As Chief Creative Officer for Burton Snowboards, Greg Dacyshyn has carved himself a career shaping the output of the world’s leading snowboard company. With his impressive silver beard and eccentric look, Greg stands out in any room and is often stopped for stranger-selfies. A soft-spoken man of few words on our first few encounters, he reveals himself to be not only super funny but incredibly real and kind. To call Greg Dacyshyn a gear-head would be quite the understatement, and it’s this that initially captures my curiosity; how can he possibly retain an attention to detail with the sheer volume of products and marketing output that Burton produces? After meeting several times over the last couple of years, we corner Greg just before the Burton European Open halfpipe finals got swallowed whole by Iouri Podladtchikov down in Laax.
Full interview from Bitchslap Issue 20 below.
Portrait: François Marclay
Additional Photos: Patrick Lennox Wright
Video edit & post production: Peter Skov Nielsen
Music: Bowmont / Glacier from the Hovering EP
Was there any sort of autobiographical element in the branding for BEO this year? It’s like a goat with a huge beard.
(Laughs) Maybe a little self-serving… no it’s actually their animal, their mascot here in Laax. I think it’s a Capricorn. We thought it would be cool to do the full American varsity thing, and to top it off Marian, our marketing guy here out of Innsbruck suggested we needed a mascot. So that’s how we ended up with this guy. He’s pretty cool I think.
So I had been assuming you were with the company from the beginning, being the guy to bring softgoods to the table, but then you told me how old you were and the math didn’t add up.
No, Burton already had a pretty healthy soft goods business when I arrived on the scene, but the line was much, much smaller. On the design side, at that time the line was, I don’t want to say simple, but I saw a ton of potential to help evolve it to be more progressive. To do that, we started working with a much more diverse group of designers internally, and we developed a really strong network of outside designers. That combination has served us well, and we’ve seen a huge evolution in these last 16 or 17 years. Today, softgoods is a super competitive market overall, and I think a lot of people are doing really cool things. With that level of competition out there, you’re only as good as your last movie, so we constantly push our design and bring a whole new aesthetic every year. It’s about using all the different influences in the market, and getting away from what used to be just one look. Our benchmark isn’t just set against other snowboard companies; I compare it against every company.
So what led to this spot you’re in now?
Growing up in and around Toronto, Canada, I was always skateboarding as a kid, and first started skiing and then snowboarding, and I always worked in gear shops from when I was like 15, either on the floor or in the back-shop. Basically, since I was little I have always been a real gear-head. I scoured every catalog I could get my hands on, as well as mainstream fashion mags. It sounds weird, but I was reading Vogue magazine when I was 9 years old, so I guess you could say but I’ve always loved products and design and always been super into it.
The business side and experience came in through my family’s business, which was all in Eastern Europe, in the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), the Soviet Republic. My father worked as an impresario (someone who sponsors & produces entertainment) for the Ministry of Sports and Culture, bringing athletes and entertainers from Russia to North America. He represented all the original hockey players that came to Canada and the US, as well as the ballet companies, and probably his biggest gig was being the first to bring over The Moscow Circus. That’s where I come in, at 18 years old finding myself working for the Moscow Circus and touring with them around North America for 2 years. That was a pretty crazy time, and I definitely did some weird things and learned a lot about life, work and everything in between (laughs). After that I went on to work for my Dad’s business after college, and became a partner in importing Russian consumer goods to Canada.
But my passion was always for my sports, products and design, and one of my favourite brands I always followed was Burton. I literally had every Burton catalogue from when I was a kid and was a huge fan, so when my dad died suddenly in my mid-twenties, I changed direction and saw an opportunity open up to chase what I really wanted to do. There was no expectation to stay in the family business, so I started following my passion pretty much right away. It was pretty serendipitous, one day I was in the Russian consumer goods game, and not long after that I was on a train from Toronto to Vermont for an interview in product at Burton. Crazy!
I’d always done design on the side, but it wasn’t really my job. But with the Burton opportunity I could bring the international business experience I had combined with my love of design and products, to bring a new approach to their softgoods. Timing was everything, and it just felt like it all came together and the stars aligned because I got the job and the rest is history. With Burton, I like to think the job I have is the job that was made for me because it combines what I am super passionate about with what I really want to do. And it’s also been great to build a career at a company that I grew up loving. Jake was the shit and still is, and working and hanging with him so closely is incredibly cool and now we’re like best friends. I like that Burton is a real family business, it’s great and it fits me. I have a pretty crazy life, but it’s awesome. It keeps me young and there’s never a boring day.
“The job I have is the job that was made for me.”
And all those elements from your past contribute to it all making sense right?
