There’s really no one out there quite like Circe Wallace. Even as one of the most powerful women working in action sports with her position as Senior Vice President of Wasserman Media Group, she felt with great intensity that she had to create something more: “For me, it was really about continuing to push the boundaries of my comfort level. I’ve never just wanted to be comfortable or for things to be easy… It’s always about: How far can you push it?” With that, she launched her first skiwear line Circe Snow – a label which she says she named not because she’s a “crazy narcissist,” but because her parents granted her such a mythical, storied name: Circe. “I had to live up to it on some level,” she says.
So how does a completely self-taught, high profile female sports agent without a college degree make it in such a male-dominated industry? Circe’s story begins in Eugene, Oregon, where she was a self-proclaimed “dirty, little skate rat kid” that soon discovered the free fall freedom of snowboarding. For such a staunch, competitive, troubled youth at the time, she says, “I had never seen such pristine beauty and it just took me somewhere.” Soon after, in the ’90s, she found real success as a pro snowboarder (it’s insane, because when I was looking for the Thrasher issue she mentioned being in, I found the December ’93 issue with Eric Koston on the cover – she later repped Koston as a sports agent, which you can read more about below). Her sponsor dropped her after she was injured, and by a stroke of luck, a lawyer in Seattle agreed to take her case on contingency – IF, and only if, Circe did all the work. And, at age 25, she did. See, that’s where this story takes a turn, because from what she learned and keeps striving to learn, she has crafted a dizzyingly illustrious career, bookended by her drive to push and keep pushing. Find out what motivates her and how, for her, happiness was a choice she deemed absolutely necessary to make.
ALINA NGUYEN: So, I just wanted to start out about your [skiwear] line first. Bobby [Hundreds] mentioned that this is the second time that you’re attempting to do a line?
CIRCE WALLACE: [My first line] was really super complex and it was super innovative and I can’t believe we pulled it off. It worked amazing, but it took a little bit of effort and it was hard to merchandise. Communicating that story to a retailer was completely out of the [question]; I just wanted to create something beautiful. I wasn’t thinking, “How am I gonna tell this story to the consumer or the buyer at retail?” I was just thinking, “I want to do something fucking awesome.” And so, I did, but it was a little too complex, I think. And I like to say I kinda put myself through manufacturing college, ’cause I self-funded this fucking awesome vision. And then it was tough – we had the economic crash in 2010 and my stuff was kinda bougie. It was pretty flashy and it had all of this adornment.
So, I definitely made some missteps, but I learned so much, and for me, it was always about making something. I have this job where I’ve been doing the same thing for 14 years and I love what I do in working with athletes and helping [them] manifest their dreams. But for me, it was about creating something – for me – and actually kind of tapping into my own creative process. And it was really great to actually bring a product to market and something to life, but the reality is my timing was bad and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. And I think I learned a lot through that, which was really wonderful. And in retrospect, I think it was really challenging, but at the same time really illuminating as to why I was doing this in the first place and what it is that I was really hoping to achieve. So, I took a hiatus. You know, I kinda realized, “Okay, this isn’t gonna pay the bills.”
“I’VE NEVER JUST WANTED TO BE COMFORTABLE OR THINGS TO BE EASY.”
To this day, I’m really proud of it. But I took a break, I got married, I had a baby, and my husband had been really urging me to try again, and so I did. And that is essentially what is this year’s line, which is essentially a simplified version of what I was doing before. For me, it had always been about the one-piece. You know, I was a pro snowboarder in the ’90s and you know, I grew up kind of a dirty, little skate rat kid in the Northwest. And then I moved to California and I really found a lot of power in my femininity. And I started to enjoy dressing well, and that kind of evolved over the years as I became a businesswoman. And then [I wanted to] apply what I enjoyed for my daywear into what I felt was really needed on the mountain… For me, it was really like a convergence of my lives.
A young Circe during her SF skate period with buddies Shawn Martin and Anita Tessinson (now Sanford).
I think it’s interesting because you mentioned that you took that experience as going through “manufacturing college,” and I know you didn’t go to college, right?
I did not.
You said this was a step for you to invest in yourself. Why do you think that it’s so important to you to do something like this for yourself, even though you have such a successful career?
I guess a lot of it is that I got to a certain point in my life where I felt like growth is so important to me. It’s, like, intrinsic. There are certain points in your life where you have this kind of evolution that comes with aging or maturing, or whatever you want to call it. But for me, it was really about continuing to push the boundaries of my comfort level. I’ve never just wanted to be comfortable or things to be easy. I’ve always been a real adventurer, and I used to get that through my exploration in the mountain or in nature or on a snowboard. And then I pushed the limits within the business realm as an agent where you’re always pushing. Right? It’s always about: How far can you push it?
