. There was no Volcom, no Special Blend/Foursquare, DC, 686, or any of today’s streetwear companies. There were only big snowboard companies (Burton, Sims, etc.) and big surf companies. Kids didn’t just go out and start brands from scratch. Cell phones and the internet, computer design, digital photograpy/video/audio etc. weren’t even invented. It was a different world back then.
We were growing really fast, and we could never really finance this thing to a level we needed to. We were all in our early 20’s with a multi-million dollar company. The possibility of us walking into a bank and getting a loan was not even within the realm of possibility. We were actually laughed at, over and over again. We had to get creative in our financing and I could tell stories about all that for hours. Failure really wasn’t even in the equation, because we got ourselves to 2nd in the snowboard specialty market behind Burton and if we had money, we went to good restaurants and if we didn’t, it was Taco Bell again. Our office was On The Hill in Boulder above a bar called The Sink and it was a constantly revolving door of pros, celebrities, and parties. Unbelievable parties for sure. This is what we did and who we were 24 hours a day and the struggle was just another part of it.
To get by, we did a lot of outside design work for companies like Aggression snowboards, (and Tarquin’s graphics) Joyride, the original Ride snowboards, Northwave (we did that N boots logo and branding that they recently brought back) and shared tradeshow booths with a lot of brands. Our first SIA Vegas booth was a 10×10 and we shared it with 4 other brands, each getting a 10 foot wall. I wasn’t legal age for the first 2 Vegas shows we did, and it was almost impossible to rent a car our get hotel rooms at that age back then. It was tough.
The other hard part was there weren’t overseas manufacturers making snowboard outerwear. We used local Denver manufacturing for a long time, and when that dried up, we moved the company to San Francisco to try to use the North Face factories that were open because all of their production was moved overseas. All those factories closed, and this led to us doing our manufacturing in downtown LA. We used to pretty much live at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood back then and work all day, then sit around and throw bottles at the Marlboro man billboard out the window all night. We finally moved our production to Italy when the USA production totally dried up, and the finally moved it to Asia. It’s funny to because we tried so hard to be taken seriously that we would actually wear suits to the factories because it made us look older. This was just the way things were back then. It was hilarious.
In the end, even though we were so big relative to the market, all of our financing problems just made it super difficult to survive. We got a huge break when a Japanese company decided to finance us. When the Japanese economy hit the toilet in the mid-nineties, they were forced to pull our financing and we lost everything. We had personal guarantees on the money we had borrowed and since we had operated almost an entire year and hadn’t yet shipped for the season, we owed millions. We obviously didn’t have the cash so we were forced to trade the Twist/Titan/Tuesday trademarks in order to get out of the guarantees. They ended up licensing the name out to a competing company at the time who promptly slutted out the brand and ran it into the ground over the next 2 years. It was really hard to watch. The only poetic justice in the whole thing is that part of the deal to give the trademarks back to them involved giving them our URL Twist.com. They let it expire, not knowing that the height of the US internet boom was on, and people were paying millions of dollars for URL’s as good as that one. They could have cashed in on that for sure, but in my experience, karma can be a bitch.
Shay: After Twist you started working with Burton to design outerwear, what was the transition like from working for yourself to working for Burton?
Trent: It was totally bizarre. We went from founding and running one of the first (and one of the most well known) new school brands in snowboarding, to working within a framework of a big corporation. I had never had to deal with anything like that, and I really didn’t know the game. I came to understand the concept of corporate politics and how the real world of big business works. The biggest shock was that at Twist we had built our own little world where everyone we hired, every factory we worked with, all the team riders, and all of our accounts were good friends first, and then became parts of the business.
We went in to Burton with big ideas and the best intentions. Burton was like every other big company in that it takes a lot of people to run it, and they can’t all be friends and look out for each other’s best interests before their own. Some people were also there just to climb the ladder, and others didn’t understand snowboarding even a little bit beyond their view from inside Burton. I don’t mean this as a stab at all, because for all the shit people like to give Burton there is a reason that they are number one. Jake has steered that thing to where it is today and he deserves the success. It was just the most real company I had ever encountered, even though by corporate standards it was a total dream job/environment.
