From half-pipes to headphones, X Games fixture Keir Dillon gets by with a little help from his frends.
When snowboarding phenom Keir Dillon showed up in Park City, Utah, for the World Superpipe Championships in 2001, he knew he was going to have to step up his game. “I’d been kind of stinking for a while, and I was under a lot of pressure from sponsors,” he recalls, while on break from one of his new gigs, announcing the X Games for ESPN. When the snow settled, Dillon had won the contest, and an image of him floating nearly 20 feet in the air, mid-McTwist and shirtless, would wind up on the cover of Transworld Snowboarding. “I met my wife two days later,” he says. “It was, like, all things coming together to completely change my life forever.”
Fast-forward five years, and his career would take another 180. “It was actually here at X Games,” says Dillon, 35. He and fellow snowboarder Danny Davis had failed to qualify for the finals. “We were back at the hotel, watching the Games on TV, feeling frus- trated,” when over the course of the night, they decided to start a company. They recruited a few more half-pipe pals and decided on a brand name, Frends, the missing “I” intentional, a nod to group spirit. “When I look back, it was actually just a glorified sticker company,” Dillon says.
Late last year, they launched their first serious product, headphones made of soft white leather and rose gold hardware that are now covering the ears of practically every fashionable female music fan in existence. Frends has since expanded its inventory to include a silver-and-black version and delicate jewelry-like earbuds.
At the start, Dillon explains, the goal was to change the rela- tionship between women and electronics. “We asked simple questions, like, ‘As far as func- tionality, what do women need? Aesthetically, what do they want? And how do we blend these together to allow them
to emotionally connect with the product and see it as a designer accessory?’” The line, available at Apple and Best Buy stores among other electronics and fashion retailers, also includes a denim version for men with memory-foam ear cushions wrapped in burnt-orange leather.
The Carlsbad, California-based CEO has come a long way from his blue-collar upbringing near the Poconos. “My dad worked in sandblasting, really gnarly labor,” Dillon says. But he was also an artist, skilled in oil painting, and a ski bum. His older brother skate- boarded, and “snowboarding just seemed like the next transi- tion,” Dillon says. At 15, a Burton snowboard rep approached him and asked if he would like to be sponsored. “I was like, ‘Cool, what does that mean?’ And he was like, ‘Here’s a free snowboard.’ When you’re 15, that’s pretty much close to retiring.” Even though Frends keeps him busy these days, Dillon does manage to hit the slopes every now and then. “Of course I love going out with friends and cruising, but strategizing a new campaign or fixing something that’s broken makes me feel more excited than standing at the top of the half-pipe on a contest run,” he says. “The whole concept of Frends was, ‘Let’s live life to the fullest.’ We wanted to champion this idea that anything is possible, and if you’re going to reach your dreams, do it with your friends and have a good time doing it. To me, winning X Games was kind of I-centric. This company is more about the embodiment of creativity—why we got into snowboarding.”