And then I started to feel just a real, almost physical need to create something that was mine. And, you know, I created two children that are mine, but that wasn’t enough. I wanted to make something beautiful to wear on the mountain and I love fashion. For me, it was kind of a converging of my lives. I’ve done a lot of personal work over the last 10 years of my life. I had a lot of angst as a young girl and I’ve been working as an agent in a really male-dominated space; always having to push and be an advocate and fighting kind of for these people that I love. There’s always – there was a lot of anger and I think I did a lot of work to kind of work through that. Wanting to make something beautiful and fun and kinda fabulous was, I guess, indicative of my desire to not be so angry and to be able to enjoy this wonderful life experience that I’m having. You know, I think there was a lot of fear for me too, in letting go of the things that had served me in being a strong advocate and fighting for my athletes, and being a woman and wanting a seat at the table… And I still want all those things and I still love what I do as an agent and as a woman, but I wanted to do something that didn’t feel so angry; that didn’t feel like I had to fight so much, where I could just create.
“FOR ME, IT WAS ALWAYS ABOUT MAKING SOMETHING.”
Both of my parents are artists: my dad’s a musician and a playwright and my mom is a really talented – she mostly does print work – I mean, she does everything, glasswork, jewelry, you name it. And I had kind of completely shut down the creative side of myself because they were my parents, and it was a struggle. For me, I had always had this desire to have certain things that I really wanted as a young child. You know, I wanted the Jordache jeans, you know? And I had to work for that. So, for me, it was very early on that I realized that if I worked hard for something, I could have whatever I wanted. That was the driving force where this kind of came full circle for me. “Oh, wait. I’m having success in the business realm, but I also want to be creative and I need to find a place for me to express myself.” And because I’d kind of identified this white space, it felt like, “This is a logical place for me to go explore that a little bit and play in this skiwear space that could be fanciful and playful and highly functional.”
A shot from the Circe Snow lookbook.
You were saying that your husband was kind of encouraging you to work on the second line?
Uh-huh. My husband’s amazing. My husband’s a writer. He’s an artist… He wrote a book Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell. And he and I had a real whirlwind love affair. We were married within three months of meeting each other at a party. And he’s just amazing and he totally has inspired me in so many ways. He has lived kind of with reckless abandon in pursuing his own art, and I just respect that so much. It was so fun for me to be with someone where that was the most important thing to him; and that he was going to find success in that out, of sheer determination and desire. It reminded me – he reminded me that this was something that I needed to do for me and that I needed to not worry so much about my revenue or how to build a $100 million business. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to make beautiful things that work. You know, it’s really interesting delving into the manufacturing world and fashion, and it’s really fun for me to be able to explore without the headiness or the expectations of others and just make something that I like.
Do you want to talk about the new line?
Well, next year’s line is a little bit more expressive. I’ve definitely taken it to the next level. I don’t really want to disclose quite yet what the specific elements are, but it’s definitely much more dynamic than what you’re seeing right now. I went more utilitarian this season. For me, it was like, “Okay, let’s really get down to basics here.” It also really just got down to functionality. The silhouette is amazing. The fit – like, if I could put you in one, you’d be like, “Oh, my god, this is amazing.” Anyone who gets one [says that about] the silhouette. I have an amazing designer that I work with who I love immensely – she does all my tech stuff and she takes my ideas and puts them in the proper format so that they can be brought to life. She’s fantastic.
Your collection is really beautiful. And there’s nothing out there like this.
There isn’t. There really isn’t. And, you know, I really put so much into the tech features and the quality of the garments. It’s nice to not be just worried about margin. It was like, “How do I make something amazing and tech without looking tech, but that totally works?” I am so sick of the tech gadgets and all the crap. It is so annoying that everyone is more worried about tech than they are about how they look. I mean, it’s fantastic to live in a time with access to all this fabrication and “stuff” but it doesn’t have to be so complicated and it’s just nerdy. I wanted something that works really really good, but also looks good and doesn’t get distracted from why you are skiing or snowboarding in the first place. We have unique features and it’s everything you need and not one thing more.