Jake and the senior managers at the time knew a lot more of what we had actually accomplished, and so we met directly with them and didn’t have to try to get the job through the normal process of applying for it. They called us as soon as they were sure that Twist was finished. I still will never know if at first they hired us because they thought we would do a good job for Burton, or just so we wouldn’t compete, but they gave us the task to design their entire soft goods line, from socks to underwear, outerwear to gloves. It was a pretty big deal. The wanted us to move there, but we thought we could do a better job in our element in Colorado so we opened a design office in Boulder and did all of our work from there, commuting every 2 weeks to Burlington. This was both a good and a bad thing, as when something good would happen, we sometimes wouldn’t get the credit deserved, and when things went wrong, we were easy scapegoats. We pretty much could do anything we wanted there though, and there have been so many good times during that period of my life that all I can really say is it was amazing to be in that position in a great company at that age. No regrets.
Shay: What were the steps to launching Analog within Burton?
Trent: We really wanted to do a good job for them, but it was very difficult to create the kind of things we did at Twist. Burton’s structure was very rigid and everything had to fit within a line division. They had groups at that point called Biolite, Trilite, AK, Outland, and Universe. All had different end consumers and levels of performance. The most Twist-ish kind of stuff would have fallen in Biolite, which was the most progressive group. The problem was that it was also supposed to be the least expensive group. That meant we didn’t have a lot of room to be creative. The other thing about their outerwear was that between Jake and his wife Donna, they would go out and ride EVERY piece we made. They would test every pocket, every feature, and look at every last detail. Jake would then write super detailed critiques of the product saying things like the pocket zipper should be angled more and it needed another 2 inches of length. Really minute details. They were very dedicated to making sure everything functioned as well as possible, and anything extra that wasn’t essential was questioned.
The Biolite product manager was a guy named Greg Dacyshyn (now Senior VP of Creative for all Burton brands) who was very into the emerging streetwear culture and also knew about the lack of rule following that we did at Twist. We came to the conclusion that we needed to introduce a new category that was a brand within a brand that would kind of pick up where Twist left off. Troy and I went back to Colorado after one trip and I grabbed an Oxford dictionary and went through word by word, page by page, and wrote down every word that would make a good name for this new line. We settled on Analog at my bachelor party in Vegas and wrote up a loose business plan to present at a next season kick-off meeting we were doing. We actually pitched it as a multi-season brand, including streetwear at that point. They reluctantly agreed to let us work on the outerwear part first, and we started designing it. It was definitely outside of their comfort zone at that point, but that WAS the point.
We had recruited a bunch of team riders who were really into the idea like Jason Brown, Trevor Andrew, Chris Brown, and Jeffy Anderson. We showed up at a team round table meeting with our first prototypes and Jeffy literally jumped up on the table grabbing a fur-rimmed snorkel jacket sample and freaked out about how it was what he always wanted. Jake was there and he saw the reaction. To his credit, Jake always goes with the rider’s opinions on the product, and we had the green light to go ahead. We had all the samples made, all the branding, etc. etc. and did a sales meeting. Analog wasn’t really received that well inside the company. Few people understood it from the sales side, and even most retailers didn’t get it either. We had done the first all-over prints in snowboarding since the late 80’s, a lot of streetwear styling, and tons of leather trims and crazy art detailing. The result was not what we had hoped the response would be, but it ended up striking a chord with riders and it became hugely successful and became a leader in outerwear at that point. It didn’t become a streetwear line until later, even though that is what we had pitched to start. It was definitely exciting to pull off another company that meant a lot to a lot of people in snowboarding. We never had any stake in the brand though. Burton owned it fully, and so we never got any lasting benefits from it. I don’t even think the people that run the brand now have any idea where it came from or why.
Shay: After Burton, you and your brother created Section Outerwear. What were the reasons for going back into starting a new brand?
