Former international cricketer Dion Nash has bounced back from a career-ending injury to launch a successful skincare company.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too…
(If; Rudyard Kipling)
It’s Monday June 20, 1994. New Zealand have fallen just short in their quest to secure an historic victory over England at Lord’s – the home of cricket – as bad light scuppers their bid to take the last remaining English wickets. The frustrated Kiwis are forced to chow down on the bitter-sweet taste of a moral victory, but for one dashing young all-rounder, the drawn Test match represents a massive personal breakthrough.
“And our man of the match… he’s the first New Zealander to take 11 wickets in a Test against England, and the first to take 10 or more wickets and score a 50 at Lord’s… It’s Dion Nash!”
With his buccaneering talent, blonde locks and sunny disposition, Dion Nash appears to have the cricketing world at his feet. As the 22-year-old steps up to receive his award and the customary magnum of Champagne, cricket legend Fred Trueman remarks: “a star is born.”
A star may have been born during that intriguing five-day battle, but, alas, it proved to be of the shooting variety. Just a few short years after bursting onto the world stage, Nash was forced to hang up his spikes – a series of debilitating injuries curtailing a career that had once showed enormous promise.
Fast-forward a couple of decades to February 2015, and I’m enjoying a coffee with the former cricketing prodigy at Sultans of Shave on North Canal Road, on the outskirts of Singapore’s Central Business District. His blonde locks are long gone, but the perma-smile remains as he talks passionately about the men’s skincare company he’s founded, Triumph & Disaster. The name would appear to be an apt metaphor for a cricketing career of extreme highs and lows.
Over the years I’ve met countless sportsmen and women who have failed to fulfill their early promise, and witnessed an almost tangible bitterness as they ponder what might have been. But if Dion belongs in the same dilapidated old dressing room as such bitter and twisted individuals, then he hides it very well.
“Cricket gave me a hell of a lot,” he says.
“I was a boy from a little village and cricket got me out of there and into the big real world. Suddenly I’m at Lord’s getting a bottle of Champagne for being man of the match. Surreal.
“In 1995 I secured a contract at Middlesex (in the English County Championship) and, because we were successful in every competition, I played nonstop for six months. “
Each team could only sign one overseas player back then – the likes of Wasim Akram, Brian Lara among them. These were legends, guys I looked up to. Maybe I didn’t feel like I was on the same level as them, so every time I played for Middlesex I gave it everything to try and prove that I belonged. I never held back and that’s why I was bound to suffer injuries. I ended up suffering a stress fracture in my back in my second year.
“I was in denial initially – I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t bad and that I’d get through it. But nine months later I was still out of action, my teammates had stopped ringing, my car sponsor rang me to reclaim their car, my bat sponsor broke off their deal and then my boot sponsor. It was a tough time. I was essentially unemployed.
“However, in hindsight the injury was a good thing. It gave me real perspective and made me think about life after cricket.”
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools…
(If; Rudyard Kipling)
After eking out a living during his long and painful rehab, including working as a part-time barman, Dion made his eagerly-anticipated return to cricket – firstly in the domestic game, and then with New Zealand in 1998.
In 1999 he starred as the Kiwis reached the World Cup semi final, and he was instrumental in masterminding a Test series win over England. That same year he also captained his country in the absence of injured skipper Stephen Fleming, and was praised for his bold, aggressive leadership.
“I had to play through pain and injuries a lot, which I did my best to hide from my teammates. It was tough, but I wanted to give cricket a real go. I never once left anything in the tank after I came back – I gave it everything on the pitch no matter what, and I think my attitude helped the team and the players around me. I treated every game like it was my last because I suddenly knew how fleeting a sporting career could be. “On May 2, 2002 – at the tender age of 30 – Dion was forced to announce his retirement from cricket after a topsy-turvy decade in the higher echelons of the sport. After years of being hampered by back and shoulder problems, it was a hip injury that hammered the final nail in the coffin.
“Getting over the injuries took so much energy, both physical and mental. When you’ve faced the start of a rehab process from a serious injury four or five times, it’s demoralising. You start hating your physio, you’re not nice to be around.
“Another factor was that when you’re injured and trying to play through pain you’re naturally not performing at your best, yet you have to put up with the press giving you grief. In the end it wasn’t worth it. “Unlike Premier League footballers, who can bank several thousand pounds per week before retiring to their tacky mock-Tudor mansions, Nash missed out on untold sporting riches. He wasn’t in a position to put his feet up for the rest of his days.
“When I first started playing I was earning $400 a week, so financially it was nothing to write home about.
“When I finished playing I had a house and a mortgage and no real plan. I felt confident and positive, partly because I’d been to university (BA in anthropology and sociology from the University of Otago) before I started playing cricket professionally, so I knew that I had more skills than just being able to bat and bowl.
“In hindsight I’m glad I was 30 and not 35 when I had to retire and start my working life again – I think it would have been much more difficult later on.”
Despite his optimism, it wasn’t until a chance meeting in his local gym that Dion secured the break he needed to kick-start his new career.
“I started chatting to a guy I knew who worked for 42Below, a vodka company. He asked me what I was doing and I gave him some flannel about trying to start a bottled water company. By coincidence they were looking to move into that field and, to cut a long story short, he asked me to work for them.”
