For many of us, time spent at home has refocused how our consumption can support local businesses in these trying times, but for one Victoria-born brand, localization has long been a part of their core agenda.
Championing home turf comes naturally to ecologyst, which began life as West Coast-inspired surfboard brand Sitka twenty years ago — an entrepreneurial extension of founder Rene Gauthier and his friends’ immersion in the coastal lifestyle of Vancouver Island. The company rose in popularity over the last two decades, expanding into a more rounded outdoors-focused apparel company. As it grew, the company drifted a little from its roots with production outsourced overseas and the opening of offshore offices. But outside between coast and alpine air, something didn’t feel right; the brand’s operations didn’t align with the overarching, deep-rooted environmental advocacy the team had been channeling since day one.
Fueled by unavoidable truths about the contribution by conventional clothing to landfills and plastics in our oceans, Gauthier completely reevaluated the supply chain, production and materials. In 2019, Sitka, now renamed ecolgyst, was scaled right back — a move dedicated to heavily reducing the company’s environmental footprint. Gauthier took his leap of faith, fully embracing local production on the West Coast, downsizing to smaller collections that resist fast-fashion throw-away culture, and looking to natural and organic fibres over conventional petroleum-based ones. Anything they can’t source within close proximity to their Victoria business hub comes from the next best thing: as close to home as possible through artisans in North America.
A Stone’s Throw
Now, you can find a small factory at their Victoria HQ just a stone’s throw from their store on Government Street. While not without its challenges, ecologyst hope they can encourage consumers and like-minded businesses to see that sustainable choices are possible.
And if producing products in their HQ wasn’t local enough, they’ve fully embraced the worldwide commitment to #StayHome with an innovative vibrant photoshoot for their Spring collection in Gauthier’s very own bedroom. The shoot features ecologyst community favourites: wife Aki (pictured above) and animated son Hiro, who have both popped up in a previous photoshoot or two.
Highlighting the creativity of both the team and local talent is embedded in the ecologyst ethos, whether they’re collaborating with coastal artisans or featuring flourishing photographers on their social media feeds. In their most recent creative endeavour they teamed up with Sooke-based knitwear brand Olann on a collection of chunky knitwear. A focus on higher quality products that last a lifetime has also continued to nourish the open and honest communication between the company and its consumers. The team looks to feedback from its community to nail down exactly what features and products are needed for life on the West Coast, also creating a repair service to make sure well-loved pieces continue to perform as they should.
The belief that “in joining with our community we become a powerful force for good” extended to opening up the opportunity for co-ownership applications in 2019. In an enthusiastic response, ecologyst became 7% community owned last year with goals for this to increase to 20% in the near future. The initial round raised $700,000 from 200 customers, funding the company’s name change and bringing their new website and Whistler store to life.
Leave it Better, Locally
Since day one, ecologyst have been vocal environmental advocates for the protection of the stunning coastal and alpine regions of Vancouver Island and its neighbouring areas. This mentality is infused in their commitment to “Leave it better than we found it” — a focus that led to the formation of the Sitka Society for Conservation with at least 1% from every product sold going toward localized conservation efforts.
Already in 2020, they have made big moves in the local eco-landscape, partnering with the likes of Sea Legacy and Hornby Island Conservation Society to document the last herring fishery in the Salish Sea, culminating in the recent release of their film The Silver in the Sea. It’s set to be an inspiring and educational year as the ecologyst story continues to unfold, with talks of more inspirational media, including a feature-length film about microplastics on the not-so-distant horizon.