Trent: Even though we had the #1 job in snowboard outerwear design because Burton absolutely owned the market, it just didn’t allow us to do all the things we loved about having a brand. Design is only a small part of it. I actually really like the marketing and sales side a lot more, because I get to interact with the retailers and riders on a much deeper level. The other thing is that since we had refused to move there on the front end, it was hard to stay involved in a day to day manner. We never really fit in since we weren’t there every day. Greg also grew a lot there and he took over the creative direction towards the end of our 7 year stint. He’s done a really good job and managed so many things that just couldn’t be done from the outside. The other thing was that I really have an interest in all snowboard product, not just outerwear. Any ideas I had outside of apparel wouldn’t have really been able to happen just because of the structure. The driving force behind Section was also that I had a take on outerwear that I thought could kind of revolutionize a lot of the actual function of outerwear that would make it better for snowboarding when you’re actually out on the mountain. I guess the bottom line was we wanted to get back to our roots and expand our horizons. It actually went really well, but we faced a lot of the same issues we did back in the Twist days. We went out and found a partner that we thought was going to be good, but in the end they just didn’t get it. We took it back on our own, and then brought Ethan, Cole, and Technine into the mix. After a few years we blew through our new partner’s ability to finance the brand, and Troy and I were forced to go separate directions. He took Section and I stayed on the Technine side. At the same time we joined up with the Chamberlain brothers with Nomis and I launched SOUND with MFM. There are definitely no bad issues between me and Troy through all of this, and in a way I owe everything I’ve done to his early drive and desire, and his unwillingness to believe that anything is impossible. It’s been crazy for sure. So many ups and downs, all because of the love of snowboarding and the culture that surrounds it.
Shay: What other brands have you helped launch?
Trent: When we were doing Twist we also opened the Twist Snowboard Shop in Boulder with an old Wave Rave co-worker Lori Hon. It was a true boutique snowboard shop, and there was nothing else like it at the time. It was actually super high end and between Troy, Evan, and I we did all the interior design and filled it with Evan’s original art and Justin’s photography. We also financed and helped with the creative on of all of Justin’s movies up until the end of Twist, at which point he changed the name from Vertical Addictions to Absinthe Films. I would never claim to have started Absinthe, but it definitely got its start when we were doing Twist. From the movies we started The Twist Party/Freaks on Film which we used to premier all the biggest snowboard movies and the new Twist/Hostynek movies. It has since become known as The Reunion when we merged it together with Boulder’s most core shop Satellite. This will be the 18th consecutive year and we do it in Boulder in early October, and we use it now as the Colorado premier spot for our FODT movies, and we always show Absinthe’s latest too, because it is a great chance to hang with the old crowd and Justin. Hit up SatelliteBoardshop.com or Technine.com in late September and all the info will be there.
In the last few seasons, we started the Nomis outerwear program, re-launched the Technine outerwear program, and I started SOUND with Marco. They’re all pretty diverse from each other so it keeps us really busy.
Another project I’m working on now in addition to the Brandbase thing is SiegeAudio, which is a new headphone brand that a few of my longtime friends are starting with JP Walker, Jeremy Jones, Seth Huot, and Jon Kooley. I’m working on all their design and it’s really nice to step out and follow some of my other interests, most of all being music.
There are a handful of other things I’ve done outside of snowboarding. Anyone that has hung out in Boulder or Denver has probably heard of Hapa Sushi. Troy and I did all the interior design and graphic design for it and worked with Evan Hecox on the logo work. We tried to take a really new approach to sushi and see if we could brand a restaurant like a brand in our industry, and it’s been really successful.
Shay: What’s the best part about founding a company?
Trent: The feeling that you can build something out of literally nothing and work on it until it actually means something to people. Also trying to figure out how to do something a little different and bring a new level of quality to a new group of riders. There are a lot of things that really such about it too, especially before the brand really takes hold. No matter what, the first 3 years of any brand I’ve been involved in is pretty painful. Even if you have all the resources in the world behind it. It’s never easy, but it’s always worth it.
Shay: Of all the outerwear collections you helped launch, which one is your favorite?
Trent: I would say Twist, at least so far. Not because it was the best product I’ve ever made, because it is far from it. It was just such a pure thing and a labor of love for us. It was one of those things when everything just came together and I could really tell what we were doing was changing things in a lot of ways. We were flying by the seat of our pants and making it up as we went along. There was nobody to try to emulate. The more we rebelled against the norm, the more successful it was. It probably had a lot to do with my age and absolute lack of responsibility to anyone but myself and our crew.
On the flipside, I’m actually having a lot of fun now though with everything I’m doing. We’ve got a whole new group of riders to work with and I’m starting to see light at the end of the 3 year tunnel. Ask me again in a year or two and my answer may be different.
