An Interview with Lethal Descent
Looking at the guys sitting across the room from me, one would hardly think that they are business partners/owners of a ski outerwear company that is growing in popularity. Fresh out of highschool, Kevin Slattery and Sam Shaheen have been developing the Lethal Descent Clothing line for over three (3) years now. They first began turning the ideas they had on paper into a tangible product when they were just 16 and 17, respectively. Unsatisfied with the clothing styles available to them at the time, the two set out to create a baggier, taller, yet proper fitting ski outerwear. “We make what we like” has been the philosophy that LDC was founded on and has been driving the company forward. Growing in small steps each year, Lethal Descent has kept their focus on growing smart instead of being determined to immediately turn a profit, working hard to improve by developing strong relationship with their suppliers and manufacturer in order to provide the best possible product they can deliver. The process to do so has not been a straightforward road to victory; problems with a prior manufacturer and a practically non-existent marketing budget have been just a few of the barriers that THE two have had to break through to get to the point they are at now. Determined to continually offer a fresh look with each years offering of outerwear Kevin and Sam sat down with me to go over the current product line and show the product they are currently developing for the 2010/11 season, as well as answer some interview questions.
How does it feel to see someone in your gear?
SS – Seeing someone I don’t know in LD is the best feeling in the world; it is the reason why I put so much effort into LDC. Sure, I love getting to design my own outerwear but there is nothing more gratifying than knowing that other people (from all over the world) are just as stoked as I am on the product I helped to create. It’s sweet man!
KS – Seeing someone in our gear when Iâ€™m out shredding is one of the best things ever. We have friends and team riders that are in it all the time but when I see someone that I have never met before who thought our gear was tight enough to spend their hard earned money on it makes me so stoked. Knowing that there are people out there that have no idea who we are that are still hyped enough to rock our gear is a trip. I see a kid at Keystone on a regular basis that still rocks his Hotbox jacket from year 1 and it has to be one of the best feelings because not only has his gear held up for this long but even 3 years later he still likes it enough to wear it every time he shreds. The feeling is both of accomplishment and the desire to make the product better and better for the people who think they may be taking a risk buying from a smaller company.
SS – Well said.
What direction is the outerwear headed for next year? Waterproof rating, features, etc…?
SS – It will be really, really dope.
KS – We are just trying to put the next foot in front of the other.
SS – There is a high demand for high quality products, and we are here to deliver. LDC is improving the fabric to a full 20k-20k rating, which will really help us out in regions that get a wetter snow than Colorado, like the PNW. Other key features include fully-taped seams and ykk aqua-zip waterproof zippers, not to mention the most durable shell fabric on the market.
What sizes will be available?
SS – There will be a Large option now. The introduction of a Lrg sizing option will open up our customer base to segments that we weren’t hitting before. Guys and girls who aren’t tall enough for the current sizes of the gear. The Large sizing will also be more functional for backcountry skiing, around town, etc..
KS – It is much more of a proper tall fit, it’s not exponientially bigger in every dimension. Xlt willl fit taller skiers much better than an xl, without making them look ridiculously wide, it is a very specific fit that we have and are very proud of it.
Insulated or shells?
KS/SS – We make everyday outerwear, giving you the ability to layer up during January, and to ride in just a t-shirt underneath in spring time. Most people don’t have the budget to justify having multiple coats, and what we produce gives you the option to regulate your temperature through wearing layers or opening vents, making it more versatile.
Who does the majority of the designing?
KS – It is completely 50-50, while coming up with our designs we’ll definitely throw things back and forth in order to get each others thoughts. We encourage each other to bring up ideas, provide concerns, even over the smallest of details. What each of us is doing for the design is for the best, and we understand that we are both striving to put out the best piece of outerwear we can.
SS – We share the design process, it’s not like we took 45 designs that we have sketched out and took a piece from one, and a part from another, to make the ‘ideal’ set for what we are going to release. We design and modify, and design and modify, and design and modify until we see exactly what we like to create a cohesive piece.
KS – We’ve probably unknowningly already started designing next next years gear, looking at what we’ve made, what we want to change,etc… The overall process is very back and forth, describing what I like and then listening to what he likes, etc… nothing matches face-to-face, it requires a large amount of communication and the occasional argument. Overall it is really step-by-step, overcoming each obstacle one at a time.
SS – Rome was not built in a day. You can pretty much be assured that every feature on your outerwear has been argued over for hours, it gets pretty heated.
Last year there were some issues with the manufacturer, causing supply problems with the XLT pieces. Saying it is difficult to resolve something like this from thousands of miles away would be an understatement, how difficult has it been working with a manufacturer overseas without the ability to oversee the production and ensuring quality control?
SS – Infinitely difficult. Last year with the XLT issues, I remember the email that I received from our manufacturer letting us know and I literally punched a wall. There is a certain point where you believe that the person you are working with holds the same ideals that you do, but when that breaks down it hurts both your business and yourself emotionally. We have long since cut ties with that factory. Our current manufacturer has shown he is on the same page with us concerning designs, through them we can ensure production of our outerwear at an exceptional quality level. They are willing to accommodate us and our designs, and to create a situation that will be mutually beneficial. It is based off of respect, and understanding the processes and barriers that both ends encounter to create final product.
