Holden’s Co-founder Mikey LeBlanc and CEO Ben Pruess Discuss The Brand’s Past, Present, and Future

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Holden co-founder Mikey LeBlanc enjoying the new company location in Los Angeles

Story & Photos by George Crosland

For more than a decade, Holden has carved out a market for not only itself, but an entire genre of snowboard outerwear. Holden helped lead the charge towards freeing snowboarders from the often stale, ski-oriented fashions that were the norm.

Following its success in the snowboard outerwear market, the brand is now venturing into the four-season apparel market with a line of apparel that will hit shelves in Spring 2014. To facilitate the transition from a winter-based brand to a year-round brand, Holden recently moved from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles, California and hired industry vet Ben Pruess to lead the charge as CEO.

We caught up with Co-founder Mikey LeBlanc and Holden CEO Ben Pruess to learn more about the brand’s past, present, and future.

How would you describe Holden as a brand?

ML: We make clothing that’s designed to be fashionable, of good quality and style, fits really well, and timeless in design. Timeless means you can wear it in 10 years and still feel good about it. We use a lot of eco-friendly stuff. Outside of that, we make clothes that we want to wear.

BP: Holden is an apparel brand, not just a snowboard brand. If it was a snowboard brand we would make snowboards and bindings but we make clothing first and foremost. We try to make clothing that is disruptive and that is an expression of a life well led. We try to encourage people to think for themselves, to express themselves to feel confident and to pursue their passions and visions. Mikey and Scott created this brand because they had the confidence and passion to go create something. The way we can repay that is to encourage our consumers and give them a platform that’s authentic and genuine.

What separates Holden from other brands?

ML: “Core” brands like Holden started from the heart to make something—customers are attracted to that. Holden makes goods that we want to make and no one else makes, rather than just making stuff to sell. Let’s be honest, we’re in business, we want to sell product, but we can and will continue to make goods that we want to wear…that’s authentic.

Being a top pro, what motivated you to start Holden?

ML: I wanted to start Holden because I was into feeling comfortable in my clothing. I never was a fancy dresser and I am not into super crazy clothing, but when boxes from sponsors came it was this ridiculous gear—it fit horrible, it worked ok as far as waterproofing, but not great, and it made me look like a “snowboarder” or at least what some designer thought a snowboarder should look like.

I wanted to make gear that you could wear around town and feel fine in, and then wear it to the mountain to ride. I wanted it to fit well, move well and look cool.

The initial people that helped me start the brand where Scotty Whitlake and Scott Zergebel—they saw that vision and wanted that change snowboarding too.

You guys have been rolling solid for 10 years and are now expanding into a four-season brand. Tell us more about that decision.

BP: Moving to a four-season business isn’t so much a change as a transition—taking what these guys have done for the last 10 years; their perspective on timeless quality, eco-friendlier attributes, commitment to progressive designs, and contemporary styles and bringing it off the hill and into other aspects of consumers’ lives.

The fact is, we all love snowboarding and do it as much as we can, but it only happens so many times a year and at one specific place, a resort, with the exception of some city and backcountry riding. The rest of the time people are going to work, going skating, riding bikes, going surfing and so on. Going four-seasons gives us a chance to connect with our consumers more often. For retailers who know and love what we do but can only fill their shelves one season a year with our product, they will now have more options, more connections, more solutions.

Even if you snowboard a lot, say over 100 days a year, eight hours a day, there’s still a lot of time left in your life.

BP: Exactly, and there’s the conundrum. If we make the products we intend to make, timeless and quality, then people don’t need to update them very often. You sell somebody a jacket they love but they only get to use it in a specific context and only so many days a year. The fact is that if you like what Holden does, you like the look and the feel of our products, it’s only natural to want to extend that relationship.

Why did you decide to move to LA after being in Portland for a decade?

ML: There are a couple of reasons. Change is good and we are excited to explore new opportunities. One of the opportunities is turning Holden from a winter-based, one-season brand into a four-season lifestyle brand. What we want to make is similar to what we make for winter; fashion-forward technical apparel that you can cross over from the mountains to the city to the surf.

Why can that be better accomplished in Los Angeles?

ML: It’s not just about location; it’s about opportunities for the brand—employees and being in the mix with the other brands. Moving forward there’s going to be production possibilities down there as well.

Holden has helped change the face of snowboard-outwear design in the past 10 years. What are your thoughts on that?

ML: Asking other people would probably be a better way to answer that, but if you’re asking me directly then yes, I absolutely believe Holden has changed the direction of the style of snowboarding. We’ve had competitors copying not only our style and fabrics but even showing pieces as their “Holden” piece. It’s dropped off because everyone has been doing it. We’ve shifted into ski and we’ve seen plenty of other brands kind of follow suit.

BP: Humbly, we accept that we were disruptive to the space and we acknowledge being a different interpretation of what outerwear and snowboard goods can look like. There are a lot of like-minded brands in the community who, just by being aware and tuned into what we do probably inadvertently or intentionally have been inspired by what Holden does, and we appreciate that. It’s great that people in other parts of the community have been inspired by what we do and take it to other sports. It also shows how credible it is for Holden to transition ourselves into other seasons. There are a lot of great brands that inspire us to do things. We always try to have an open minded approach to not just our industry but the creative narrative as a whole.

Going forward, how do you stay relevant yet true to the original vision?

ML: The original vision of the brand is to make people happy and healthier. Happy because they are wearing something that they are comfortable in. Healthier not only because it’s keeping them warm and dry, but it’s also eco friendly in many cases. I think that goal is a nice place to shift to four-seasons because it does not just limit us to snow. We are into stuff that’s is not really on trend, it’s kind of timeless. Our goal is to make goods that surpass time. I can go home to my Dad’s house in Maine and pull out an old LL Bean shirt that’s timeless…we tend to gravitate towards basics that people really wanna wear

What brands influence you?

ML: Everyone who works here has different influences and that’s a cool thing. For me personally, I would say Patagonia—they’ve made radical moves with eco friendly stuff, they have a quality product, great warranty, and I respect the owner. Outside of that, there’s a ton of brands; Baker with that raw…there’s so many good brands

What are the biggest things you’ve learned through the years?

ML: Man, that’s a huge question [laughter] but the most important has been is learning to listen…. to listen better. Listening to your customers, retailers, co-workers—I can only get better at that, it’s a never-ending practice