Student product-promoter Philip Holton '15, left, and designer Nate Taylor '16, to the right of Holton, pitch their product designs on campus recently.
Popular images in religious art of the sword-wielding and devil-stomping Archangel Saint Michael suggest a guy who might know a thing or two about "shredding."
That was the thinking of Nate Taylor '16, a Saint Michael's College business and art major from Farmington CT, in November when he submitted his Photoshop-rendered original design featuring a classic Archangel image for possible use on a line of personalized snowboards and skis.
He was responding to an email from Philip Holton '15, of Nashua, NH, a leader of Saint Michael's popular campus ski and snowboard club, informally called "ShredMC." Holton recently had plugged in through a pal with Shelburne-based entrepreneur Jason Levinthal's test of a market for college-themed skis and snowboards and was seeking a read on potential designs and customers on campus. He says Taylor's design instantly stood out from other submissions and soon the two decided to collaborate on trying to sell the idea to fellow students.
To ski/snowboard enthusiasts the world over, "shredding" suggests the sweet sound of a hard carve in the snow, but also a certain attitude. Phil says he took one look at the Archangel in Nate's design and figured it had the pop, power and pizzazz to stir broad student interest. In the classic Saint Michael image, he saw a figure with an extreme and all-in vibe likely to resonate in the mountains, particularly with students wanting to represent a college bearing the Archangel's name.
Levinthal, a ski business entrepreneur rooted in Vermont, founded the popular ski brand Line before leaving in 2014 to create a new brand called J Skis. One of Holton's pals at a nearby college met Levinthal by chance at an area ski resort last year and the resulting association developed into an internship for that student, who at his mentor's urging, decided to take the idea to ski/snowboard clubs at area colleges. Holton liked the concept, and so became the Saint Michael's contact as a club officer and friend of the intern.
"Jason Levinthal had been telling my friend about his idea to release another company called Customboards.co, and local colleges seemed like the best place to test the ideas," Holton said. "Jason basically told him to ‘see how far you can take it,' which is what I've been trying to do here."
Before Christmas break, Holton and Taylor set up a table in Alliot Student Center lobby and started asking passing students and friends what they thought of the catchy design for both snowboards and skis – a design that also incorporates a sort of slope-side "Ten Commandments" that were brainstormed by club members at a meeting. Those "Commandments," proclaimed in archaic-style lettering in the design, are:
- Send it
- Keep it buttery
- Never be afraid to hike it
- Hug the tree line
- Always tip your driver
- Keep a homie close always
- Make every run count
- No whining on the mountain
- Call your drop
Holton and Taylor say initial response has been encouraging with close to 50 people already showing some interest before Christmas break when they anticipated some sales as gifts. They'll be collecting orders until January 13, and will be completing those orders through their Facebook page, phone, email and Instagram @shred_mc. Holton and Taylor also will be around campus to collect orders and hand out forms, and they plan to send alumni order forms via email.
"From what I've heard, our school is doing the best by far in getting orders of all the area colleges," Holton said. "We're hoping to get wholesale pricing in bulk, so the more people we have, the cheaper it will be." He said the price now for the products is $330 for a snowboard and $420 for skis. "That's already incredibly cheap," he says, compared with comparable good-quality custom products he's seen. With between 200 and 300 ShredMC club members at Saint Michael's -- it's the largest student club by far on campus -- they see strong market potential.
Taylor says he took graphic design art classes at Saint Michael's that helped him create and execute the Archangel design. He pointed out that the bottoms of the boards and skis also feature a colorful and playful design evocative of stained glass, in keeping with the saint theme.
Holton sees wider and longer-term opportunities from what both students consider a valuable business experience. "One thought was even to sell posters with the graphics for walls in dorms if somebody can't afford the board," he said. "My hope is that this will take off in the next couple years and that everyone in the club will want to keep doing it as a legacy-type thing, maybe with different designs for different years."