Words by Ian Reynolds
Photos courtesy of Virtika Visuals
For those living under a rock, David Lesh is a pro skier, founder of FD Wear (Now called Virtika Outerwear), and of course, the creator of the infamous Last Friday and Apology Video. He has been a mainstay in the ski world for over a decade and throughout his career has seen all that the industry has to offer. Of recent, Lesh has faced unusual amounts of scrutiny within the industry and beyond, ranging from the origins of his company First Drop, to the antics captured within Last Friday. He has been called a trust-funder, a miscreant, and a bad example to kids.
Lesh slashes some Swiss pow while shooting with Powder and Freeskier Magazines.
When Last Friday was released, I myself was concerned. It depicted young athletes and role models flying planes, drifting cars and shooting guns. Without doing any research, I judged David and his company. I bought into the rumors surrounding how FD Wear was started and of course how Lesh was able to afford a seemingly lavish lifestyle. I was concerned with the influence Lesh and FD had over the younger generations and what might come of that influence. I was on the bandwagon.
David jumps his sled in Last Friday in the Gore Range, Colorado backcountry.
After almost a year since the release of Last Friday, I was cruising cyberspace and saw a post on Facebook ripping Lesh and his company. Two thoughts came to mind. The first was surprise. It was amazing how much of an impact a video like Last Friday could have. A year after its release, it was still being scrutinized. The second was, is there a story behind this and was I wrong in my judgment? Or is it exactly as people have presented; Lesh is a trust funder with no thoughts of those his influence reaches? With impulse driving, I reached out to Lesh for an interview to set not only my personal opinions straight, but also those of people who continue to judge the man, and the company.
My first impression of David was that he is intelligent, professional, and strategic while being unapologetic for who he is, and how he portrays himself. He was friendly, open and responsive while maintaining a gritty side, using words like “fuck” to accentuate his thoughts rather than sugar coat a false representation of himself by choosing adjectives outside his command. By his own admission, David can admittedly be inconsiderate at times, a ruthless businessman to a fault, and can be very hardheaded and stubborn.
David Lesh was born in 1985 in Chicago to his father, an artist, and his mother, a cellist. Shortly after his birth, the family relocated to Panvel, India, a village outside of Bombay (now Mumbai). His mother received a grant for $20k for her work, which funded the move and their life for many years. Growing up in India, Lesh started school when he was 3, learning Hindi, Marathi, and English. Throughout his childhood, his family lived off the remaining grant money while making art, music, and traveling throughout India. Spanning David’s life, his family was never focused on material possessions but rather the quality of their life.
David plays with his childhood friends in Panvel, India.
At the start of Desert Storm, all US citizens were strongly urged to return home for their own safety. This news came only 4 days after the birth of David’s sister. Lesh’s family, having lived in India off and on for 7 years, chose to ignore the warnings, trusting their community for the family’s safety. At this pivotal moment, the Lesh family found themselves facing the reality of a potentially volatile cultural conflict. The deciding moment came when David’s father walked into the hardware store he had frequented for years. Considering the clerk a friend, David’s father casually joked, “If the US accidently bombed a Muslim holy shrine, would you kill my family?” Expecting a lighthearted response, reaffirming his family’s safety, David’s father was taken aback when the clerk responded with a stone cold, “We’ll see.”
David butts heads with his goat Mantra.
The family immediately flew back to the US with David’s 14-day-old sister wrapped in a blanket to their next home in Madison, Wisconsin. Upon returning to the States, David had trouble adjusting at first. As a blond haired, blue-eyed kid who spoke with a Hindi accent, his peers didn’t immediately accept him. He got back into school and quickly became disenchanted. As school starts earlier in India, he already knew how to read, write in cursive and do basic math, all skills his classmates were just beginning to grasp.
David catching up on some English homework
Due to some juvenile delinquency, Lesh wasn’t able to officially graduate from middle school, but like most public school systems, they passed the buck, moving him through to high school. Throughout high school David continued to struggle in the confines of the education system and began to take care of himself. Lesh was hired at McDonalds when he was 13, but was only allowed to begin working on his 14th birthday, the legal working age in Wisconsin. He also sold wreaths door-to-door to pay for his yearly hockey team fees. His second job at Play-it-Again sports opened new opportunities into other sports, more specifically skiing.
One of David’s first pair of skis were old boards from Play-It-Again Sports that he dug out of the trash. They were different lengths, different brands, with different bindings. Lesh boiled the tails in hot water, jammed them under a doorframe and made his own twin tips. His parents weren’t able to support his pursuit, so again, David was left to his own devices; hitchhiking, car-pooling, clipping tickets, and doing anything he could to get on the mountain. At age 15 with money from Mc’D’s, and Play-It-Again, Lesh bought his first car, a 1994 Honda Accord. This gave him his first real taste of freedom.
Lesh shooting with a photographer at Keystone for an article in Skiing Magazine.
During middle school, David’s parents got divorced. Amidst high school, 2 jobs, and in rocky times with his father, he moved in with his mother. His relationship with his mother began to worsen so Lesh moved out on his own senior year and along with his 2 jobs, began selling weed. Lesh had a strong opposition to authority and lashed out against his mother’s attempts to be a traditional parent. Partially as a result of his stubbornness, their relationship was rocky for many years.