Shay: You helped pioneer the way in snowboard outerwear, what helped you become an early innovator?
Trent: It was mainly because of necessity. We didn’t like the styling of anything on the market, so we made our own. When we learned to make product with the right style, it was time to try to make it work better. We were on the front end of many features over the years that are considered normal now. Venting, waist gaiters, component jackets, cell phone pockets, mp3 compatible jackets, softshell, and a lot of other things were first seen in a lot of the lines we did. Beyond our personal riding necessities, we’ve always tried to listen to our riders and pay close attention to what they are doing. When Tarquin cut down his 170 into a low profile 150, took his highbacks off and banged out his stance, snowboarding changed almost overnight. He also changed his look by only riding in jeans and flannels. We had to match the changes our riders were doing on the outerwear side, or they wouldn’t wear our stuff. For Tarquin, we bought rolls of canvas, sent them to a company that laminated surgical gloves to waterproof them, and made them into the first snowboarding jeans so he wouldn’t have to suffer in regular jeans. We made flannels with DWR and lots of features that made them ride-able. When our team rider Lisa Vinceguerra got the first woman’s pro model on Checker, we decided to make women’s specific outerwear. Before that, girls wore men’s outerwear to snowboard. When Dave England quit Twist because we gave him jackets and pants with defective fabric and he got wet riding in Alaska, we pushed to work on the waterproof/breathable performance of our fabrics. These days, it’s been all about making products with a level of quality and performance that is above and beyond what anyone else is doing, while trying to keep it as progressive as possible while still being original. Our rider’s tastes and the trends they start happen fast, and it still pushes me to keep up. It’s fun though to work with such a diverse crew.
Shay: What is Brandbase and the reason behind it?
Trent: The idea is to try to build a company that would help smaller companies get up to critical mass faster and support them with a solid infrastructure and expand into global distribution, as well as to help them improve quality and delivery. I’ve been through the wringer so many times over the years I wanted to try to help other succeed with their small brands. So far it’s actually worked out pretty well, but it has not been totally smooth or easy. We get new brands in front of us on a weekly basis, but right now we have our plate pretty full, especially considering the economy. The strategy seems to be a good one so far, as we are one of the only companies I know of that had decent growth this year, even considering the economy. Like I said before, my partners are all the original founders of all the brands: Ethan Fortier (E-Stone) and Cole Taylor of Technine, Simon, Mat, and Andre Chamberlain from Nomis, Marc Frank Montoya in SOUND, and John Walbrecht, Doug Saunders, and Bert Stjernholm who are on the Sales, Ops, and Finance sides.
The other good thing is that we can do what we do and be as real as possible with the brands we have. We don’t have to be the biggest in each individual brand, but together, we can get where we need to be to be a healthy company. It’s no secret that Technine is either a brand that people absolutely love and are incredibly loyal to, or that they hate it and love to talk shit about it and the image. We honestly don’t care. Technine is what it is, and makes no apologies for it. Technine was born deep in the new school era and has been a breeding ground for some of the best talent that snowboarding has seen in that style of riding. It is a pure lineage from Tarquin Robbins to MFM to Lucas Magoon, and we don’t intend to change it. Keeping it real keeps it small. We don’t wear costumes at tradeshows or change our marketing to try to reach a super broad consumer base. We don’t really follow trends, and we’re not going to try to make tight pants just because it is a trend. I know this may sound kind of preachy, but we just focus on doing what we do for the riders who care. It’s funny because with all the shit people talk, we are actually the only company that has won Good Wood 5 years in a row. Not even Burton has done that. We really do care about snowboarding, first and foremost. We don’t always get it right, but the intention is always coming from the right place.
Shay: What is your role at Brandbase?
Trent: It is actually very diverse. I focus on product/design, but my day to day includes everything from product to sales to marketing, and everything in between. Everything we make filters through me in one way or another, if I don’t actually design it, and I have been in Asia 6 times this year alone. We also make snowboards in Austria, and travel globally for the sell-in season. We do shows in the US, but also ISPO in Germany, Japan, and pretty much anywhere else there is snow. The only problem is there just isn’t enough time to do everything, but we do a lot. I’m on a plane right now coming back from our FODT Hard to Earn premier in Socal. The role is nonstop, but I’m pretty sure it’s more of an addiction than a job at this point. I’ve been ruined more than once along the way, but somehow I always manage to keep doing what I do.
