Rolling up to the Beacon’s patio on a Friday afternoon on his chrome bike, donned all in black clothing from head to toe and sporting his company’s iconic upside-down logo, ilabb founder and CEO Seadon Baker sits down across from me, orders a pint and begins to tell me the history of ilabb from its inception in 2007 all the way to becoming the newest clothing sponsor for Crankworx earlier this year.
For a company with goals of becoming a universally recognized brand, the Crankworx partnership was a match made in heaven for Baker, as well as Crankworx managing director Darren Kinnaird.
“I don’t know if the right word is divine intervention, but it was perfect timing. They’ve been really progressing Crankworx as a whole and it’s really cool,” says Baker about the deal signed late last year during Crankworx’s finale in Rotorua, New Zealand.
“Not talking down on any previous partnerships, but I think they just wanted a brand partner that was going to put decent effort in and really work hard on building something special. And that’s really what the line is like when you see the lineup: a lot of really rad design. Our entire team has been involved in the process and we’re really excited to see it go live.”
But while the partnership represents a huge step forward for ilabb and a hopefully prosperous collaboration for the two companies, it didn’t come about overnight. Getting to this point was the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice by Baker and his team.
Growing up in Picton, New Zealand, Baker left home at 16 to pursue a motocross career. But after a few years in the sport and multiple serious injuries, his racing future was up in the air, and he began looking for a new career path.
That’s when he and ilabb co-founder Matt Saunders started looking at creating a brand with the goal of adding some spice to the otherwise bland world of motocross.
The first iteration of ilabb—short for the innovation laboratory—came in the form of a race team. Clad in all black except for their neon pink helmets, the goal for the ilabb team—at that time still sporting a right-side-up logo—was to make a statement with their identity of individuality.
“The branding of the original riders, like the colour and detail, was all about this flipping of perspectives. And over time it kind of got me started playing with the upside-down logo,” says Baker. “It’s actually the right way to the wearer and the wrong way for everyone else. So for us, we want it to serve as a reminder that it’s about you and your path and the path you are carving and not necessarily everyone else.”
With the idea to foster an identity of individuality, clothing became the obvious path for the company to show off its unique style. In the beginning, it was big, bold fonts at the centre of the designs—all, of course, featuring the upside-down ilabb logo—as well as some collaborations with artists to create what Baker called some “crazy pieces” and truly unique designs.
While Baker admits the team has recently been taking a more conservative approach to its racing-inspired designs, he says he’s excited to get back to more collaborative work in the future to create even more original designs.
The most recent design collaborations came in the form of working with each of ilabb’s seven sponsored mountain bike riders—Bas van Steenbergen, Harriet Burbidge-Smith, Jayden Fleming, Vinny Armstrong, Paul Couderc, Griffin Paulson and Louise Anna Ferguson—to come up with completely original designs of the riders’ choosing.
“For the gear, we were like, ‘Let’s go to all of our top athletes and have them design their own jersey, free-range, no rules,” says Baker. “I literally said to them, ‘You can do whatever you want,’ and it was really cool. I stayed out of the process and let my in-house designer work with all of them. And literally the first time I saw them was when the jersey was actually made. And it was crazy to be able to see seven different personalities come out in the designs.”
Currently, the riders’ designs are just for them, and potentially some post-race fan giveaways. But in the coming weeks, probably after Crankworx Whistler, Baker says the plan is to have a limited release of the designs to allow fans to purchase their favourite ilabb rider’s gear for themselves.
And in the spirit of creativity and individuality, Baker says they are also planning to bring back ilabb U, a feature of the company’s website which allows customers to completely customize their own clothing.
As the beer continues to flow over the course of our hour-long conversation, Baker details the entire history of ilabb, from humble beginnings making less than minimum wage and the challenges faced along the way to the now thriving business we see before us and the new opportunities that are on the horizon.
As we each take our last sip of beer, ready to get on our way and enjoy our weekends, there’s just one last topic that needs to be covered: What’s next for ilabb? And where does Baker see his company going in the coming years?
The answer: Simply to keep inspiring as many people as possible.
“I can’t remember who even wrote it, but it was a famous designer who said, ‘At the end of the day, the logo doesn’t mean anything, it’s what you put into it.’ So the mantra that we live by these days is ultimately to inspire people to let go. And when we say let go, it doesn’t necessarily mean physically let go. It means mentally let go of the barriers that are holding you back, to inspire people to let go of the idea that they can’t do something,” says Baker.
“So we’ve been lucky enough to have inspired people into the hundreds of thousands now, and my goal is to inspire millions. Millions of people inspired, millions of people wearing ilabb and representing what we stand for and telling their friends that story is for sure the goal. And I’d love to see a lot of that driven out of a mecca like Whistler.
“This is the dream, to ride bikes here, you know? So why not tell that to the rest of the world?”
Crankworx Whistler returns to the resort from Aug. 5 to 15.