TWMX Friday Feature: Inside the Thor ’06 Line

Over the last couple months, you’ve seen inside the ’06 product lines from several of the large apparel manufacturers. This time, it’s Thor’s turn. Among the respondent here are Jim Gallagher, Design Director; Ivan Penchansky, Sales Manager; and Moe Donnelly, Senior Designer.

How many employees are there at Thor? How does it break down by department?

The Thor Design and Marketing Office is located in El Cajon, CA and our staff is divided among the following departments: Design / Development / Rider Support / Sales & Marketing / Administration. We’re a product company, so about half of the staff is directly involved in Design and Development. We try and stay a little under the radar, so I’d prefer to not give out specific numbers, but we’re continually growing to the point that we’re currently looking for a bigger building.

How about a little of what the company culture is like? Are we talking about suit-and-tie corporate? More casual?

What’s a suit and tie? Seriously, we really promote a casual and creative atmosphere that inspires our staff in the creative process. On any given day you’ll find guys working with their iPods on, and getting in a little MX Unleashed on the PlayStation at lunchtime. We want this to be the type of environment that riders feel comfortable in while maintaining a professional work situation. I mean we take our jobs really seriously, just not ourselves.

What’s new for ’06? How has the product changed from previous years in pants, jerseys, and gloves?

Everything’s gone on a diet!  The sport has evolved and is so competitive that our athletes demand performance, and weight is a performance factor.

When Yamaha trims the fat off Reeds bike, he doesn’t want his apparel to put it back on. So we reduced the weight of our pants / jerseys this year considerably. Our AC pant has an all-new cut and look with a technical lightweight breathable fabric that’s never been seen in motocross. At roughly two pounds, the AC pant is our lightest ever.  Keeping our products clean and simple looking is always something we try and achieve when designing all our products. 

Just like a pair of brand new Adidas white-on-white shell toes. Clean and classic with lots of soul. We want you to identify our products by quality and design alone, not just by our logo. I really think you’ll see that in our ’06 line.

High-end helmets are a new area for you last year. How have they been selling, what have you learned from the first year, and what changes can we look forward to?

Actually, we’ve been doing helmets for 8 years! We started with a mid-level helmet in 1999, and now we’ve grown that to an entire line from Youth helmets all the way to our newest Carbon Fiber Force Helmet. Helmets are obviously a key part of our line and we really try and look at things from a different angle than some of the other brands. We built our Force Helmet from the ground up and took into consideration a lot of feedback we got from our sponsored riders. When you’ve got guys like Chad Reed running your helmet, your talking about designing a product that has to perform at the highest levels. When we first gave Chad the Force Helmet he was really excited about the innovative solutions we came up with to eliminate problems that have plagued other helmets for years.

Of course, we’ve got an amazing design staff that can translate those solutions into a product that not only functions well, it also incorporates really solid design execution. 

Okay, about those colors…

I’m surprised we got a few questions in before you threw that one at us! I think we really set the bar for what the color palette in this sport can be. I mean, where is it written that a Honda guy has to wear red, and the Yamaha guy blue, and so on, and so on? 

It used to be there was a fairly traditional color palettes in motocross…prty much something for each brand, and then maybe something sort of neutral. Now we have colorways like Paste, Hematoma, etc., that have no relation to…well, pretty much anything in motocross. Can you explain some of the reasons for venturing into the more experimental colors?

Boredom…. we don’t just want the box of crayons with five colors, we want the huge 64 crayon box with the built-in sharpener. I think you can really see the success in the way the riders and public have responded to the new colors. It went from, ¿What are you guys thinking?¿ to, ¿I’ve got have that color,¿ in a matter of weeks. Now you’ve got every one of our competitors jumping in on it, but the riders know this was our idea.

Who pick colors, and where do the color choice influences come from? Automotive? Other action sports? Martha Stewart Living?

The Product Designers and our Athletes pick the colors. As for color influence, that comes from everywhere really, the common industries being surf, skate, snow. But other influence for us are Music, fashion, automobiles, architecture, some saltwater fish, and shoes, we really like shoes.  We haven’t hit up Martha yet.

With a company like Parts Unlimited behind you, can you afford to be more experimental? Are you willing to take more risks? Or at the end of the year is it still all about sales?

At the end of the year, it’s all about being proud of the products we produce. We put so much energy and effort into making our products industry leaders that it’s really a matter of personal integrity. I really don’t think our relationship with Parts Unlimited factors into our design decisions. They are really great about just letting us do our thing while they handle the distribution. 

It used to be that you identified riders by their team gear, and now their gear color may not have any relationship at all to what brand they ride. Is that good? Bad? Or just evolution?

This isn’t a team sport, it’s an individual sport. and we feel the days of having to matching your bike are gone. Today’s athletes don’t want to look just like every other athlete, just ask them. We all have individual style and taste, so why shouldn’t we be able to choose from a greater color/style selection? It used to be that the biggest difference between riders was there custom-painted helmets. Then Broc Glover rocked pink gear and R.J. wore his board shorts over his race pants. And who can forget the Dogger in Dalmation? Was that bad? Everybody loves to customize their bikes, and we kinda see it as the same thing. Not everybody’s going to like all the colorways, but that’s the point.

These days it seems that more often, gear companies are trying to do a head-to-toe sponsorship. In the past, a lot of Thor-sponsored riders have also worn Alpinestars boots.  Is this something that we’ll see continuing in the future?

Since the jersey, pants and gloves are the biggest billboard on the rider we take full advantage of that.  We have a great relationship with Alpinestars and our riders will continue to wear their boots.  Anyways, it would be too hard for our rider support team to keep up with all of those boots too!

A few times over the past few years, we’ve heard of riders racing specific events like overseas Supercrosses, not because their bike manufacturer wanted them to, but because their gear sponsor wanted them to go. How much influence does (or should) a gear sponsor have over what riders do?

Thor does have some influence but we discuss the events with our riders and try to accommodate everyone’s needs.  The goal is to get the most out of the event for everyone involved.

How important is it to have a casual line as an off-track backup to the brand name? Is your casual line growing in size and/or sales?

These days it is very important to have casuals.  Even though none of us like to admit it but we spend way more time in our street clothes than our riding gear!

Unique to Thor casuals is that they can only be purchased through a motorcycle dealer.  

Thor has grown its casuals line every year and the 2006 casuals look insane!  When Thor started making casuals it was very simple, T’s and hats.  Now we offer casuals for men, women and kids from basic T’s, hoodies and hats to a full line with tons of accessories.  Casuals have grown from supporting the riding gear off the track to now being a full-blown line with dedicated designers and developers.

h none of us like to admit it but we spend way more time in our street clothes than our riding gear!

Unique to Thor casuals is that they can only be purchased through a motorcycle dealer.  

Thor has grown its casuals line every year and the 2006 casuals look insane!  When Thor started making casuals it was very simple, T’s and hats.  Now we offer casuals for men, women and kids from basic T’s, hoodies and hats to a full line with tons of accessories.  Casuals have grown from supporting the riding gear off the track to now being a full-blown line with dedicated designers and developers.