I named it Circe Snow not because I’m like some crazy narcissist and I needed to have my own brand name, but because my parents gave me this totally radical amazing name. And I totally hated it as a kid. It wasn’t until my 20s where I was able to really embrace it. My parents had given the name of this mythical goddess from Homer’s Odyssey, which is totally radical and has this amazing, deep, fantastic story. I felt like, “God, no one’s using this anywhere. I should be using this. This is my name. And the story of Circe is really beautiful and powerful.” She’s a mythical goddess who essentially fell in love with Odysseus and turned all his men into swine so he wouldn’t leave her island with her magical powers. And he drew a sword and said, “Turn them back or I’m gonna kill you,” and she said, “Okay, as long as you continue to come visit me.” And then they had this great love affair and had a kid together and the whole thing. It’s kind of a manifestation of [that] – I had to kind of live up to it on some level. So [the name] felt totally appropriate... I’m kind of non-egoic in the way that I operate these days, but people should know the story of Circe because it’s pretty amazing. Everything’s about storytelling now. I have a story, she has a story, so why not celebrate that a little bit?
I read another interview about how you have this mentality that has propelled you through becoming a professional athlete and into what you’re doing now. But the part that stood out to me is that you said, “It’s always been about riding.” Can you explain what that means?
I think snowboarding saved my life. I was troubled youth. You know, my parents didn’t have money. Somehow I fell into this thing that gave me exposure and participation in wilderness, and that was a total game changer for me. It was like I saw the world differently all of a sudden and I wasn’t so angry. And it wasn’t about doing drugs anymore. It was about getting to the mountain and exploring the nooks and crannies of this wonderful world that we live in. I had never seen such pristine beauty and it just took me somewhere; it kind of led me down a path that was very organic. I had this competitive personality and skateboarding was great, and that was my entry point – I’m so grateful for it. But culturally, I was a woman, you know, I was a girl. I totally didn’t fit in and I continued to feel like an outsider, where snowboarding gave me a path and I was rewarded for my efforts, and that fueled my motivation and gave me something to work for.
And once I was able to apply the correlation of hard work and success to something, then the lights went on for me. It was like “Oh, wow, I can do anything.” That was it for me. Once I started, I’d always had a real drive, but who knows where I would’ve ended up if I hadn’t found that? I had beautiful relationships, I had a community and friendships with people that I still keep in contact with. I didn’t do well in school, I didn’t go to college. I didn’t have that kind of camaraderie or that community that I was able to establish in snowboarding. You know, I have a 13-year-old daughter with my ex-husband, Andy Hetzel, who is a pro, and we have a beautiful co-parenting relationship and an amazing 13-year-old daughter. There’s all of these things.
“I THINK SNOWBOARDING SAVED MY LIFE… IT WAS LIKE I SAW THE WORLD DIFFERENTLY ALL OF A SUDDEN AND I WASN’T SO ANGRY.”
My life has been so enriched and I wouldn’t have been an agent without it. That was really the catalyst for me having the realization that if I tried hard at something, I could be good at it and I just needed to put the time in. They always say good ol’ Malcolm Gladwell and his 10,000 hours. There’s something really true to that. You can be fuckin’ awesome at anything if you put in your 10,000 hours. Snowboarding was my first experience with that. It was just ‘cause it was fun. You know, it was always about fun. It’s still about fun. I was able to maintain that.
What was that like transitioning from concrete to snow, since you were originally skating? Because the environments are dramatically different.
Oh, so awesome. I mean, snowboarding was so much easier. Skateboarding’s so freakin’ hard. And I would be so banged up! The best trick I ever learned was how to kickflip, which for a girl was like the bar. And I just remember being so perpetually frustrated, knowing that I was never gonna have the wherewithal to be really any good ’cause it was just so physically demanding. I had shin splints, you know, all the normal stuff, but as a young girl, it was like, you know, “This sucks.” And so, once I found snowboarding, there were so few girls, so I was really good for a girl. I was always trying to prove myself – that I was cool enough or gnarly enough or whatever [in skateboarding], [whereas] in snowboarding, I just got to do whatever and I was still good eno
Obviously, I kind of came of age in snowboarding. And I still skateboarded for a long time, I really felt like I had a place in [snowboarding] and it wasn’t so kind of misogynistic. [In Skateboarding], those poor girls are just killing themselves and are gonna be lucky to make a living, and there’s no industry support. Like, here we are 20 years later and still! It’s basically bullshit And thank god I chose that path because it was way easier on my body, I had way more fun, I got to be included, I got to have real success. I had financial success. I had a pro boot with Vans. You know, like, I was in Thrasher. That never would’ve happened if I had stayed and tried to do something in skateboarding. At the end of the day, I don’t think I was even that good of a snowboarder. I just was tenacious. I was a good back country rider. My film part still holds up today, I think, but as far as actually really competing in a halfpipe contest, I couldn’t get air out of a 22-foot pipe right now if my life depended on it. It’s like so next-level. I watch what Torah does, who’s one of my clients, and she just totally blows my mind. It’s so radical. But [it was] fun to be a part of something from the beginning and see it arrive.
