Above: Faction athlete Candide Thovex racks up millions of YouTube views while inspiring others to face their fears and try new things. (photo by Christoffer Sjöström)
Faction athletes test gear in extreme locations for day-to-day use.
(photos courtesy of The Faction Collective)
Alex Hoye (MBA 1996) grew up skiing in the mountains of Idaho but switched to snowboarding in his 20s. Skiing was for moms and dads. Snowboarders did cool tricks and sported hip-hop-style pants and parkas with graffiti graphics.
“It didn’t have to be that way—two skis are more versatile than a board,” says Hoye. “But for a long time, the major ski manufacturers just kept doing what worked last year.” Meanwhile, snowboarding companies were pushing the limits of production technology and design.
The Faction Collective, where Hoye is cofounder and CEO, has built its business on bringing that same innovative spirit to freeride and freestyle skis that can be used to navigate obstacles and jumps in terrain parks and away from established runs. Based in Verbier, Switzerland, Hoye and cofounder Tony McWilliam started the company in 2006—the same year Hoye tried skiing again. Faction skis can be found cutting clean turns down sheer mountain faces, launching off snow-capped boulders, and even sliding along stair railings in the middle of a city park.
Faction cofounders Alex Hoye (left) and Tony McWilliam at the company’s offices in Verbier, Switzerland.
It sounds like a niche market—and it is—but Hoye’s strategy for building Faction embraces that aura of distinction (“for the few” is one tagline) while leveraging several key retailing trends. “The average size of an interesting, exciting brand is smaller and more premium than it used to be,” he says. “People care about the inspiration behind the ski and who is making it—there’s a direct dialogue now with the customer.” In other words, it’s the artisanal approach to sporting equipment. “In the future I think we’re going to see more $20 to $200 million brands than you will $2 billion brands,” adds Hoye. “There’s a redefinition of what ‘niche’ means.” (His long-term plan puts Faction brand sales somewhere in the middle of that first band of revenues.)
User experience plays a key role in differentiating Faction’s product, with communication feeding directly into product design and manufacturing in a loop measured in weeks and months instead of years more typical at larger ski manufacturers. “We don’t look at a manufacturing plant as a hole to fill every year,” says Hoye. “It’s more a question of observing what people are trying to do when they ski, and figuring out how to make it better and more fun using physics and material science.” Balsa, beech, poplar, flax, Kevlar, titanium, and carbon are all ingredients Faction uses in highly tuned recipes for just the right balance of weight and torsional rigidity—the degree of give that can make it easier to navigate deep fields of backcountry powder or chopped piste.
User experience and high-tech materials feed directly into Faction’s product design.
Faction also hits the aspirational note so many products use to their advantage. You may not be interested in leaving the trail to land a kangaroo flip, but wouldn’t you like to feel that same sense of adventure and possibility on a groomer? And if you can’t always be out on the slopes, wearing a Faction parka might give you that feeling when you’re walking down the street. “That’s why we say our mission is to create tools of escape—escape is a feeling you take with you. It’s true that our audience skews toward millennials,” Hoye says, “but there’s something about today’s 40- and 50-something moms and dads that’s different: Often their number one style influencer is their teenage kid.” Or maybe it’s a Faction athlete like legendary freestyle skier Candide Thovex, who stars in mind-bending digital episodes in the “One of Those Days” series (35 million views and counting) or Estonian Kelly Sildaru, the 14-year-old phenom who became the youngest athlete to win gold at the 2016 Winter X Games.
Hoye has big plans for Faction—but not too mainstream. Faction products are sold in 35 countries in 450 retail stores and online. The company grew 70 percent last season and expects sales of about $7 million this year. “The ethos behind Faction is: Get out there. This isn’t about being the racer who wins the race by a hundredth of a second. It’s about getting up on the mountain with friends, facing your fears, and doing stuff that doesn’t work sometimes,” says Hoye. “This is why we do what we do. So far, it’s working.”
From Baker Library:
Class of MBA 1996, Section C