Oh totally. Straight up, in order to make product you’ve got to love product. You have to have a real understanding of what it’s going to take to get that kid to spend a couple hundred precious dollars on your gear. You have to know what he wants, why it has to be cool, and why it needs to last and function at 100%. Authenticity and quality are key, and with so much random shitty product out there, you have to deliver and also make someone feel good and hopefully improve their lifestyle. It’s a tall order, but that’s the game, and we take it super serious.
So how do you transfer your love for product into an experience for your end consumer?
Well I guess you just gotta live what you love and translate that into product. A lot of companies say they’re team-driven or rider-driven, but we really are. Jake has been adamant about that from the beginning. We’re not posers, we really love what we do and with the help of our team we put that passion and input into the product. Really, there’s nothing that inspires me more than when you’re hanging with these kids who are doing it. I mean I’ve been snowboarding a long time, but they’re doing the shit that I dream of. It’s so cool, right? And our riders are all so awesome as humans too. I love chilling with them and they keep me young, and hopefully I teach them something in return about the ways of the world. So our product and design process is really fuelled by them, and the experiences and interactions we have with them, and it’s very cool to be able to translate that into product.
The other day we were talking about quality over quantity. Where does your focus lie when you have to oversee such a broad collection, when it’s obviously more fun and interesting to be working on the collabs and tech lines than the bestsellers?
You know what? You’ve got to pay attention to the bestsellers too! (laughs). I basically want to make any product the best that it can be no matter what the price-point is. Obviously the world is more price-driven now, but you still want to make those jackets as cool as possible. Sometimes it’s challenging with what you can put into a volume product, so that makes it a little more work and slightly less fun, but it’s a good challenge. You still want that person to have the best product and best experience that they can have too, right? But on the other side, I’d be lying if I said that the high-end products, collabs or exclusives weren’t a ton of fun. Limited and high end products really push you to take things to a new place, so there is a whole other level of satisfaction and fulfilment that comes with those projects for sure.
And you’re putting a little piece of yourself into that stuff?
Yes of course, but the problem is that the things that sometimes I love the best are the things that sell the worst (laughs). I think that’s the way it always is right? Sometimes you have to know when to walk away from something, ‘cuz you don’t want to walk into a shop and see racks of the stuff that haven’t sold. You also don’t want to design something that is super standout or too progressive and see them produced in bulk and shipped everywhere. Like this indigo-patchwork jacket from Winter ’15 that I’m wearing now. It’s super cool in small doses, but we don’t want to see thousands of these things sitting around. In the end, we’re in business and we like to sell things, so you can’t lose sight of that.
So as Creative Director you are involved in product development as well as brand marketing. What are some of the tasks you do within brand marketing?
When it comes to marketing, I know what Jake’s vision is for the company and we share the same vision, so my job is to keep everything Burton, know what I mean? It’s about staying focused on what we do best and make sure we are keeping the soul of the brand alive in all of our marketing programs and events. With Jake, his name is literally on the company, so I help ensure that everything we do is in line with his goals of growing the sport and protecting the brand. And we do a ton to grow the sport, whether it’s our global ‘Learn-to-Ride’ programs, or what we’re doing with Riglet (teaching 3-6 year olds to ride), or our marquee events like the Burton European Open, which showcase the fun and excitement of the sport to millions of viewers. It’s all about keeping the sport alive and keeping the brand real along the way. And for brand marketing, it’s the same thing. Telling real stories and sharing our products, athletes and programs with the world through cool ways. Like our team web video series called “Burton Presents”. That is a great example of the kinds of programs we’re bringing out of marketing to get people hyped. At the end of the day, Jake has built a really great thing and our role in product and marketing is to make sure we don’t fuck it up. No pressure (laughs). And of course to continue to evolve and never be stale. And to keep it fun, and help everyone feel young. There’s nothing as cool as when you have a great pow day, you know? And when you have a great time riding with your friends. So if we just make sure we tell that story, we’ve done our job, whether it’s in a catalog, an ad, a video or this event we’re at. We want to showcase the best programs, but always keep it fun along the way. I mean with an event like this there’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of people behind the scenes working super super hard to ensure it comes off super relaxed.
“In order to make product you’ve got to love product.”
Have you had any major professional failures where you’ve had to step back and adapt or dodge?
I try not to fuck up too much! (laughs). And I always try to mitigate the risk with every decision. Someone told me now I’m over forty that you start to get wise, and maybe it’s because you’ve seen some things and made enough mistakes. For sure, I’ve made lots of mistakes and now it’s about knowing when to do a quick course correction. It sort of goes without saying – no risk, no reward. I’ve always trusted my gut on where and when to push Burton and hopefully no major fuck ups turn up now (knocks on the wooden table and laughs).