In your Frank 151 video, you say, “The good stuff comes because I allow it to.” Do you ever feel like you’ve have had periods in your life where you didn’t allow it to come?
Oh yeah. I was angry. I think I had a lot of pain. And, you know, my parents were divorced. I moved around a lot as a child. I dealt with some big cultural differences. I lived in Nashville, Tennessee, for a year, which was really, really challenging. I’ve been through a lot of heartbreak. And then I moved from Eugene, Oregon, to inner city school in Seattle, which was total culture shock for me. And I think I just was fighting all the time just to be okay. I was like this little Oregonian who never quite fit in anywhere. And even in snowboarding, I was cocky, but I was pretty negative. You know, I think it’s just maturity. I think at a certain point in your life, you decide whether you’re gonna choose to be happy or not, and I decided to choose to be happy.
And when did you decide that?
Probably in my late 20s, early 30s was when I really was like, “OK, I get to choose. How do I want to live my life?” And, you know, motherhood certainly. I had Ava when I was 30 and that just—she is such a bright light and is a real reflection. And they are. They’re little Buddhas. You know, [children] tell you things. They’re so honest. And I think she really put me on the right path.
I know you have a crazy story about transitioning from being a pro-snowboarder to an action sports agent. I read in McSweeney’s that you said, “’Why not me?’ I’d seen Jerry Maguire.’” I thought that was such an awesome quote. Can you tell us more about that?
I mean, it was a no-brainer. I had been inspired to be an agent ’cause I had been injured and then I got dropped by my sponsor, which was in the process of an acquisition by K2, which is a ski company. And so, I sued ‘em for wrongful termination and I found this amazing lawyer – her name was Susan Fox in Seattle – and she had agreed to take my case on contingency, which no one does. Right? So, she only got paid if I won. But she made me do all the work. So, she essentially made me write my own case – which was a really amazing exercise.
“HELPING PEOPLE IS WHAT REALLY GETS ME OUT OF BED IN THE MORNING AND EXCITED FOR MY JOB EVERY DAY.”
That’s really unconventional, isn’t it?
Yes. I was probably 25 or 26. So, I had the wherewithal. You know, she gave me some direction and I basically kind of wrote my own deposition and did all my own homework, timeline, pulled together all my paperwork. She’s was like, “I’ll do it, but you do the work.”
And so, we won. I felt like, “Fuck these guys. I helped build this brand and I got hurt while on the job.” And through that process [I learned that] there’s so much you should know and no one tells you any of this. I had watched Jerry Maguire relatively recently at the time and I was totally inspired by it. I felt like someone should be advocating for these kids. I’d had two ACL reconstructions, which, you know, they’re a nine-month recovery. It’s career-ending. The second one, I was like, “OK, that’s it. I’m done.” I thought, “What job can I create for myself where I can continue to participate in this thing that I love so much?” That was always what was driving me. I love the adventure, I love the exploration of the mountains. I wanted to be able to continue to travel and do this thing that I love so much and stay a part of this culture and community that meant everything to me.
Helping people is what really what gets me out of bed in the morning and excited for my job every day. Like, P-Rod and Travis Rice, Torah – these people are like my family. I’ve been working with all of them for over 10 years and I’ve watched them grow up. I signed Travis Rice when he was 19. He’s 30-something this year. We built a franchise. And I love him. I love Paul. We have created this dynasty at Nike and it just feels right, you know. And you know, I’ve lost plenty of clients. There’s been a lot of bullshit and a lot of toxic relationships in working with athletes that I always take on myself and it’s really painful [when it happens]. I repped Koston for a while, and when he fired me, I felt like my boyfriend was breaking up with me, not because we ever had had any romantic relationship – it was always purely platonic – but because I cared so much.
You know, I am a pariah. I am not well-liked by a lot of people because of what I do. And I’ve had to create a shield to maintain my path of committed happiness to not let that keep me from my potential, because I have the potential to be happy and have a beautiful life. And just ’cause they’re not, doesn’t mean I can’t. But that’s taken some work for sure.
I’ve read that you deliberately put yourself in a place where it doesn’t matter what people say.
Yeah. I think that takes a lot of work. I will tell you, my husband has been really great at helping me with that because he has so much Internet hate – ‘cause, you know, he works in surf mostly and he writes whatever he thinks. And he’s very honest, and he doesn’t care. He’s like Teflon. He does not care what people think and it’s so amazing to be with someone who is so totally unaffected by other people’s perception of him. It’s really helped me realize how easy it is to just turn it off, because it’s when you feed it and you respond to that and you give them the power – [that’s] when they take your energy. And you don’t have to give that to them. They don’t deserve it.
It’s like, you get one shot at this. You might as well have some fun.