Founder and Design Lead of Bilio, Billy Smith is a modern day innovator being guided by an inherent surplus of creativity. He and his design team are fixated on looking to what nature has already created and how "we" can replicate nature's designs and focus on materials first production.
Some of the best designs in the world have come from nature and that's precisely why the teams at Bilio are materials first, design led by sustainability.
Some minds work a little differently and are commonly filled with streams of creativity looking for an outlet. It’s even more impressive when an individual can harness the power and direct it towards innovation. There are innovators out in the world, designing things that make our lives a little better and a little easier. And it’s not that they set out to save us and the world, it’s just an inherent ability to take almost dreamlike ideas and transform them into real life concepts and ultimately, malleable goods.
Some innovators and creators develop over time, but with individuals like Billy Smith, CEO/Design Lead of Bilio, it seems like it was a path to follow from right out of the womb. Growing up in Mill Valley, CA, Smith grew up living a very NorCal surf inspired lifestyle with ample opportunities to explore his creative mindset. An athlete through the formable years, Smith eventually landed at the University of Puget Sound where the doors to freedom of exploration and design opened. And opening the door into any of his dorm rooms, it was like walking in a rainforest of fauna and fabric. And once the eyes and the brain connected on thought, then you'd notice the skate ramps scattered around the room with a sewing machine as the centerpiece.
Smith started by repurposing old wetsuits into Billy Bags for EDC items and “Puter” Pouches (laptop sleeves) ultimately initiating the journey leading him to positions at Patagonia and Apple. Graduating from UPS in 2007, Smith immediately went to Patagonia HQ in Ventura, CA, to begin a career in product design and development. He became the lead for the wetsuit and surf product lines. And while leading Patagonia’s design may be enough for some, Smith and his younger brother founded a side-business called Sporting-Sails that continues to operate today. In 2012, after 5 years at Patagonia, Smith was recruited by the Apple Industrial Design Group and Product Design Engineering Teams to lead a new committee focused on “Soft Goods.” His focus was on things we take for granted today and the first generation of Apple Watches, iPhones and cases, and other innovative programs that haven’t seen the light of day… yet.
“You ask the questions of where it came from? How do you trace that back? The same questions are rooted deep in defining what sustainability is. And in some cases, you know, that can have many answers."
In early 2015 and after the launch of the Apple Watch, it was time for big moves as Smith decided to leave Apple and start his own design and development firm, called Bilio. Found in Oakland, CA, Bilio is materials first and finds truth in a compelling story; allowing development and design for manufacturing to flourish under one roof. The team bridges the divide between soft and hard goods from proof of concept to engineering validation by testing advanced applications in bonding, textile engineering, lab-based prototyping, and tool-made methodology. And because creativity does not come without thought, Smith continues to pose questions around the food you're eating.
“You ask the questions of where it came from? How do you trace that back? The same questions are rooted deep in defining what sustainability is. And in some cases, you know, that can have many answers. And what I'm understanding the most now is a lot of companies are priding themselves on the transparency of giving that information out to the public and identifying sort of those key indicators. I think that's something open for dialogue as we continue to look for solutions in real time, and that sometimes there isn't the answer right now and it goes back to that idea of progression, right?”
Smith knows and can see the progression of innovation and culture inspired brands recognizing that we’re all late to the game and action needs to be taken today. It’s not so much that the answer and outcome need to happen tomorrow, because leaders of industry are beginning to better understand sustainability and prolonging the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors is a journey we’re all just beginning to embark on and there are many ways to tackle the problem. Smith added, “where Apple is focused on innovation, perfection, and the overall human experience, Patagonia is intent on building the best product, with the least amount of harm.” And while we all notice the efforts being made by Patagonia and other favorable brands, the focus is shaping and transforming to a “save the planet” mentality. Additionally, brands and industries are realizing that if they don’t change the way they’re creating products and the stress their production lines are putting on the environment, there won’t be a place for the products to exist in the outdoors they were intended for. Climate change and repercussions of decades of action without thought are changing the conversation of how we design and the conversation of how we consume. The data and the metrics are coming in real time and simply can’t be ignored. And while a uniformed front is still being formed, the outdoor industry is taking stance as the leader.
Certainly falling within the realm of the outdoor industry, Bilio looks to the materials first; both a piece of the puzzle and the final product. The team sees inherent beauty and perfection that already and has long existed in nature to drive innovation and creation. Bilio has looked into biomimicry and even deep into the chemical makeup of a lily pad. And to the common eye, where a lily pad seems to be a resting place for flowers on distant lakes, Bilio sees it as the groundwork for the world’s best bra cup. It’s not just the ideas Bilio is coming up with and acting on, it’s simply their ability to recognize that nature and true to nature materials and textiles are where production needs to look to and build on the materials first revolution.
Creativity is undoubtedly at the forefront of Billy Smith and Bilio’s day-to-day operations and forward thought, but no one can deny that they came to be the person/brand they are today without drawing from experiences of the past. Smith has led an unrivaled journey, working at industry leading brands and ultimately starting his own design firm. But Smith admits the “Sporting Sail is still the most memorable of any of my creations, even of all the ideas that never made it from thought to design. It celebrates this innocence and this joyous feeling of it kind of goes back to this quote ‘no man is really a man, if he's lost out of him, all the boy’ and every time I go back to that product, I find that boy. And I'm like, that guy is cool.”
There is a lot in the works for Smith and Bilio as the teams look towards the future. Presently Bilio is consumed by updating the revolutionary Bilio Mask that came to fruition back in March of 2020. And as the world went on lockdown, Smith quickly saw a necessity for a multi-use mask compared to the 5.5 billion single-use masks that have been made to date and sadly are already ending up in our oceans. Bilio intends on using much of what they have learned with the Bilio Mask and implementing best practices with a 100% "Knit-To-Shape" and zero waste production Bilio Bag.
And as you start each day moving forward, take note of the little things you see on a regular basis that nature has provided. Because if you look, think, and ideally, notice things like a lily pad and really look at how it's built and like Bilio, imagine the best bra cup in the world.
Billy Smith and Bilio are materials first, always looking to what nature has provided and ultimately need the least amount of assistance to move forward with design and production.