Shay: What are your thoughts on the progression of outerwear for snowboarders?
Trent: It’s definitely stalled out in some ways. There used to be huge competition between brands to push what is possible and to educate the consumer on the technical side. Lately it just seems like it’s gotten to be like any other product: mass produced most efficiently (cheaply) as possible for the maximum return. I feel most brands look very much the same. The only difference is the label. There are a few bright spots. Of course Holden has done a great job doing what they do. It just sucks that everyone is copying them, sometimes just knocking them off directly. In my eyes, the market only needs one REAL Holden, and I wish other brands would try to find their own voice. Airblaster is another cool thing because like it or not, they know who they are and live it. Even a few bigger brands are doing good things. I was riding with Mike West from 686 one day and I had serious envy for those Levi’s colab pants. Amazing. I think the biggest problem is just that snowboarding has become big business, and there are too many brands and not enough people who are riders first, and designers second. Brands need the outerwear category to help the bottom line, and they use leverage and hype to get the stuff in the door, regardless of what it means once a kid is actually out on the mountain. The best thing though is that it is super easy these days to start making clothes and snowboards and every day some kid starts something new that becomes something meaningful, and usually changes snowboarding much more than the big brands. I love that about snowboarding, skateboarding, and streetwear.
Shay: Do you see social media as an important future in marketing?
Trent: It is the future. There is no better way to connect with people and make them feel like a real part of a brand. We actually do care about our customers and their experience with our products. We do listen and use it as a way to make it better. I actually have a lot of friends that I’ve met when they’ve tracked me down personally on facebook or posting comments on blogs to let me know what they think. We are still small enough too that all of our social networking goes directly to one of us, whether it’s one of the Chamberlain’s , Ethan/Cole, or me. Even the SoundCrew@SoundSnowboarding.com address on our website goes directly to my inbox. One of the highlights of my work is interacting directly with the kids that spend real money to buy and ride our products. That’s a big responsibility and we don’t take it lightly.
Shay: What other jobs/companies have you worked at?
Trent: I think I have pretty much already covered that one. I have done a bunch of freelance over the years to keep things interesting, but my focus and 99% of my time has been on snowboarding. I’m actually terrified by the thought of having to get a real job. I honestly don’t think I could.
Shay: What’s your average day like at work?
Trent: I don’t really have days. It all just kind of runs together. I’m actually famous for having no idea what day it is. It’s kind of sad, but whatever. It could be worse.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working in the industry?
Trent: Wow. I can’t even touch that one. I think I’ve seen it all. Twice. I’ve made friends, lost friends, gotten mixed up in a murder trial, hung with celebrities, found my wife, and lost everything more than once. I can tell stories for days. I swear if I told you a lot of it you probably wouldn’t believe it anyway. William Blake said “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” That kind of sums it up. haha
Shay: How is working for Brandbase (any cool work events, work environment, job perks)?
Trent: It’s great. It’s just a little stressful being an owner because we have so many people counting on us around the world to not screw up. There are hundreds of people that in some way rely on us, and I don’t want anyone to lose their job because of bad decisions on our part. Especially these days with the economy being in the shitter. It’s rare people get to do exactly what they want to do, and I’m privileged to do what I do. The best perk is just getting to know everyone involved in this industry. I also love seeing people actually loving snowboarding on the product we work so hard to make.
Shay: What education/experience did you have before getting the job?
Trent: I have never had any real specific experience or training. I grew up in it and it’s always just been part of my life. I’ve made it all up as I went along, which probably also explains the sheer amount of highs and lows I’ve experienced.
Shay: What’s the best perk you’ve gotten from your job?
Trent: I guess traveling the world for the last 20 years has been really eye opening. That and all the friends I’ve made. To me that’s a perk. I also would have never met my wife if it wasn’t for my job. She was in the US Open in the early 90’s and needed a sponsor. I hooked her up and got hooked on her at the same time. Now I have kids that I can share snowboarding with. That’s the best one.
Shay: Any disadvantages of your job?