You’re obviously super stoked on where you are right now but you’ve never had a moment when you’re like ‘you know what, fuck this’?
I think everyone has that. Some days just don’t go right, that’s for sure. But I have the pleasure of saying that I love everyone I work with. We have a great team and have a great time, which is cool. We’re not all the same, but we’re into the same thing and I really truly do, I mean look at me I’m at work right now (laughs).
So where do I find the job applications?
(laughs) And I get to stay pretty young because I’m around young energy all the time. Jobs are on the site man.
Yeah and the receptionist at the hotel thought you were 63!
Right? That was a bad one. I was like, really? Maybe this is a mistake (pulls on his beard).
But the beard is something you get a lot of attention for and you’re obviously comfortable with that.
I don’t mind. I’m ok. I am who I am. I like to keep it weird, keep it fun.
Back to product, and being really into product, are there any types of products you’re more into that others?
I’m kind of into everything, I’ve got problems (laughs). I’m pretty obsessive compulsive about my own stuff. I can definitely freak out, like on this trip when my bags were lost I was like how am I going to replace all these things and my wife said “just breathe”, and, “don’t worry, you’ll get some retail therapy if the worst happens and they never find it”. The prospect of retail always makes me feel better. I guess I’m just really into collecting cool things, and I love great design. Travelling gives me the opportunity to find the best stuff.
So do you have any favourite spots for shopping?
I know it’s kind of cliché but I still really love Tokyo. I think the Japanese share my obsessive-compulsive addiction for good product. When they’re into something, they’re so into it and take it to the highest degree. I love going there and I’ve probably been like 50 times. It never gets old and I always get lost there. That’s what I do when I travel – you have your specific spots, but then it’s key to just go off on your own and wander. Don’t be afraid to get completely lost. And every trip brings me something for product design. I get inspired by a new trend or a new genre that I don’t know about. Or I get deep into some cool historical or cultural moment and I bring that back. Kind of like this jacket I’m wearing again. It’s inspired by a 19th century Japanese boro fabric that I found in Tokyo, that was from a winter farmer’s jacket. It was a utility thing back then, but now is a thing of beauty. It’s the design circle of life, and hanging onto these articles is critical. Travel un-earths things like that.
I remember the Eco-Nico line where Nicolas Müller was really inspired by the Cradle to Cradle approach and trying to incorporate more sustainable processes to production. What sort of challenges are there with having the right intentions, as I assume you do, and bringing them to life within such a big ship?
We need winter, right? And we’re all about nature, so sustainability is not just something we should do but need to do, and are doing. It’s absolutely essential and it’s very much on the table at Burton where no one is denying global warming. Donna Carpenter, Jake’s wife and our President, is the biggest advocate of that. It’s an area that she looks after, and we’ve made it a mandate as a company to adopt sustainable practices wherever we can. There’s no doubt that a snowboard is a tough thing to make as a sustainable product, but we’ve really tasked ourselves as much as we can to make it as eco friendly as possible along with all of our products. I’m not saying we’re going to change it overnight by any means, but it’s something we need to do. It’s really important for companies to take a stand, but it’s equally important for our younger consumers, who are really informed and pushing companies to make change. For development, our challenge is this: we cannot sacrifice function, design or style. So we need to get more sustainable without letting go of those hallmarks, and we have recent wins across the board from moving to more sustainable factories and using more eco materials, to creating and growing an entire collection called “Green Mountain Project” which encompasses all our most sustainable products. There is still lots to do, but we’re committed at a new level.
So back in the 90’s and 00’s, brands would often look to skate and snow as the innovators and now it’s like the look is a lot more fashion oriented, more urban inspired. How do you continually keep it fresh?
We keep it fresh by keeping it fun and providing an actual experience. We’re not just a random fashion brand. We’re making something that’s part of a lifestyle, and like I say, one that hopefully improves people’s lives. I don’t want to sound too lofty or anything, but how rad is it to see a group of friends or a family hanging out and riding and having the best day? We try to make products for them, and focus on the experience and the fun and not over think it. I don’t stress too hard about keeping it new (laughs). Every day above ground I try to keep it as fresh as possible, just by doing what I do. For me, Burton is not just a job, it truly is a lifestyle and one that I get inspiration from every day. I figure I’ll sleep when I’m dead. This is what I love to do.
Thank you very much, you’re a kind man.
Right back at ya. Thanks for hanging out and listening.
You know, for a man of few words you answered 5 of my questions in the first rant. Oh man my hands are freezing.
I hear you. My nuts are kind of freezing.