By late 2010, the former cricketing golden boy had been promoted to the position of marketing director, but, when 42Below was taken over by Bacardi Limited, falling in line with the methods used by a corporate giant proved difficult for a man who, by his own admission, struggles to take direction.
“I felt stifled – the role now meant spending more time on a plane than with my family – so I decided to take redundancy and have a go at doing something myself. I didn’t know what that was initially, but on my very last trip with 42Below I was in a coffee shop in Brooklyn, New York, and I saw all these tattoed guys in waistcoats using skin creams. It was the start of the hipster scene, and something just clicked in my head about skincare.
“Then I started thinking back to when I was a cricketer standing in the sun all day and how it made me feel and how I looked after my skin during my career. I used to get some funny looks and comments from my teammates initially, but I didn’t care – I’d religiously wash off the suncream after a day’s play, use a scrub and moisturise.
“I remembered how much better I felt, and how fresh I was the following morning. Those memories and my Brooklyn experience were my lightbulb moments.”
Despite his limited years in the corporate world, Dion threw himself into launching his company with the same gusto with which he bowled bouncers at opposition batsmen. He knew what kind of products he wanted to develop – ones that used natural ingredients and married the best that nature had to offer with the latest scientific information – and that his business ethos would be one of sustainability and integrity.
Everything was falling into place apart from one fundamental component.
If you can dream, and not make dreams your master;
If you can think, and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…
(If; Rudyard Kipling)
“I was really struggling for a name. I wanted it to be something that had a meaning, something associated with family and maybe something that was passed down from generation to generation.
“When I was 13 my father gave me a framed poem called ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. It was at a time when father and son were ‘butting heads’ so the poem was promptly defaced, graffitied over and thrown in a bottom drawer.
“The poem is advice from a father to his son on how to be a man. It is about humility, honour, risk and reward.
“I came across this tattered old poem in the bottom of an old chest and I read the line, ‘if you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same’. It was so apt because I wanted our aim to be to respect nature, utilise science, and create products of ritual and tools for preparation – so we can treat triumph and disaster, those two imposters, just the same.
“That was it, the brand was born.”
A brand concept is one thing, a meaningful name another, but funding the project was a different challenge entirely. With a tidy redundancy cheque burning a hole in his pocket Dion was up and running, but to make his dream a reality and to maintain financial independence, more sacrifices were needed. This included selling the house in Auckland he shared with his three children and his wife – the former New Zealand netball captain Bernice Mene – and downsizing.
“I remember the first time I had to write a cheque out for $50,000 and it was gut wrenching. It was for packaging and it was at a stage when we hadn’t even started trading.
“There were several more cheques to write as well. I found that you have to drill down a long way before oil starts flowing.
“I had to do the hard yards and go out and actively sell the product. Selling’s the toughest job in the world; it’s brutal and sometimes you can live and die by the mood of the guy in the shop.
“I resolved to get to know every part of the business. Even though I’d worked in business for seven years I still felt that I needed to understand it all in order to be confident about succeeding.
“Three-and-a-half years on and we’re making money – we’ve now turned a profit in eight successive months which is ahead of schedule.
“We’re still self-funded and we have money in the bank. We’ve not paid back all the money it took to set it up yet, but we’ve got a good business model; we’re now selling to 89 stores in New Zealand and export to five countries.
“I’m still across everything, but as you progress you have to invest in people. It’s like being in a team environment again – you’re only as good as those around you.
“I’ve employed some really good staff, who are passionate about the brand, including another former international cricketer Reece Young, who’s my freight and logistics guy. He’s brilliant. It was his first job after sport and he’s turned into a vital cog in the wheel.”
If you can make one heap of all your winnings,
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss
(If; Rudyard Kipling)
The hard, masculine world of professional sport would appear to be light years away from the cosmetics industry, but Dion is as passionate about his products as he was when he was donning the black cap and striving to lead his country to victory on the cricket field.
“I’ve got strong feelings about the industry. What we’re being sold is based on fear – all this anti-ageing and aiming for eternal youth to my mind is a load of rubbish. We are all ageing.
“Cleaning off sunscreen, using a gentle cleanser and then a moisturiser takes five minutes out of your day and it’s much better than using products that say they’ll hide all your wrinkles. I believe that we should age gracefully but have an attitude of youth. How you approach life is your biggest battle against age, not what you stick in a needle or in a bottle.
“I remember the day I first shaved my head because I was thinning on top. It was a revelation. I thought ‘that’s one less thing to worry about’. I just decided to buy some hats instead, and I love wearing various styles of hat now. Embrace what’s happening. Let’s stop selling fear and start selling health.
The passion is almost dripping from his freshly-shaved dome, but is it possible to get as much pleasure out of running a business as it was running into bowl against the likes of Brian Lara and Steve Waugh?
“Yes, without a doubt. Cricket was a magnificent experience but I believe wholeheartedly in looking forward, not back.
“I feel so lucky to have this second go at something that is just as enriching as cricket.
“In the business world I feel like I’m in the Under 16 rep team – like I’ve got some potential, but by no means am I there yet. If I play my cards right I know I can make it work. But I also know from my cricket experiences that things can suddenly go wrong. That’s life.”
With 60 seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son.
(If; Rudyard Kipling)