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Inside Out at Thousand Helmets

August 30, 2016  |  By Blair Smith

Inspired by the cycling-related death of a mentor on the streets of New York City, Thousand Helmets recently introduced their “thoughtfully designed and obsessively crafted” bicycle helmets to market. An equally uncompromising goal to change city cyclists behaviour around wearing a bicycle helmet makes the story of this mission-driven business that much more compelling. We go inside the Los Angeles-based company to get brand and business insight from Gloria Hwang, Co-founder, and Amar Patel, Chief Operating Officer; including their secret to creating a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign.

What was the spark for Thousand Helmets? The ah-ha moment.

I was a long time cyclist but I never wore a bike helmet. I thought they were kind of science fiction looking. Then, a mentor of mine was cycling in New York City, got hit by a car, and he passed away from head injuries. After that, I made a personal decision to start wearing a helmet.

We met working at TOMS–you know “the one for one shoe company”. I was on the philanthropic side of the business. Amar was in supply chain. My role inspired me to think about if I designed a bike helmet that people actually want to wear it would help solve a public health issue in cities. I don’t think helmet laws or PSA’s will make people wear bike helmets. Designing a beautiful product that people want to wear will help change their behaviour.

Thousand bike helmet in gold

What is Thousand’s mission?

At Thousand, we rally around three main ideas: 1. To help curb the impact of bike accidents. 2. To promote active and community living. 3. To make quality cycling gear without causing unnecessary harm to the planet.

What does the name mean?

It came from a couple of things. A big part was our Kickstarter campaign. We started funding the idea using our savings accounts. We wanted to raise $20,000 to cover the basic start up expenses, but did some calculations and figured we needed $80,000 to get this going without putting any more of our money into it. This meant we had to sell 1,000 helmets to hit that target. Another piece was eliminating the statistic of number of cyclist deaths each year. If you look at the Thousand logo design the S is faded away a bit as a nod to this.

How does Thousand stand out in the market?

When I first looked at the helmet market it felt like it mainly targeted high performance athletes. I personally don’t fit into that category. Thousand is built on the belief that if people embrace our product as a lifestyle accessory, rather than just a safety commodity, they’ll be more likely to wear it.

Initial sketch of Thousand bicycle helmet on paper

What problem does Thousand solve for city cyclists?

Thousand wants to be your solution for inconvenience. If you don’t want to carry your helmet around then, you can lock it to your bicycle with our patent pending Poplock. We try to make a product that’s both functional and beautiful.

What is a project/campaign that you’re most proud of?

It’s got to be our Kickstarter campaign. We did everything organically. No paid advertising. All photo and video was done for under $3,000. We shared it with our family, friends and on social media; that’s it. We had no idea how big the response would be, but it took off! There was no real campaign plan. We started developing authentic content sharing our journey and kept releasing it online when it was done. It was all pretty grassroots. We were committed to being honest and transparent…no matter how good, bad or ugly.

What was a recent challenge that you overcame? What did you learn from it?

The biggest challenge was with manufacturing. I had some background in product development and working with factories when I was at TOMS. However, the helmet manufacturing world is incredibly different. We had a quality issue with our helmet mould–which is a 1,000 lb piece of metal–that took us a total of two months to figure out with our partner in China. Eventually we decided we had to redo the mould, which cost an extra $20,000 and delayed the delivery time. However, we didn’t want to compromise on our quality standards for helmet design.

Thousand is built on the belief that if people embrace our product as a lifestyle accessory, rather than just a safety commodity, they’ll be more likely to wear it. – Gloria Hwang, Co-founder

What keeps you up at night?

Quality. We have a rejection rate that’s more than 2x the industry norm, and we’re still always thinking about improvement. Thousand isn’t in business to make money off of volume. We want to produce a beautiful product that’s exceptional quality. I believe the people will come if we consistently deliver that.

Thousand Helmets design studio

How do you see Thousand’s impact in the next 5 years?

The goal is for people to one day look at bicycle helmets and feel like there’s no stigma behind wearing one. I got into cycling because of how fun it is. Hopefully the space we’re in will encourage more people into cycling. Everybody needs an entry point and we want to be that for the bicycle accessory space.

What’s another brand/organization/person you’ve got your eye on doing exciting things for city cycling?

We’re big fans of what Heritage Bicycles from Chicago and Linus Bike are doing. Rapha and Ten Speed Hero are doing beautiful work in the cycling apparel space. City bike programs, like Metro Bike Share in Los Angeles, are awesome.

Full disclosure, Model Cyclist has supported Thousand Helmets since it’s early days. Our co-founder Blair Smith can be found cycling around town wearing the Heritage Collection model in Thousand Navy. See the full collection on the Thousand website.

(Images courtesy of Thousand Helmets.)

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