Company Callout: The Faction Collective is progressing the skier’s vision
Two hours outside of Geneva, Switzerland, lies the mountain village of Verbier. Here, among the chalets, restaurants and ski shops, is the headquarters of The Faction Collective, or Faction as the company is more commonly known. With a deck overlooking the town’s central plaza, the HQ is less like an office and more like a ski dormitory. Inside the two-story space is everything you’d need to live, work and play in the mountain town, including rooms on the second floor with beds for employees, interns and visitors alike. Downstairs is a tuning room packed full of skis both new and old, a cooperative workspace where all of the company’s products are designed and a small kitchen where I’m sitting at a table with the man behind it all, Tony McWilliam.
McWilliam is an affable guy with a thick accent that’s indicative of his Australian upbringing. Originally from Melbourne, he earned a degree in industrial design only to find a lackluster job market awaiting him on the other side of graduation. After a few winters of ski bumming around Canada and Europe, he bought a two-way ticket to Geneva, Switzerland. His return flight was never used.
As McWilliam became deeply engrained in the ski world, he began to feel that brands were losing touch with people and that ski construction wasn’t meeting skiers’ needs. He moved to Verbier, an attractive option for both the ski and work possibilities, and a short time later, he decided to put his design skills to use on building skis.
Tim McChesney sends it in La Clusaz. Photo by Gitgo
“I found this little factory south of Evian, just below Lake Geneva,” he says. “It was about 2003 when I went over there and talked to them, and we kind of designed skis together because I didn’t really know what I was doing. We made about 40 pairs and sold them to friends.”
As McWilliam flirted with the idea of starting his own ski company, he registered the domain factionskis.com and continued tinkering with designs, periodically being forced to switch factories as they shut down due to lack of business. In 2006, McWilliam met Alex Hoye, a London-based investor who was in Verbier for the winter. “We just met randomly in a bar,” explains McWilliam. “We started talking, and he was interested in the business plan I had put together, which was very average.”
While the plan may have seemed rudimentary, the business-savvy Hoye saw potential in it. With his initial investment, he became McWilliam’s partner and production efforts were ramped up. They found a reliable factory in Poland, and as the business began to grow, McWilliam recruited friends to work for Faction. Since then, the company has steadily gained momentum, and over the last eight years, has added employees in London and Breckenridge in addition to Verbier.
The goal of the company has always been to hit three marks: versatility, affordability and sustainability. Before Faction came about, McWilliam and his friends were your average ski bums who would have to scrape together cash for a pair of new skis. Those days aren’t that far behind him, and he still aims to make skis that will perform to the highest level without breaking the bank.
Tony McWilliam. Photo by Gitgo
“We’ve always had this philosophy that we want everything to be fairly priced to the people we were at the time— ski bums. And if we’re going to design a 112-mm-waisted ski, we want to design it so it’s versatile enough to use everywhere and durable enough to use for two or three years.”
With the help of athlete input, these design principles have evolved into a line of skis that includes more than two dozen different models, all with varying rocker profiles suited for today’s progressive skiers.
From the office in Verbier, a new design can be drawn up, sent to the factory in Poland and put on snow for testing in as little as three weeks. The crew then pushes each model to its limits and tweaks the designs for the best performance.
In addition to carefully scrutinizing the performance of each new model, the company’s environmental impact is also carefully analyzed. Faction employs a full-time analyst whose sole responsibility is to track the life cycles of its various products and processes to see where improvements can be made.
“You can use a recycled sidewall for a ski, but if the amount of energy it actually takes to make that product is more than making it from scratch, then a lot of the time there’s no benefit,” says McWilliam. “It’s so tricky, and you need to research it before you can really make an informed decision on what you’re trying to do.”
With a firm position established in the hardgoods sector, Faction’s foray into apparel came last year with a new line of outerwear. The company outsourced some of the work at first but has since taken it all in-house.
“When we first started off, it was a bit like, ‘How do we try to keep everyone happy?’” says McWilliam. “But now we don’t want to keep everyone happy. We want to design stuff that we want to ski in, and I think we can actually do that and have some character to it, some style to it. And it’s only going to get better. We’ve got a lot of great ideas for 2015-16 apparel, and we’re also going to start working on midlayers.”
While I’m at the office, Simon D’Artois stops by. He’s fresh off a third-place finish in the halfpipe at the SFR Tour in Tignes, France, and has come through Verbier to visit with the crew. As he drinks beers with a few of the guys, they chat about the design of the CT 1.0, D’Artois’ weapon of choice. A longtime team rider, he’s been participating in these discussions for a number of years, and they talk about different millings of the core and how it will affect the skis’ performance and binding retention. “I try to give lots of input on the skis,” he says. “I want to work with Faction to build the best product on the market.”
Faction HQ. Photo by Gitgo
D’Artois is part of a diverse and talented team that is among the best in the game. From heavyweights like Candide Thovex, Adam Delorme and Tim McChesney to up-and-comers like Dan Hanka, there’s no shortage of talent in the Faction lineup. When asked what he looks for in team riders, McWilliam says he values personality and drive in addition to ski talent. “I’m trying to progress their vision of skiing,” he says. “You get guys like Laurent Gauthier who’s got a very distinctive skiing style, and the way he looks at stuff is really interesting and unique, but it’s completely different from someone like Adam [Delorme] and what he’s trying to do.
“I don’t think we want to get a whole heap more people on the team. We just prefer to work with the people we have and support them better and actually help them get what they’re trying to do out in front of a wider audience.”
To that end, the company produced the We Are the Faction Collective web series, which debuted last fall. The series showcased the individual style of each team member and garnered close to 350,000 views over three well-produced episodes. With more installments to come, the company will continue to promote the efforts of its capable team and solidify its identity as one of the most progressive brands in the industry.