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Interview with the Board Press

An up-and-coming Canadian brand you need on your radar – As told to Stephanie Lake

I caught up with Jordan Kendel, founder and president of Ekumenik, a heavy surf and skate-influenced Canadian-roots brand with a seriously unique and envy-inducing business model.

What do I mean by envy-inducing? Jordan lives the best of both worlds… he balances living and working in Canada and Indonesia throughout the year. It’s rad. Straight up.

His brand Ekumenik has been circulating through tradeshows and gracing shop shelves for 10 years now. It is a line that embodies the details. And I mean, details. There have been times when I’ve tried to catch up with Jordan over the years and he tells me he was just sewing the wooden buttons on sweaters and shirts, or unloading his new shipment of stock, hustling samples or en route to the next tradeshow. The guy just gets down to it and is committed to ensuring Ekumenik grows and thrives not only Canada but also internationally.

This attention to detail, his commitment to the brand as a whole, those who support him, and trying to understand his business model is what I wanted to get to the bottom of when reaching out to Jordan.

This, in Jordan’s own words, is what he had to say…

 

THE DAWN OF EKUMENIK

I just turned on a Tragically Hip YouTube album Live at the Misty Moon to get into some kind of writing mode to get your questions answered. I was on a bit of a roll late last night writing copy for our hangtags for the FW17 collection (now in production in India, Indonesia and Hong Kong). I figured I’d tried to keep up the momentum here before writer’s block sets in again.

Ekumenik started when I was working at a boardershop in YYC, at The Source on 17th Ave (now Less17). My girlfriend at the time had dumped me due to general failure at life. At the time I was rolling to work to mop the floors at the crack of 10, spending most of the day at Beano beach instead of the sales floor and smoking weed in the back lane with fellow greasers. Occasionally sucking down volcano bags with the owner of the Hemporium next door. It was great times!

I had started a clothing brand in high school in Winnipeg with some pals called Jibb Clothing! It was really awesome; we taped full-size Hi8’s to our boarder helmets and did cool shit like rode sleds down stairways into closeouts and throw litres of cola back through the windows at the drive through. This one time we bought an old beater car, spray painted it and rally raced it till it couldn’t run anymore. We rolled it down the hill to the floodway and used it as feature for this modified “wake” boarding, towed behind a truck or car. Just another Saturday. Ah, the good old days before winches, bungees, GoPros and drones. If there was anything with a propeller flying overhead, there was likely some RCMP squad cars en route. We did a lot of wild shit back then. I wasn’t really trying to kill myself, but I always kind of assumed I’d die young like all the greats (likely around 27). I always considered myself some kind of rockstar/athlete. The problem was I was never very talented at anything cool (besides funnelling beer). When I think back on it now, I just think I never really could picture myself getting old.

Fast-forward to 2006 I was getting dangerously close to the magic 27 and finally realized my life was destined to be longer than originally anticipated. Working in a skate shop, with no back-up plan, I decided to start another brand now that I had some idea of how the retail sourcing/buying system worked.

I knew I loved the industry and all my pals that were involved, so I started on the adventure that is now Ekumenik. I had a long-time friend from back home in Manitoba who was once a “Kuta Cowboy” that married a Canadian girl he met while she was on vacation there and moved with her back to Morden. We all get a good laugh out of how an Indonesian ended up raising a family in Morden, Manitoba, but I digress. His running mates from back then all stayed in Bali, and set up businesses, in cargo, furniture manufacturing and beachfront bars. That’s the first place I went when I started to investigate where to produce our goods because I was told the minimums were lower than we were seeing in China.

 

FIRST TRIP TO BALI

Oh man, that could be a whole article on its own. Most people that have been to Bali understand the magical allure of the island and its people. Half drowned and sunburnt, on my first trip, I was pissing it up at a karaoke bar and channelling my non-existent inner rock star belting out a few tracks.

At that time all the beachfront bars in Legian had live bands that would play songs at request and you could sing along. Refusing to give up the mic, I basically adopted this band as my own for the night. After the show my new harmonica player and I started up a chat. He was no doubt wondering what a prairie ginger who clearly can’t surf, (judging from my lack of tan and general kook-ness) was doing in Bali playing the beach front bar karaoke circuit. My answer to him… chasing my dream to start a clothing brand. This guy, whose name I can’t even remember anymore, told me to call him. Having only a few friends there, it was basically all I had to do the next day, so I did. The rest as they say is history. He took me to a factory in the back streets of Kuta near Waterbom, that was licensed to make Volcom product, I have no idea to this day what on God’s green earth he told them to convince them to work with me, but by the time I was flying home a few weeks later, I had a few samples from a genuine clothing factory. To this day that factory refuses to work with anyone but Volcom. I’m pretty sure they made that rule after dealing with me.

 

RACKING UP AIRMILES

From then on I flew back and forth twice a year; from the shop to Bali, designing product of the sales floor and flying there to have to it produced. When the volumes got up enough that I couldn’t fly with it anymore, I started shipping by sea, and working/waiting for the shipments to arrive. I’d rent a U-Haul for the day to sort the product into orders for each retailer then drive my warehouse to the nearest UPS store to send out my orders, book a flight and do it again. Tired of waiting for payment from other broke boarders (read shop owners,) I got a second job bartending at “The Roadhouse” at the expanse of being the butt end of all my friends’ jokes.

 

A MIXTURE OF DIVERSE ELEMENTS OR STYLES

The name Ekumenik is a greek work (ecumenical) meaning a mixture of diverse elements or styles. We actively try to let that process reign supreme. Kind of like riding your bike downhill, no hands, but keeping them a few inches above the handlebars in case shit gets too squirrely. I really try to keep my own dumb opinions to myself with our creative team. Letting everyone run with their vision for whatever element they are working on. If they ask for direction, we will of course explain our own concepts, but we really try to let it live and breathe as a giant Frankenstein bolted and sewn together from shattered pieces.

 

BEER, COFFEE, SURFBOARDS AND EKUMENIK

I quit my job at the Source four years ago. Today my girlfriend Chelsey and I are running a little surfshop in Bali called BGS and it’s the best! We sell beer, coffee, surfboards and Ekumenik. We can test out our designs on a truly international clientele and make friends from all over the world. We used to have the whole team working at a giant green table right in the middle of the action. It was pretty intense and hard to get any work done. Friends stopping by to drink beer and play cards or convince us to go surf. Now, thank god, my office is in the back.

Our business model (or lack thereof) is quite intriguing. I have no experience from a manufacturing or clothing design background, so we basically just re-engineered the entire process and worked at it from the point of view of the retailer. What do they want, and how can we do that for them. I think that’s what differentiates us from every other brand out there. Basically everything, because we don’t know what we are doing. As Tom Petty puts it, “a rebel without a clue. ”

 

 

THE COLLECTIVE “WE” IN EKUMENIK

People are always asking who I’m talking about when I say “we.” There is a general confusion out there about whether or not we have Indonesian partners or financial backers, which I’m happy to make clear there is not. We are 100% privately owned. I say we, because right from Day 1 Ekumenik has been a team effort. Starting from when Dwayne Wiebe took my broke ass off the mean streets of Bankview [Calgary, AB] to live with him in a cramped, moldy basement suite with two giant dogs. Pretty sure I never paid more than a few hundred dollars in rent if ever I had some spare cash stuffed in my underwear. Since then too many people to start naming have supported, donated and helped each in their own way: Design help from sales floor staff, sales reps and retailers all across the country. Random timely cheques from my parents, uncles and grandma. