Shaun White has ruled the snowboarding world for nearly two decades — and now, he’s brought that winning mindset to his latest project, Whitespace.
Since retiring from competition after the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, White has been focused on building his winter sportswear brand, which launched last year and is sold at Backcountry.com and its own site. After initially debuting with snowboard offerings, the label is expanding into performance-based athleisure, as well as apparel and gear for skiing, biking, hiking and physical training.
Speaking with FN last month, White said that as he enters the next phase of his life, he has big aspirations for the business. “I’m a competitor, it’s what I do, and it’s every little thing I can do to make better products,” he said. “That’s the sort of attitude I took to my sporting career. It’s this endless pursuit of progression.”
Here, the sports star reflects on fashion, entrepreneurship and a pivotal meeting with Virgil Abloh.
Why did you want to start your own brand?
“When you join a sponsor, it’s always, like — don’t get me wrong, I loved working with them — but you’re joining their mold. It’s my job to best fit their mold, but then try to be myself, try to be unique and collaborative, but they have their own logo, they have their colorways. Where[as] when you’re starting your own brand, you’re really building the mold from scratch and you’re steering the ship. When my partnership previous to this company ended, I didn’t rush off to sign. I was like, ‘Let me just take a beat, see what’s out there for me.'”
How did you choose what the brand would be?
“I started getting these special boards made, and I kept refining and tweaking and dialing in what is now the Whitespace Freestyle Shaun White Pro model. All my competitors had these solid black bases [because black holds the wax best which makes it fast], but I thought it was just nothingness. So I was like, ‘What if we just put a big white stripe through the board?’ During that season it was awesome, because my photographers and my coach, they’d spot me right away dropping in, because I had the big stripe on my base. Then when the name Whitespace came about, it just blended in with the visuals. Obviously, the name is a play on my last name, but the meaning of Whitespace is so cool. It’s a blank canvas, a void waiting to be filled with something new. Within the sport of snowboarding, there’s this element of creativity. It’s one of the only sports where I could be the best in the world because I invented a new trick. There are not many sports out there like that.”
Why did now feel like the right moment to launch?
“There hasn’t been a new brand to really step into the marketplace in the world of winter sports. There’s been the Monclers and those higher-end fashion brands coming in, but [the] majority of the companies are the big names have been around for 40-plus years, and there haven’t really been any new people in the mix. Our whole thing [is] to try to deliver quality products but be unique within the space.”
Are there any projects you hope to accomplish with the brand?
“I crossed one off right out the gate. We did a collaboration with Louis Vuitton right around the Olympics. I was snowboarding and I saw this guy on the mountain. He was wearing head-to-toe Louis Vuitton. I was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s Virgil [Abloh].’ We linked up, we did a lap or two, we exchanged numbers. And then I gave him a ring because I was starting this brand. He was just so supportive and amazing. I sent him these renderings of a Louis Vuitton snowboard trunk that I designed. He was so excited about it, sent me all these images of the stuff he wanted to do within the winter sports world. He’s a huge fan of snowboarding. We’re both fans of music, so we made a guitar case. And then my typical travel luggage, which was a rolling case and duffel bag. He passed away before the finished product came out. But I got to have my ‘Virgil was here’ moment, strolling into the opening ceremonies at the Olympics in China with my new gear, my luggage.”
You’ve had some bold fashion statements over the years, but there’s been a sharper shift recently in your style. Are there any past looks you regret? And when did you notice a shift in how you dress?
“Ever since I was a kid, I rode for companies, and you’re contractually obligated to wear the clothing. It wasn’t until I started designing for Target — I had a boys’ line there for a long time, [and] I wasn’t obligated to wear the clothing, I was just a designer — so I asked myself, ‘What is my style?’ Then I started going around in f-cking tight pants and leather vests and all this stuff. I love rock music, so I turned to my heroes in the music world, which were Guns and Roses and Led Zeppelin. My hair was super long, I started playing guitar. As I got older, I moved to New York for a minute, and everybody in New York was wearing black. I had to go to galas, I had to go to red carpet events. I just grew up a bit and started wearing suits and tuxes. And then I ended up cutting my hair, and that changed a lot because now I could wear hats. But I think it was always just evolution. Now I’m still in that place of: I either wear all-dark colors, or I’m really loud, in a pop colors kind of thing.”
How does being an entrepreneur at the head of your own brand compare with being an athlete?
“It’s very similar in many ways. You’re working on stuff in the background, and you’re training or you’re building the plan. Then at some point, you’ve got to go out there and execute. Some of it you’ve fully planned on and other things just happen along the way. … You just keep at it. And you gotta be open to hearing the feedback, as well. You can’t just be like, ‘I know best.’ It’s a collaborative thing, where my sporting world was very individual, where it was just all about me and my training and my tricks and where I’m going. [In that way] this is very different.”
You’ve been one of the faces of snowboarding for a long time. How involved are you these days?
“I hope I’m still in the book. What’s so cool about this sport is it’s not like football or baseball — I don’t need to get the whole team together to go enjoy myself. For me, snowboarding has always been that thing where I can go work on a new trick, and I still do that if I want to do it, I just don’t have to display it on TV and be scored for it. But not much has really changed in my world, except for the grueling travel and competitive schedule.”
What does the future of snowboarding look like? And are there athletes you’re excited about?
“I don’t know about the future of the sport, [but] it’s going to be incredible. There’s obviously that new generation, that younger generation that are taking all the tricks that we did and one-upping it. The spins just keep getting bigger and bigger, and then we added flips to them, and then we added double flips, and now we’re adding triple and quad flips. I’ve been a big fan of Toby Miller. He’s a U.S. snowboarder. He’s really good, he just needs to have a couple of things click to be great. We’re all rooting for him and waiting for him to really blossom as a competitor. Chloe Kim’s incredible. She’s not really on the rise, though; she’s won two gold medals already. But I know enough about her to know that she’s a competitor at heart, and she’s still so young that she could go to the Olympics multiple times.”