Kicking Off: How four CCS alumni at Xenith are creating a design powerhouse

Twenty minutes. That's the average amount of time any one player will spend on the football field during a typical pro game. And it’s often half that. But if you're in the business of innovating protective athletic gear, you know that 20 minutes of intense football still requires peak protection, without exception.

Founded in Boston in 2006 by former Harvard quarterback Vin Ferrara, the football helmet, gear, and apparel brand, Xenith, puts the safety, performance and comfort of athletes first — from youth to pros — during every step of the design and engineering process. Those 20 minutes and every second of sweat and prep leading up to them? Covered. Now, having based its entire design and manufacturing operation in Detroit, Xenith, which introduced its first helmet in 2009, has debuted Xenith Shadow — a five-star rated helmet featuring an industry-first novel polymer-shell and adaptive fit technology within a patented shock matrix that moves independently of the shell.

And every member of the design studio is Team CCS.

Lead product designer Connor Riegle (‘17, Product Design) says that Xenith Shadow was his first big project at Xenith, along with product designers Bailey Boyd and Andrew Lark (both ‘17, Product Design), and that the design process was so comfortable it felt as if “we had brought a little bit of CCS here. We’re basically a solid CCS design team. It really feels like a family both from a Xenith perspective and a CCS perspective, so we have this shared history. We know each other’s paths, and we’re on that journey together.”

According to the three, Director of Product Design, Matthew McPhail — also a CCS alum (‘09, Product Design) — gave them free reign on the Xenith Shadow project to bounce ideas off each other and come up with something game changing. “It was fun to see a little bit of competitive edge through sketching and research,” says Lark, “all of us just trying to work together to find that novel solution.”

Bailey Boyd contributed the helmet’s sleek silhouette. “If you look at Xenith’s helmets in the past, you know we’ve had a very simple silhouette,” he explains. “That was something that I really wanted to influence on the helmet: design something that looks fast and would really catch people’s eye from a distance while it’s out on the field.”

More than friends and former college classmates, Boyd, Lark and Riegle have forged something utterly unique within a brand known for uniqueness.

The Xenith Shadow helmet is currently on the field being used by thousands of athletes from the NFL and college ball to youth and high school teams. And an undeniable element of the trio’s success at Xenith is the bond they created at CCS.

The 2017 Xenith-sponsored CCS Design Studio is what started it all. The course was led by design director McPhail, who points out that the studio “really sparked what is now a full design team that is comprised almost entirely of people from that original studio, which you just don’t see very often in a design space.”

Xenith completed its third sponsored studio with CCS in spring 2019, this time in conjunction with the Product Design and Advertising Design departments. According to CEO Ryan Sullivan, the company has grown significantly in parallel with what is clearly a winning partnership. “Each year at Xenith, we try to continue evolving, continue raising the bar, continue trying new things and to enhance and deepen the partnership with the College for Creative Studies,” he says. “Because, at the end of the day, that’s the best environment for both organizations to thrive.”