Marc Blanchard: Keeping it 100
Words by Eli Moore | Photos by Chelsea Stratso
Downtown San Diego: the Gas Lamp district, some Navy aircraft carriers, and that bar from Top Gun. And homeless people. Legions of derelicts of all shapes and sizes line the street just a few blocks outside of San Diego’s most bustling tourist areas. I am navigating around men and women either sitting or lying on the sidewalk, all talking to themselves, and hitting the “lock” button on my truck keys for what has to be the 10th time. I reach the door to the 100% offices with relief, thanking the universe that I scheduled this meeting during daylight hours. As I enter, the scene around me immediately changes, for the better. Cool colors, clean walls, and mannequins donning the race gear of Justin Bogle and Marvin Musquin greet me as I step in. Walking through the space, I’m markedly impressed. Since the brand’s revival is still in its infancy relative to most of its competitors, I was expecting a small-time operation—a few desks, a lot of product clutter, some posters, and maybe a shitty coffeemaker.
I was only partly correct: Their coffeemaker is awesome. The same can be said for the offices. A small hallway leads to conference rooms and desks, ultimately guiding visitors to the bullpen, a wide-open converted garage loaded with couches, posters, old-school motorcycles, and the man I came to see: Marc Blanchard.
Blanchard happily greets me. He is a character more recognizable for his work than his face. His is a personality content to sit behind the scenes. But his art has graced some of the biggest names and brands in the sport, with a style all its own. He is the design guru behind One Industries, having worked prior to that with JT Racing before its doors shut and reopened, and now focuses on his latest project, the revitalized 100% brand. Blanchard’s days at One Industries molded him, as a designer and as a businessman in America . “With One, it was about putting food on the table. We were making money—off motocross! We thought it was awesome,” he explains, reminiscing about the early days of One as he graciously brings me on a tour around the office and warehouse, which is stacked with the usual maze of boxes but also houses some more epic old-school bikes, including Sebastian Tortelli’s works 1998 Kawasaki KX250. As he speaks, he unwittingly scatters life lessons, and I feel compelled to make mental notes. As the old adage goes, love what you do and you will never work a day in your life.
However, it is an unfortunate consequence of today’s working culture that as one’s work sees more success, it loses chunks of the appeal that drew the individual to it in the first place. Blanchard explains the beauty of One Industries in its infancy, a wonderful amalgam of chaos and uncertainty, as it was: “Having a small brand was awesome; we could do what we wanted, be experimental, and figure out what worked without the consequences.” But as success came, so did the consequences. As the company excelled in the motocross world, even introducing new product lines with their helmets as they worked in brands like Tag Metals and SixSixOne, Blanchard experienced restrictions on his own designs—in the company that he created. Playing the political game—appealing to one associate or customer because their check was bigger than the rest—was not where Blanchard saw himself, no matter how proud he was of his company’s triumphant exploits. Here is where most men might simply reverb Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems” as they sat counting dollars, but Marc Blanchard is a different breed of man, inspired by the journey as much as by the end goal, be it in business or elsewhere. As the company grew, Blanchard began to explore options in his head: Where could he land that would reinvigorate his own creative spark? One was successful in the motocross and mountain bike scenes, enough so that bigger fish took notice. It was not long before the company was receiving buyout offers and was ultimately sold in 2007 for a reported $22 million to a private equity firm. With a sum like that, most would be happy to pack their bags and head straight to a remote island and a five-star hotel. Not Marc Blanchard.
Blanchard’s partner at One, Ludo Boinnard, decided to take his earnings and try his hand at another individualist sport, one that also values unique perspective and creativity: skiing. Boinnard, an avid skier, created the KLINT ski brand, but soon realized that KLINT would not see the same cushy fate as One. At around the same time, Blanchard was itching to get back into the business of motocross, and he took Boinnard with him. “We’re motocross guys; that’s what we do,” he explains. His is a refreshing outlook; Blanchard understands that the route to success, in business and in life in general, is to stick to what you know. The get-rich-quick schemes being constantly hurled at desperate eyes seeking a fast-track ticket to Easy Street go unnoticed by Marc Blanchard; he is moto, and he will stick to it. As it happened, 100%—then by all means defunct—was available to Blanchard and Boinnard, and with the help of industry vet Bevo Forti, the group took over the brand. Finally, Blanchard had a canvas on which to lay his level of artistic integrity, one where he was free to design and conduct himself in whatever manner he saw fit. “With 100%, it is about getting back to the feel of One before it got big, just us and our friends doing what we like,” he says.
This is not the only time that the motocross world has seen a brand recuperated by members of the old MX guard; consequently enough, as Blanchard was taking over 100%, the company that brought him to America, JT Racing, was undergoing a similar revival. As Blanchard notes, there is an inherent challenge in taking a brand from the early ’90s and tossing it into the lion’s den that is the 2014 market. Today’s youth want everything fast and loud, and then they want something different. But as Blanchard and the team at 100% found out, the feedback from young customers reflected the work and artistic prowess that they put into the products. “The response from the kids has been great. It’s cool with 100% to have the pull with the older guys, but also get such a positive response from the kids,” says Blanchard.
As we exit the building and Blanchard closes up the office for the evening, he suggests a quick drink before we go our separate ways. Never one to refuse a potentially free beverage, I am pleased to acquiesce to his request. He exclaims that he will drive, and just as I am about to play the polite card and offer up my driving abilities, I catch a glimpse of his car: an Audi RS5, laced to the moon with racing goodies that I am almost positive had me salivating at a Pavlovian level. Blanchard grins at my reaction to his vehicle, probably knowing full well that his is a story very exceptional to others in his position. We live in an era where brands come and go, and everyone with access to a computer and a screen printer fancies himself “a designer.” But Marc Blanchard has turned his passion into a series of successful businesses, and, even more impressively, he has kept his soul while doing so.
As we drive, we continue to discuss 100% and where he wants to take it. “Sometimes you can’t do what you want to,” he says with a hint of disappointment lining his tone, describing again the political issues that come with growing a business. Blanchard’s world is one where creativity and originality are of the utmost importance, no matter what. Perhaps the rest of the world should heed his example.
Read the story in Volume 002
Featured Artist: Bohdan Burenko
When we first came across the work of Ukrainian artist, Bohdan Burenko we were intrigued by a certain discomfort that radiates from the disfigured portraits he paints. When commissioning him for some work featured in Volume 002, we asked him...