“Shawn Wiese is a driven businessman with an old school cowboy mentality. About nine years ago when Shawn first introduced himself and explained his role as an agent, he told me he works off of a handshake agreement. To me, that meant he’s someone that still believes your word is all you have.” Derek Kolbaba is someone that has had not only a business partnership, but a personal friendship with Shawn Wiese for many years. Shawn is a man that has earned every ounce of respect he gets when he walks into a room whether it’s a bull riding locker room, a boardroom, or even design studio. He’s a man of many talents with more than enough of his own experience to back it up.
Shawn’s parents are originally from southeast Texas but decided to move to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to start their lives after getting married. They didn’t stray far from the western culture though. They worked on a ranch there in Wyoming, so Shawn was immediately immersed in the western lifestyle. However, their time in Wyoming came to a quick close when they discovered the winters there were a bit “different” than in Texas. The family moved back to Texas to help their family with their rice farming business.
Throughout Shawn’s youth, his dad rode and fought bulls but never really pushed his love for the sport onto his son. After getting on a few calves at the age of five, Shawn actually went in the complete opposite direction and focused on baseball and football for most of his youth. He was engulfed in mainstream sports for the most part, but still showed dairy cattle at places like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. It wasn’t until what would be later in his high school career that he got bit by the rodeo bug.
At the age of 14, the Wiese family moved to southwest Louisiana when Shawn’s dad was hired to develop some farmland. Shawn still played sports at this point, but something was about to happen that would alter the course of his life.
One evening, Shawn’s dad came home saying the neighbors were about to buck some steers. Dressed in shorts, a tank top, and tennis shoes, the now 15-year-old went to see what it was all about. Little did he know, he would not only end up riding a steer that night, but also get stepped on and have to deal with a resulting huge bruise on his ribs in the following weeks. What might deter many kids lit a fire in Shawn and from then on, he was eat up with bull riding. Within just a few short weeks, his dad had a round pen and a bucking chute at the house and went to the sale barn on a regular basis for practice bulls. Shawn recalls, “My dad never pushed me to do something I didn’t want to. But, if you tell him something, and you mean it, it’s all the way from there.”
From that point on, the Wiese family bucked bulls every Tuesday night and you could ride for free on one condition: you had to be there in time for Bible study before you could get on a bull.
Like most youth rodeo athletes, Shawn competed at high school rodeos his junior and senior year. After graduation, he immediately went on a bull riding mission trip in Saltillo, Mexico. At 17 years old, he was by far the youngest amidst all the professional cowboys there. What started out as being thrown to the wolves and a sink or swim situation would turn into an experience that launched his career.
Shawn made what he considers one of the top 10 rides of his life there in Mexico and he attributes it to his nerves and attitude of wanting to prove himself. The ride that won him the round and took his career to the next level, but it was also the ride that broke his ankle. He refused to go to the hospital in Saltillo and waited until getting back to the States two days later.
At 20 years old, Shawn received a scholarship to Howard College in Big Spring Texas to ride bulls. He college rodeoed and continued to ride professionally until the age of 30. Shawn’s identity for over 15 years was rooted in the fact that he was a bull rider. Shawn says, “With that going away, I struggled with it for a while. I didn’t know what to do and I was addicted to the culture. Who am I now? When I decided to retire, I knew I had to go cold turkey. So, for two to three years, when I retired, I didn’t step foot around the culture at all.”
The retired cowboy knew he needed something to do to keep his mind off of things. He relocated to Central California to finish his marketing and graphic design degree in San Francisco. Upon finishing, he worked for a label company out of California as a graphic designer and began to get a taste for what would soon be the next phase of his life.
Before that could happen though, an old friend gave him a call with a proposition. Cody Custer said with so many new names coming up through the ranks of professional bull riding, they would be needing an agent. They needed someone that knew the ins and outs of not just the sport, but the business side of things from someone who had lived it and could relate to them. Not long after that phone call, XD Sports Agency was born.
As an agent, Shawn grew accustomed to hearing negative feedback about his business venture and the word “no” more times than “yes.” He pushed on though and says the little victories are what kept him going. Little things like receiving six pairs of Oakley sunglasses for some of his guys was a big deal. Shawn was actually losing money trying to get his new agency off the ground so ever little victory fueled his fire to keep going.
About two years into the business venture, Brad Bensinger was fresh out of law school and reached out to Shawn about working for XD Sports. Shawn laughed in disbelief because the agency was still having so much trouble staying out of the red.