KS – It gives us confidence in the manufacturing, and allowed us to focus on other areas now that we have a like-minded company working with us.
SS – It was also a learning process that we truly appreciate, one I am sure will help us down the road.
KS – Exactly, It’s been a lot of trial and error to get to a place where we are comfortable.
How will LDC be distributed for 2011, online sales or will you have retailers selling your product? Is there a larger amount of work selling to retailers?
KS/SS – We are working on getting some product picked up in shops both here in America and overseas. We truly enjoy the personal side of selling off our own website, but while there is a certain level of convenience in being able to deal with our customers directly, it does not compare to being able to see the fabric, cut, and colors in person. There are so many things that you can really only experience by being in a shop and looking at it right in front of you. There is definitely more work involved with getting into shops between getting a hold of buyers, negotiating numbers and then working with them along the way but shops are the core of the sport and in the long run the bit of extra work is well worth while.Â
LDC is available in the traditional XL as well as the option to choose a ‘taller’ XLT option. It’s no surprise that newschool skiers prefer baggier clothing, is there really enough demand for a longer, baggier fit to justify an XLT sizing option?
KS – Specifically how it fits, not particularly that its just baggy or oversized, but how the actual fit of the clothing is. I like my clothes to fit differently, not just larger in every dimension.
SS – 60-70% on fit for me, it definitely drives our designing. Concerning DEMAND, it is certainly there and has continued to grow. XLT jackets were the first to sell out this past year.
KS – The XL size is made to fit the standard size male. Our XLT option will provide the same fit on an above average height person, as well as give a taller/baggier fit on those who would normally wear the XL.
Softgoods/streetwear has been an area that LDC seems to have not put a large amount of focus towards, how come, and are there any plans to change this for next year?
SS/KS we are in the process of creating Lethal Descent Skate, street/hard wear targeted at both skaters and skiers alike. Separate entities gives us the ability to be creative within the specific lines. It will also help us support different cultures, skiing and skateboarding, which often crossover. Many skiers skateboard in the summer months, and the LD Skate-line will create a symbiotic relationship between the two. We have put a lot of time into the line that will include tall tees, fitted caps, denim jeans and (once we finish some thorough prototyping) skate decks. Also look for some softgoods in next year’s winter line!
Lay out the LDC Team for 2010/11
KS – Tim has been killing it
SS – Very excited to see what he can do!
KS – Will has been very consistent throughout, after skiing with him late-season at A-basin years ago, it became evident that he would continue to progress in the years to come. Good friend, great rider.
SS – It’s unfortunate that his injury has set him back, but I can’t wait for next year. Adam Battersby, John Kutcher, Antwan Mayet, Lois Lacoste and Patic Hughes are also getting it done in LDC. From the hot laps of PC to the French Alps, these kids are holding it down for us.
What criteria do you look at when considering sponsoring an athlete?
KS – We look for skiers that agree with our personal philosophies, someone we can consider more than just an athlete wearing the LDC logo. Obviously someone who is pushing their skiing, improving and can help our brand grow along with them. It is important for the situation to be mutually beneficial. We are good friends with all of our riders.
SS – Frenchies are steezy
Do you find it harder being a smaller company to afford a bigger name to represent you?
SS – I think its not only hard being a smaller, independent company, but being an outerwear company as well creates an expectation of how much support we need to give to our athletes. Hardgoods sponsors, in theory, move the most money and therefore are the major contributors to each athlete’s support. We are trying to foster our company’s growth, along with helping our athletes that are on their way up and understand we have a long road ahead of us before we will be able to offer athletes what they truly deserve.
KS – We are both trying to pay the bills, we want to get to a point where we can give them the support they deserve.
SS – The caliber of athletes available to us based on our budget is certainly not in our favor.
LDC has often been compared to Saga Outerwear, and most recently to First Drop and Trew outerwear. What sets your company apart from these other startup ski outerwear manufacturers in your eyes?
KS/SS – We have a different perspective on outerwear than many companies do specifically because of our age, I was 17 and Kevin was 16 when we started LDC and that really really makes a difference. We produce outerwear because it is our passion, not to support ourselves. We make outerwear that we want to wear. Our passion and perspective are unique to LDC.
Recently LDC participated in a fairly unconventional product test against their direct competitors. This ‘test’ evolved from a simple thread on NS, proposing that the gear be tested by an independent third party (himself) and that he would put each piece of gear through a ‘gauntlet’ style of tests. What made you decide to enter your product into this “independent gear test”?
SS – We make all of our outerwear in very limited quantities, and contrary to what some people may think, every piece of outerwear in very valuable to us. Giving a suit away to Jon was an not easy, straight-forward decision. That being said though, Jon has done an awesome job of testing all of the gear and is keeping up a really informative gear review site, www.independentgeartest.com. We are stoked to be a part of it. Check it out!
KS – Definitely stoked to be a part of the Independent Gear Test, Jon is doing a really professional job and he is living up to exactly what he said he would by performing rigorous tests backed up with in-depth feedback and findings. The reason we wanted to get into it was because of the benefit that everyone involved could get out of it. We learn what can be improved for next year and then potential buyers get a clearer perspective on the subtleties of the gear.Â Â
Any last thoughts?
SS – Support skiing and buy products made by skiers!