Trent: I’m guessing if I put this much time, effort, and sacrificed so much in any other line of work, I would probably be made of money by now. I’ve never really made it big financially from making snowboards and clothes, but there is a lot more to life than just money. I also have to travel so much it takes me away from my family. I think this will pay off though because my wife and kids love snowboarding and I can’t wait to start taking my family on some of the trips I take around the world.
Shay: Since you started in the industry, what’s been the biggest change?
Trent: For sure it’s the fact that it has changed from something you were involved in because you loved it, regardless of the money, to something that is a more cut-throat big business thing. There was a time in the early 90’s that really was a magical time in snowboarding. I’m not one of those people who think it sucks now by any means, but it will never be the same, especially now that we’ve lost so many brands and so many of the specialty shops that kept snowboarding on the right track. From the owners of the other brands, to the mags, the riders, to the shops, there was a common goal that everyone was fighting for. Now it’s much more about marketing than anything else. On the other hand, I have the opportunity to reach a broader audience and try to get more people to be hyped on snowboarding in much easier ways now than ever, so that balances it out. I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of people who truly care about snowboarding and riders these days, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s become a game of marketing and buying market share first and foremost with many brands. On a positive note, rider progression is the real constant change. I honestly can’t believe the level a lot of riders are at. It’s amazing.
Shay: What’s the busiest time of year for you?
Trent: Unfortunately I have no down time. When we’re not developing product, we’re selling it. We’re always racing the clock. It’s an all day, all night situation right now.
Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
Trent: Experience, hands down.
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to work in the industry?
Trent: Do it, but for the right reasons. If you think it’s a good way to get to ride more, then you’re probably in for a big surprise. Especially if you start your own brand. If you can get everything done and still have time to ride, then that is success. If you’re in it to get rich, then it’s a better bet to do just about anything else, and there are plenty of career paths where the “take-no-prisoners and get rich” mentality would be an asset. In snowboarding that just makes you an asshole. If you love it, and think you can add to it in a positive way, then why not give it a shot? Also, humility and respect go a long way. If you burn bridges, or talk too much shit, you won’t last very long. If I would have spent all those years at Twist trashing Burton, then I wouldn’t have been given that opportunity and I would have probably been forced to get a regular job to make ends meet. If you do get a chance to work at a brand, don’t assume you have any idea what it has taken to get it there or be so cocky that you think everything they are doing is wrong and you are going to fix it. It’s easy to think you know what’s going on from an outsider perspective and not actually have any clue of the reality. Yes, every day we hear that we need better teams, better marketing, better grass roots, better products, etc. The talent isn’t in stating the obvious and thinking that is somehow making a contribution. The real talent is in talking less and doing more, and doing it as well as you can.
Shay: Final thoughts?
Trent: I wanted to mention a new project I’m working on that is really important to me. There are so many people who have literally built snowboarding from nothing to a global movement in just a few decades, many of which have now been forgotten. I approached the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame with the idea to put together a comprehensive history of the contributions of all the Colorado people who made snowboarding what it is. From the first modern snowboard contest, to things as commonplace today as highbacks, the pipe dragon, snowboard parks, wide snowboards, and even the acceptance of snowboarding at “ski” resorts, there is an amazing story that I’ve been waiting for years for someone to tell. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that nobody is going to do it, so I’m just going to try to handle it myself. It will be a long-term open ended project, and I could use help from anyone who is willing to contribute. Anyone that cares enough to get involved can hit me up on facebook and join the Colorado Snowboard Archive. I just threw up a groups page so I had something done when this interview gets posted. It will definitely start to take shape and we’ll have our own site soon.
My guess is if you actually read this entire interview, you care enough to get involved. It’s going to be an online project backed by physical contributions to the museum’s collection, with the hope of some day getting a real exhibit together. It’s an opportunity for everyone who loves snowboarding to tell their stories and add to the history, and upload photos/video, etc. I really want to hear from everyone that wants to contribute. Any leads on things I may not have known about are also very welcome. It’s also a hope to get one thing started covering Colorado, and hopefully people from other areas will want to document their scene. I hope to make it a catalyst for a broader documentation of snowboarding in general. I know once you get people talking about themselves, it’s hard to get them to stop, so they will definitely give us the full story. From reading this marathon interview, that’s probably pretty obvious. Haha
*Pictures courtesy of Trent Bush, E-Stone Fortier and Justin Hostynek.