After barely graduating from high school in Wisconsin, he made the move to Portland, OR living there for the next 2 years. He had no financial support from friends or family and again went back to what he knew, various illegal hustles. He tried to be as “smart” as possible, but had a number of charges brought against him and ended up spending some time in jail. The tone of David’s voice (being older and wiser) showed signs of relief that this aspect of his life was over.
Lesh coaching and riding at Windells. Mt. Hood, OR.
While living in Portland, Lesh visited some friends in Colorado, saw opportunity and thought, “Man, these guys have a good thing going here, I think I’ll give it a shot.” He broke up with his girlfriend, packed his Accord, and made the move from Oregon to Colorado.
Lesh getting his first taste of the Colorado backcountry with friends.
When he arrived in CO he continued making the ever-important industry connections that kept him in gear. He started turning heads and getting results in local contests and began amassing his sponsor support. As with most new comers, he wasn’t making any money.
Fast forward a few years, Lesh is a pro skier getting “paid” to ski. Why is paid in quotes you might ask? Well, like most up and coming athletes, cash is part of the deal, but hard to make a living off of. This brings us to First Drop. Unsatisfied with his outerwear sponsors, and after passive attempts at attending college, this seemed an opportune time to give it a shot.
David is a real do it yourself type of guy. He designed everything, marketed the products, created the website, took all the photos, found the factories, you get the idea. He changed his sleep schedule, putting himself on China time for months talking with factories trying to get the product dialed. After extensive research, he found a few factories that could produce the products he wanted. He then began searching for start up cash.
Lesh visits factories in China, Hong Kong, and Korea for the first time.
David went to everyone he knew to get cash together for his product samples (friends, family, banks, etc). “No one would give me a single dollar”, Lesh stated, remembering back on the experience. Both his mother, now remarried and living in India, and his father in Madison had no money to give. Much like his childhood, he was forced to rely on his own independence. He then went to his sponsors for the money they still owed him. Like pulling teeth, it took some time and some finesse, but he was finally paid. He got a total of $2,012 dollars that he used to start what we now know as FD Wear (Virtika Outerwear).
Lesh’s first production run sold out before he ever received a single item. When the deliveries started flowing in from his factory in China, he was running the company out of his small, one bedroom apartment. After he lined the interior walls with boxes upon boxes, he made the drivers leave the goods in the front lawn. He single handedly packed every order and moved the boxes back onto the front lawn for pickup.
FD wasn’t all rainbows and gumdrops; it was a struggle. The first run of outerwear, based on customer response, was for lack of a better word, crap. Part of FD’s mission was to provide a great customer experience which meant standing behind it’s products. Lesh went above and beyond to replace/credit all unsatisfied customers, which nearly bankrupted the company. He ruined his credit supporting his customers and further committed himself to FD/Virtika.
Lesh brings the FD crew to China to check out new factories and develop samples.
Last Friday is yet another example of Lesh’s general attitude towards life and the opinions of others, full commitment with a brutal disregard for public opinion. His apology video, more of the same, took a stab at those who perceived Last Friday to be a literal representation of life. “I was blown away that people took it that seriously”, said Lesh. The video was in fact produced in controlled environments. Lesh isn’t a “fucking idiot, out running around shooting guns into neighborhoods”. He’s smarter than that but did stress, “This is how we live, take it or leave it.”
Lesh has spent several seasons in New Zealand judging comps, traveling, taking pictures, doing design work, filming edits, and writing articles for NS and Red Bull. Lesh car surfs for B-TV episode “Gillahouse NZ”.
When asked about gun control, gun violence and the influence he has, he provided a somewhat contradictory answer to the actions depicted in Last Friday. David Lesh doesn’t own any guns; he supports stricter gun control, and doesn’t like the constant presence of guns. He does however enjoy shooting guns occasionally and supports the right of gun ownership. His personal opinion is somewhat lost when we see him shooting out of the driver’s window of a moving car.
Lesh is a young man trying to find himself in this world. With that in mind, he isn’t a role model in the traditional sense. He has made, and will continue to make bad decisions. He will get in fights, crash cars, and shoot guns. He will undoubtedly find himself in the spotlight again with the upcoming release of This Friday. His take it or leave it attitude is what put him behind bars, but has also allowed for the success of FD. As with all people, he has good traits and bad.
Lesh holds a US and NZ pilot’s license and instrument rating, and flies his Piper Lance around North American and the Caribbean with friends for business and pleasure.
Like the hip-hop artists he relates to, Lesh is living the American dream. He grew up poor (but cultured), made questionable choices in his younger years, and turned the corner into a successful businessman. FD is the product of an individual who works hard and plays hard. He has improved his life and company every year since 2009 when he started FD / Virtika.
Without research, we would believe Lesh is a trust funder wasting his parent’s money. What I now know is that nothing could be further from the truth; he has earned his success. As I wrap up writing this article I realize a simple fact, don’t judge what you don’t know.