The extreme sports legend redefined the culture of snowboarding. As he launches WHITESPACE, White cites Abloh’s lasting impact on his creative vision for the active lifestyle brand.
Shaun White’s dream came true. Well, sort of.
Most recognized for winning 13 X Game Gold Medals as a snowboarder – not to mention three Olympic Gold Medals in the same sport – his original ambitions in skate played second fiddle where professional acclaim was concerned.
That’s not to say his skate dreams still didn’t come true, too.
“I went pro in skateboarding. I reached the point where I won the Winter and Summer X Games simultaneously for a few years in a row. I was like, ‘Alright, I did it. That’s pretty good.’ The only disappointment was there was no Olympic skateboarding at the time,” White said.
As an athlete, Sean’s done better than “pretty good.”
Over the course of his career, he’s collected hardware in countless countries while earning endorsements from a huge number of sponsors.
The journey to be best on board aligned with big brands from the jump, blossoming when White inked his first sponsorship at the age of 7.
Now 36, White is retired from competition in snow and skate. However, he’s building his own apparel empire with WHITESPACE: owned, operated, and developed by White himself.
Although the company made its debut this year, it’s an entrepreneurial endeavor that has been years in the making.
“I always admired and wanted to [have my own line] but never thought I had the capabilities to do it,” White said.
“But I’ve been riding for brands like Burton since I was 7 years old, developing products, testing new equipment, all these things. To pull the curtain and see behind the scenes? I felt like I got a real crash course on how to build a company.”
Coming up, White worked with big brands as an ambassador while admiring his extreme athlete peers in their ability to create clothing and fanfare.
“I grew up idolizing Tony Hawk,” White said. “I was around Jake Burton and these guys who were huge influences in my life and they owned their own brands.”
While White dreamed of being a skater on Birdhouse as a kid in San Diego, another aspiring talent across the country in Chicago had a shared embrace of skateboarding and style. Many decades and accomplishments later, the two titans would cross paths on a crisp California mountaintop.
“I was riding at Mammoth and there was this guy head to toe in Louis Vuitton,” White recalls. “You don’t see that often and this wasn’t Aspen or whatever. I was like, ‘No way. It could only be one or two people.’ And it was Virgil.”
Instantly, Abloh and White became fast friends, knowing each other’s work as admirers from afar.
“We took some laps,” White says. “I got his information and I’m thinking about starting this brand. I’m like, well hey, I got this legend at my disposal, maybe I’ll call him and get advice?
“So we’re talking and at the end of our call he’s like, ‘I love the name, I love the logo, I love what you’re doing. This is great. You should think about maybe this to start, and you know, just do what you know and do it well.'”
Validation from Virgil? He couldn’t contain his other ideas.
Prior to the pandemic, White was working on a luggage piece inspired by his sport and love of travel.
“I sent him this rendering because I was getting a trunk made before the world shut down to house all my snowboarding equipment. And he’s like, ‘No way. Like, this is incredible. We gotta do this. We gotta make that a reality.'”
Thanks to an unexpected and ordained meeting of the minds, White and Abloh were catching a vibe and creating collaboratively. Both loved design and snowboarding, with Virgil making Shaun a complete luggage set for the Olympics.
“I was like, ‘Wow, is this happening?’ What are the odds that the head designer at LV is a huge snowboarding fan?”
Sadly, Virgil Abloh passed away prior to the 2022 Winter Olympics where White competed and announced his retirement. Still, Virgil was there.
“I had my ‘Virgil was here’ moment at the Olympics with my case,” says White.
Like Abloh with Off-White, Shaun is steady building his own brand in WHITESPACE. The same creations that came to be based on their chance meeting in Mammoth allow White to move freely and carve out his own lane in a new industry.
“Stuff like that can just naturally happen now because I’m in the driver’s seat which is really fun.”
Just as Abloh validated his confidence in the design and business space, the exchanges they had in their moments of knowing each other continue to spark White as he sets out to build the world of WHITESPACE.
“I’m probably not supposed to share any of the stuff he sent me, but the stuff he was planning on making was wild. I mean amazing, man. We’ll draw some inspo from that later. His stuff is super out there at times, but still so cool.”
However, Virgil’s imprint is everywhere in the brand. Each piece features a stylized white stripe, which was inspired by the fashion icon. In the Abloh universe, his love for the sport endures as well. Just recently, Off-White launched a ski and snowboarding collection complete with stylized jackets and pants.
While neither Virgil nor Shaun skated for Birdhouse as they may have dreamed, both built their own brands alongside individual identities that have the power to inspire, acquire, and nurture those that dream the same dreams they did.
“I’m looking at like the next generation of talent and going, ‘Wow, I really respect the up-and-comers riding.’ Maybe with the right influence, I could help them be incredible.”
Just as Abloh merged runway fashion with streetwear, White aims to cross-pollinate performance with his love of travel at WHITESPACE. Filling in this blank proves the ethos of his brand and lends to the luggage his friend from Mammoth once made for him.
“When we’ve been designing the line, the whole deal has been what would I pack?”
A man of many dreams, most of White’s have come true this far. Such a story will be told in an upcoming docuseries about White’s life and career, made by the team behind The Last Dance. No longer on board – skate or snow – for pay these days, White is making the most of his off time by making new dreams come true.
“As I’ve transitioned into retirement, it’s more just like, what do I want to do?” White says. “When I look at what’s most important to me right now, for sure it’s WHITESPACE.”
From phone calls with Virgil to his own fashion enterprise in the making, you could say Shaun White is “GOING PLACES.”
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