Things at the Kali home office in Morgan Hill, CA., have been a bustle over the past few weeks as our new designer, Alain Lanusse, has burst through the front door with a flurry of activity and a truckload of ideas.
"We're super excited to have someone of Alain's caliber helping us with all aspects of the brand," said Brad Waldron, founder and certified protectives Poindexter. "We have been focused on making the safest helmets on the market and it is exciting to have someone so focused on also making them cutting edge aesthetically."
Lanusse spent the last 17 years working down the street at Specialized and for the last five years, he was the Director of Graphics. He learned everything about product development, sales strategies, marketing strategies, and, of course, design and the design process.
He elevated the design team to be on par with some of the best brands in the world, across all industries, something he is most proud of along with the legacy he left behind. When he started, he was one of three graphic designers and by the time he left, he was director of the entire department, with his team expanding to close to a dozen designers. He helped create a world class design studio with the infrastructure needed to keep elevating. Not many designers get to lead the design department for a top brand in a billion dollar industry and the fact that he did it for 5 years is something he is very proud of.
When you first meet Alain you are immediately aware of his intensity and his passion. He has a focus about him that permeates everything he does and he is in the middle of taking a deep, deep dive into every aspect of Kali's design, from the colorways of the helmets to the color of our interior helmet sticker. No aspect of Kali's brand will go untouched by Alain's attention to detail.
"Specialized's loss is our gain," said Waldron. "It won't take long for even the layman to start to notice Alain's effect on the Kali brand. Things are getting very exciting around here."
What is it that you do for Kali?
No one in the building probably really knows what I do. I just show up and tell Brad all my crazy ideas and hope he agrees to the plan. In my brain I have a master plan, but some might just call it ADD.
Lanusse is a very interesting name, can you tell us a little bit about where your people are from, where you grew up and the background behind the Lanusse family?
It’s a French name. My father was born and raised in the French Pyrennes where he was a shepard and made sheep cheese. He came to America when he was in his 20s and met my mom at a dance and the rest is history. My mom grew up in Mexico in poverty and has always kept it real about the value of things. She is an extraordinary lady and has taught me everything I know about hard work. I am the child of immigrants and very proud of my heritage. We grew up in Northern California, San Mateo to be exact. We lived down the street from Tom Brady and I actually went to high school with Brady’s sisters. I had a great childhood growing up with my 2 older brothers. I played sports, had friends, and grew up in the golden age of skateboarding, you know the 80’s and we would just skate all day. This eventually that led me into BMX.
Have you ridden bicycles your whole life and do you remember you very first bicycle? If so, can you tell us a little story about your early riding days?
My first bicycle came from Goodwill, as we shopped there often. I probably started riding like most kids, when I was about 5. I didn’t really get into it bikes until I was probably 11 or 12 and that is when BMX Action came into my life. That magazine got me hooked on BMX and design. I saw this magazine with all these cool ads, graphics and magazine layouts and it was just amazing. I didn’t realize it could be a job or a career I was just mesmerized by the BMX lifestyle and everything that went along with it. I had a taste of that with skateboarding and the rad deck art, but it didn’t hit me hard until BMX Action came into my life.
My first real real bike was a 5th grade graduation present. It was a blue GT pro series BMX race bike. It was top of the line. It was sick, with a blue frame and fork, blue bars, blue seat post, chrome rims, GT pro series cranks. It was bad ass. That’s when my buddy Dom, who I am still friends with to this day, told me about how he was going to the BMX track at Moffett Field in Mountain View. My dad took me and I was hooked on racing immediately. It was an amazing era with Terry Tennete, Cecil Johns, Charles Towsend, Greg Romero, being local racers and all factory riders. Moffett Field was like BMX Action coming to life.
You’ve spent your entire adult life in bicycle design, that seems like a pretty small niche in the greater design world. How did that come about and what did the path which brought you down this road look like?
I wanted to be a pro BMX racer. That was my dream. I was fast and I had my moments, but it wasn’t meant to be. So I thought about what other ways I could get into the industry, to get free bike parts, be around prototypes and hang out with factory race teams, etc. How could I be a factory racer, without actually being a factory racer, was essentially what my thought process. I spun my wheels for a while trying to chase the BMX races and eventually my mom pushed me to go to art school. While at school I interned at 2 Hip Bikes which is a freestyle BMX brand and that was rad. I started in advertising and then switched over to graphic design. I liked the theory of advertising, but I just wanted to design. I graduated with my BFA in Graphic Design from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and then sent my resume and portfolio out to a slew of bike brands and clothing brands. I had a few interviews and one was at Specialized which was about an hour from where I grew up. They hired my literally 2 months after graduation and it was a dream come true. It was a relatively small company when I started.
You haven’t just designed bicycles and bicycle accouterments, but you have also enjoyed riding and racing them. Can you tell us a little bit about the highlights and low lights of this pursuit?
