Made in Michigan: Xenith Football Helmets

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DETROIT (WJRT) - (11/09/16) - It's a Michigan-made product that knows how to take a big hit.

"We are the fastest growing football helmet company in the United States and on the planet today," said Ryan Sullivan, President of Xenith.

Xenith is located in southwest Detroit and owned by Dan Gilbert's Rock Ventures group. It's producing 90 to 100,000 helmets a year out of a 66,000 square foot facility and shipping them all over the globe to places as far away as Asia, Europe and South America.

"Teams right here in the city of Detroit, you have teams in the Flint area, Atherton High School, Saginaw Valley State University, Michigan, Michigan State, Eastern, the Lions," Sullivan said.

“When I watch the games on TV, that's all I look for, the helmets. I pause the game and say, ‘Hey that's Xenith, and that's a pretty cool thing to be a part of," said Xenith’s Operations Manager Jacob Kaarto.

He happens to be a recent graduate of Flint’s Kettering University.

"Pretty cool story. I did all my co-op rotations through the auto industry and through that, I made some relations with people at Xenith and ended up coming here after that, but the experience I got at Kettering has allowed me to excel here in more of a leadership role, which is pretty unique. It speaks for the school and what it does for you," Kaarto said.

Like Kaarto, many of Xenith's team members have spent some time working for GM, Chrysler or Ford.

"We have people that have come from all sorts of industries, primarily automotive, given the region we're in, but that provides a great talent base for people who are accustomed to building things," Sullivan said.

Xenith helmets are assembled by hand, painted on site and designed in a way that makes them unique to other brands.

"You can see the space that you have right there for the air cells to compress. When you think of a car, we're in Detroit and the auto industry, you have that crumple zone on a car, well this is sort of your crumple zone on a helmet, if you think about it that way," Kaarto said.

Each helmet sells for around $300 and is checked for safety repeatedly in Xenith's Impact Testing lab, which simulates what can happen on the football field.

"We have a ram that will come in and hit the head form. That head form has a helmet on it, just like that - pow," Kaarto said.

Hard to believe, but Xenith is relatively new to Detroit. Gilbert bought it and relocated the company from Massachusetts in 2014.

"Since we moved to Detroit, the company has roughly doubled in size. We have about 90 team members at our peak here in the city of Detroit. Those are jobs that didn't exist here two years ago," Sullivan said.

As for the future, Xenith hopes to expand into lacrosse, hockey and maybe even military contracts.

“We are truly building a global brand in the city of Detroit, focused on keeping athletes healthy and performing and where we take that technology, the sky is the limit," Sullivan said.

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