KINGSTON – When Dennis Leedom, Adam Godwin and Josh Walker released their first-ever action sports helmet with a built-in visor, snowboarder Seth Wescott told them he’d win a gold medal wearing it at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
And Wescott did just that in February 2006, prompting 3,000 helmet orders to come flooding in the next day at the young company.
“He put us on the map,” Walker said from the company’s Kingston headquarters on a September afternoon. “Our brand took off.”
Founded in 2004 by Leedom inside a 500-square-foot barn in Duxbury, Bern Unlimited is the only independent company to design and manufacture head protection for non-motorized action sports.
While skaters, skiers, bikers and wake boarders often have to switch between helmets depending on the sport and season, Bern was the first to offer adaptable, all-season helmets with removable liners that boast both safety and style.
“We’re trying to overcome the objections of helmets, like that they’re geeky, or they’re too heavy or they don’t fit right,” said Leedom, an avid skier who had more than a decade working in head protection before starting Bern.
The team worked closely with helmet designer Jonathan Baker from Injoy Design to embark on 18 months of design, resulting in their signature helmet, the Baker.
While many companies focus more attention on developing helmets for men, Bern immediately carved out a niche for itself through its designs specifically catered to women and children.
“It’s about sensibility and style, and making small models,” Leedom said. “What a woman wants is smoother and softer.”
The exploding trend of bike commuting has also contributed to the growing success of Bern, which is now sold in nearly 50 countries and employs 20 people. It has one employee based in China, where the manufacturing of the helmets takes place.
“When the bike revolution started about five years ago, people went to our brand because of the urban commuter style,” Leedom said.
While the company has seen tremendous growth and its Kingston facility is busting at the seams, Leedom and Walker said they have no intention of moving the company headquarters out of the state.
“Staying in Massachusetts hasn’t always been the easiest thing, but we’re super proud of being from here,” Walker said. “We are passionate about our state.”
Said Leedom: “Bern started out as three of us working in a barn, and now we have an awesome team, and Massachusetts is a part of it. No one gave this to us. We deserve it.”
Jessica Trufant may be reached at [email protected]