Co-Founder Nico Nolan Shares The Story Behind The Levitation Project

By: George Crosland

A storm has been brewing on the Wasatch front and unlike storms that bring copious amounts of that famous Utah powder, this storm is dropping products. For going on eight years now, The Levitation Project has been growing its line, forming its team, and building its vision of what a snowboard company should be. It has all led to the recent opening of The Levitation Project  store at the base of Big Cottonwood Canyon, plus the opening of a complete online store. Perhaps you’ve seen their swami logo, and even if you don’t live in Salt Lake their products have been seen around the world on the clothes and boards of their already large fan base. Not to mention, The Levitation Project has managed to attain a stellar team consisting of Bode Merrill, DCP, JP Solberg, Romain De Marchi, Mads Jonsson, Sammy Luebke, Forrest Burki, Nick Russell, Wyatt Stasinos, Neil Provo, Adam Dowell, Laura Hadar, Anne Flore Marxer, Mark “Deadlung” Edlund, Robin Van Gyn, Andrew Burns, Andrew Geeves, Jonas Harris, Jules Reymond, J-Dubs and some homegrown heros. Yeah, they all ride for LP. So they got a killer team, insane imagery, cool products, cool people working there…So what is The Levitation Project exactly?

If you had to define The Levitation Project it’s an accessory brand and a boutique snowboard store. The Levitation Mothership (store) is not a fancy ass, snobby store but is still a boutique in the sense that it’s not a traditional shop and caters only to LP-branded products and specific products that support LP team riders. They won’t have the complete Lib Tech line, just a small quiver of Lib Tech models that Sammy Luebke rides. They might have Deadlung’s Smokin model, the Jones model’s that Wyatt Stasinos rides, the Yes riders’ boards and so on. As far as Levitation-branded products go, they make beanies, face-masks, hoodies, T-shirts, socks, and other necessities, and more are dropping all the time. Levitation makes sure to source it’s materials right, their face-masks are made from recycled bottles. With high standards it’s been hard to find the right suppliers. The Levitation Project is built on a love of snowboarding, and they want to add some edge back into the sport, their not just trying to cash in. It’s cliche to say a company loves snowboarding but these guys mean it: the work day does not start till 2 p.m.

The brand has only started with it’s opening of the Mothership and they intend to have products available in core snowboard stores around the US in the future. In early 2013, Levitation Project took a trip to Japan with the Yes team. Mads Jonsson is getting a much deserved Yes pro model and it’s going to be a collaboration with legendary Japanese board shaper Taro Tamai. The Mads pro model and snowboards from Taro’s company, Gentemstick will be at the Levitation store next season and you’ll see Levitation gear in Japan as well. It’s been a long road but it seems like things are going their way. They have been working hard but also getting some riding in along the way and growing the company in an organic way, not forcing it, because no one likes it forced.

We sat down with company Co-founder and owner Nico Nolan to get the story on The Levitation Project.

OK, so how did The Levitation Project start out?

Started making stickers and T-shirts for Bode Merrill and a handful of kids in my garage seven years ago. I was bummed on the way things were in snowboarding at the time and got the idea to start a brand. We were not sure where it was going to go so we just called it a project. The idea was to start something that was the opposite of what was going on in riding at that time.

What was going on then you didn’t like?

All the smaller, core companies were squeezed out of snowboarding…

…or bought up…

Bought up, swallowed up, they didn’t have a presence like they did in the ’90s. It was the more ads you bought in the magazines the more editorial coverage you got. There was not much support for the real voice of snowboarding, the core of what was going on. There were big, million dollar set ups, then kind of nothing. That was sort of pre internet too, right on the cusp of when that was starting. Basically, I was over the mega corporate, mega companies, the mega energy drink thing…

No soul?

Inside the Levitation Project

Yea, definitely no soul.

The Internet kind of opened up lots of things for smaller companies?

Things have since gotten a lot better with the Internet, smaller companies can have a presence now. Anyone can have a voice. If there’s some punk rock kid out there, people can follow him. Before the Internet really blew up you had four publications all saying the exact same thing with the exact same ads. It was just getting really redundant. I kind of thought we could do something to add some fire back into snowboarding—kind of speak our mind about it and wrap that into a brand.

Levitation hoodies, tees and stickers have been around for a while. Right now though it seems like The Levitation Project is transitioning into a larger operation? You opened a store plus putting some branding on more than just T-shirts and stickers?

It’s definitely a transition, a phase of the process. We wanted to start a brand by building a family of the right people to run it. People have come in and out but the pillars have been founded and that takes time. Maybe one or two years into it I realized, shit, to really establish a brand the right way, is going to take some time. All along we knew we wanted to produce these products, to have a shop and a means to sell our products. The first seven years was about building it so it could stand on it’s own, have some sort of recognition, without really putting a dollar sign on it.

So instead of forcing it, making products and opening a shop without having the feel of the company, you built the company first?

Oh yeah, and the goal is to produce stuff, but doing it the right way was the main thing. Doing it right is a pain in the ass; my garage is full of shit with one sleeve too short or one sleeve too long [laughter] or stuff that turns your whole wash red when you wash it, stuff like that. Once realizing that if we could get the right photographers, cinematographers, and the right riders then we could build a marketing platform and the other shit will come to us. So, for the past few years it’s just been about showing a logo with some imagery; whether it’s the art, the photography or footage next to it that gives a pulse to the brand. It’s a transition but now, more or less, we’re onto the second phase. The life of the company has been built without commerce. Now we can start in that arena.

Kind of how Volcom, making stickers before selling anything?

Sure, I remember those guys pulling into town in a Cadillac and doing donuts in the Brighton parking lot and throwing stickers everywhere. You know, it was Terje, Iguchi, and those guys. There was nothing like that at that time and you couldn’t get anything Volcom for years after that. To get Volcom, It was someone who went to California, skated with those guys and got a hoodie from the back of the car. You couldn’t max out your credit card and shit.

Creating a demand before you even have product?

Yeah, that was the most important thing for us and along the way being able to develop an artist, photographer, or rider and seeing how people grow under our umbrella. Seeing people from our staff commit at the right time and the right place. There’s a job to do here, there’s a lot of shit going on. So whether it’s Bode [Merrill]  saying “I’m gonna go out and send it, I’m gonna fly the flag for you,” or Shanna [Duncan], our artist, saying “I’m just gonna move up to a cabin and draw until you say it’s time to start putting it on clothing.” It’s been a good match and it’s all been founded on belief and passion versus “when’s my next paycheck?” Everybody kind of saw what the good was of working together and what we were creating.

Follow the jump to learn more about the store opening, putting the team together, and Nolan’s thoughts on small business.