Shawn went ahead and scheduled a meeting with Brad at a PBR event in Bakersfield California and the two men hit it off. Brad had been on a few bulls and roped on a regular basis, so he was familiar with the western lifestyle. He was a perfect fit and the two men became full partners in XD Sports and great friends which still remains the same to this day 18 years later.
The agency still had its frequent struggles but Shawn kept letting his little victories light the fire so he could keep going. Those little victories led to bigger ones like Lucky Brand Jeans. Shawn and bull rider, Brent Vincent, visited Lucky Brand’s offices in L.A. and impressed the owner into a deal with an industry they had never even touched. To Shawn, this solidified all his hard work. He knew this is something he could do and should continue to pursue.
As the PBR grew, Shawn was able to introduce some amazing sponsors to an industry they had either never touched before or hadn’t been affiliated with in decades. Shawn’s goal in the beginning was to help bull riders and help progress the sport to a higher level…bringing in big names is exactly what that does. He helped build the US Army’s first team of PBR Riders, brought Monster Energy to the sport of bull riding, worked with General Motors to create Team Chevy Rodeo and reintroduced the iconic Levi’s Jeans brand back to their western lifestyle roots by creating a team of PBR Riders. Those are just a few of the big name brands he’s brought to western sports. Over the course of 18 years he has introduced many brands of all levels and industries to bull riding.
“I keep getting older but the bull riders stay the same age.” Shawn said with a chuckle. “A lot of my success with the agency has been me walking in the locker room and just being one of the guys. They know that I ran my hand in the rope just like them back in my younger years and with that comes a mutual respect. All in all, I’m just one of them and they trust me. My track record of bringing on big brands probably doesn’t hurt either, I show them the money! As far as the agency goes, I just want to keep bringing on new brands and do my part in growing the sport of Professional Bull Riding.”
During his travels as a western sports agent around 2013, Shawn saw something on a billboard that brought the idea of the “V” logo to mind. He didn’t even have a name yet, but the marketing and graphic design extraordinaire brought the logo to life to keep in his back pocket.
After researching “V” words, Shawn came across vexillum, which is defined as a banner that a Roman soldier carries into battle. Shawn said, “If I’m going to build a brand around something, what better definition to build a foundation on than a banner you carry into battle?” It wasn’t long after this stroke of genius that caps and t-shirts branded with VEXIL came into existence.
Five and a half years ago, the new online brand poured their marketing efforts into social media. Social platforms were just starting to gain steam so Shawn stuck his ground when it came to building that momentum. It paid off because now, Vexil boasts over 100,000 followers on both Facebook and Instagram, a feat that is usually only accomplished by large scale and global brands. To this date, Shawn still does all of the marketing and product design for Vexil.
Shawn stayed consistent with driving people to his website. “It wasn’t crazy growth out of nowhere, but it’s been nice and steady growth. The first two years weren’t as steep as the last three, but it has continued to steadily gain momentum.”
Vexil has developed partnerships with athletes such as Chuck Swisher and Derek Kolbaba who have been on board almost since the brand’s inception. Shawn said, “Both of those two guys are people I hope to bring along with the brand as long as they want to be a part of it. Chuck has been a great ambassador for our brand. And I met Derek when he was 15, brought him on at 18 in the beginning, and told him he would be the first official Vexil sponsored PBR rider when I could afford to pay him. That time came two years ago.”
Vexil is also diving into the Texas Music Scene. Shawn said, “Music is also a passion of mine, I play and write a little as a hobby. We have officially started working with Texas Music artist Jon Stork, David Adam Byrnes, Colby Keeling and just this week we finalized a partnership with Aaron Watson. I’m excited about this new venture and look forward to doing more in the future.”
According to Shawn, there have definitely been learning curves in the apparel business. “You put product out there, you see what people like, you design the next phase based on likes, and it’s just a trial and error experience. It’s a challenge but I love challenges.”
Shawn also noted that wrapped around every successful person are great people. “I couldn’t do any of this without God, my family and friends. They keep me grounded and help keep things in the right perspective. My wife does just as much for Vexil as I do, I couldn’t do it without her.”
Shawn has big ideas and even bigger dreams for Vexil. Most of them are secret, but they will happen. He says, “I want to keep putting out quality product. I want it to grow and be known worldwide. We’ve sold to England, Australia, Mexico, Canada, France, and many others. But the most important thing to me is our message. We want to be an encouraging brand. We are built on the Bible verse Joshua 1:9 – Be strong and courageous for the Lord is with you wherever you go.”
Shawn wants people to be strong and courageous while chasing their dreams, especially because he knows that he will always be chasing his.
Article by Katie Armstrong