Start Up: Vizzibl

photo by Eric Tadsen

There probably aren’t too many people out there who can (loosely) say they spent five hours in a glass shower stall with Danica Patrick, the auto racing driver and model. Yet for television director Billy Nahn, 46, his day with Patrick was just another day on the job.

Nahn was the director of several television commercials that aired in past Super Bowls, and Patrick was one of the stars involved. He worked on other GoDaddy jobs as well: one featuring Chad "Ocho Cinco" of NFL football fame, which was filmed at Middleton High School, and another he created with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Now, the Madison native and UW-Madison journalism grad is taking on a visual venture of another sort — reflective sportswear.

Nahn was raised as a downhill skiier. His mother has been on the Ski Patrol at Cascade Mountain in Portage, Wis. for years. As the father of two teenage boys, Nahn admits he was bitten by the snowboarding bug years ago, and has a passion for the sport and everything it entails. In July, with the help of several local businesses, friends, and tattoo artists, he and his California-based business partner, Shanie Bankson, launched Vizzibl, a line of highly-reflective outerwear aimed at snowboarders, skiiers, motorcyclers, and soon, runners and bicyclists.

The reflective element of the company’s tank tops, t-shirts, hoodies, and thermals, combines screen printing with a 3M reflective product that is more commonly used by firefighters and other emergency personnel. "We just apply it to a more fashionable product," he said. The result is an ultra hip, edgy design — or element of a design (for instance, the eyes of a tiger) — that illuminates like a mirror when light strikes it. "It’s so important for people to be seen at night," Nahn said. "Imagine someone getting hurt on a snowboard at night. A simple light will help searchers find them."

Competition for reflective clothing is fierce. Nahn and Bankson are up against the likes of Harley Davidson, for example, but they choose not to be intimidated. "We try to live in a bubble," he admits, "because sometimes, when you look at your competition, it gets overwhelming."

In September, they drove out to the Las Vegas BikeFest and set up a Vizzibl display booth, which turned out to be a huge coup. "Many companies approached us wanting to form partnerships," Nahn said. One contact, in fact, resulted in the opportunity to outfit Drayden Gardner in Vizzibl outerwear. Gardner, whose family Nahn has come to know, is an 11-year-old snowboarding phenom and a sponsored Olympic hopeful, who now sports Vizzibl sweatshirts. In fact, the young athlete actually created his own design, sketching it on a napkin, and Nahn delivered. In April, the U.S. Snowboarding Association So-Cal team will be outfitted in Vizzibl hoodies during its finals competition.

"We knew this would be a success when we nailed down the name," Nahn said. "It’s the perfect reflection of what we do." In fact, they like the name so well, they’re currently pursuing trademarks for both the name and logo.

"We’ve spent tens of thousands, but luckily, our product looks like we’ve spent 10 times more," he said. "We’re out to compete against really big companies, so we need the high quality product and look." Nahn and Bankson — both photographers — have held costs down by doing their own website photography. They’re also the Vizzibl apparel models. He thanks local businesses, including Pro Video, Bottle Rocket SMB, ZebraDog, Black Wolf printing, Mad-Wraps and others, for supporting him. "They want me to succeed," he said.

Nahn still freelances as a commercial director, but hopes one day to make a living with Vizzibl, which might also mean relocating. For now, with visions of greater things to come, he fills and mails web orders from his home in Fitchburg.

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