The highlights are the times when you think you can’t do something and then you push through and do it. For example, racing Mammoth Mountain in ‘99 and beating the #1 qualifier in Cat 1 after being down in my first run by 1.5. which took me to 3rd place in slalom. And also winning Crankworx last year with one of my childhood friends looking on. Having to beat someone by a certain amount of time and then doing it takes a lot of mental toughness. Those times and experiences build toughness and mental fortitude.
My low lights are just the ones that got away. Having lost 2 Sea Otter slaloms in a row by less than a quarter of a second combined is hard one to swallow. The stress of practice and qualifying are tough to deal with. Every year I tell myself I hate racing and ask myself why do I keep doing this. It’s too stressful. But after it’s all said and done, I can’t wait for the next race. There is something about the pressure, and overcoming it, that gives me great joy and self confidence. I can accomplish anything I set my mind to, no matter what it is, on the bike or just in life.
Before joining the team at Kali you spent your entire career at the bicycle company just down the street. What about working for the big red S has prepared you for this next phase of your career? What are you most proud of from those years?
Having spent seventeen years in one spot, it is going to be hard to put that all into a paragraph. I learned everything about product development, sales strategies, marketing strategies, and of course design and design process. One of the greatest things about Specialized was being able to visit other top brands to see how they do it. I’ve been to the design departments of Nike, Adidas, Tesla, Northface, GM , BMW Design Works, Arcteryx, Lulu Lemon, IDEO, Wieden and Kennedy, Goodby and Silverstein just to name a handful. I have been to some amazing design studios and brands and saw how they set up their teams, how their design process works, how the best brands in the world do it. It’s information that informs what I do, how I do it and it is invaluable.
The fact that I elevated the design team to be on par with some of the best brands in the world, across all industries, is what I am most proud of and is the legacy I would like to leave. When I started I was 1 of like 3 graphic designers and by the time I left as Director of the entire department I had turned it into a world class design studio with the infrastructure to keep elevating. Of course, there are individual graphics or things that I am proud of, but the bigger picture for me is what I am most proud. Contributing to the success of the brand as a whole while I was there. Not many designers get to lead the design department for such an amazing brand and the fact that I did it for 5 years is something I am super proud of.
Designers are notorious for claiming to be influenced by the most inscrutable and esoteric things, can you share with us where you get your inspiration and what drives you to “design?”
I’m a simple person. The canned answer would be cars, automotive, footwear, interior design and architecture. I love those things, but really everything inspires me. Great design is great design, whether it's a bbq sauce label or a cafe racer, a bug's exoskeleton or a leaf. Great design can be found everywhere.
You are already starting to have an impact on the Kali Protectives design aesthetic, what changes can we expect to see in the line moving forward?
Everything or as they say 'soup to nuts'. This is a new era. A new day. I’m taking all my experience in every facet of my being and pouring it into this brand to elevate every piece of it. I don’t do things half ass, so expect better design in everything Kali does.
What does an ideal day in Alain Lanusse’s life look like?
Being me is pretty awesome, but tiring as well. I have a beautiful family, 3 young kids from 9, 5, and 6 months and so I wake up, help get the kids ready for school, go to work, come home, have dinner, play with everyone, put the kids to bed, then head to my studio to work on some other graphic projects I have brewing right now, go to bed at about 2 or 3 and repeat. That’s the default answer. Within that is taking the kids to their activities, riding bikes, practicing with my band, hanging out with my friends, hanging out with my wife , watching my 49ers, swimming, going to the lake, playing basketball and basically being pinned all the time. My wife, Nicole, has been my rock and I could not and would not be where I am at without her.
If you could have a single superpower, what would it be and would you use it for good or evil?
Without being all political etc...my superpower would be to eliminate guns. I’m scared for my children in what kind of world they will have to grow up in.
If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
My dad. I would love to share with him all the things I’ve accomplished since he passed when I was just 15 years old.
You have a garage full of bicycles, which is the first one you would reach for to air up the tires and go for a ride?
My stumpy, the do-it-all trail bike. Steep-n-deep. I love it.
If the house was burning down what are the three things you would grab after making sure your wife, kids and the dogs were safe?
I would grab my phone because all my pictures and memories are on there and the fact I haven’t backed it up in months. Everything else is just stuff.
Tacos or burgers?
Tacos, all day every day. I’m half-Mexican, remember.
If your friends were stuck in a room and forced to use three words to describe you, what would they be?
Funny. Talented. Stubborn. (And maybe asshole?)
What is the most important meal of the day: Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner?
Lunch for sure. And dinner. Ha!
Comedies for sure. I love to laugh.
Last three album you listened to?
Is Spotify an album? Queens of the Stone Age , Nipsey Hussle - Crenshaw, anything but country.
What scares you?
Life scares me. Just when you think you have things figured out BOOM! Life throws you a curve ball. Sometimes creaks and weird sounds late night in the barn scare me…Hello? Is someone there? Lol
What is the one thing you learned from your mother that you hope can teach your kids?
Don’t give up. Don’t give in. One thing that won’t waiver is hard work and work ethic and that things happen for a reason. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees but things happen and how you respond is how you’ll be judged.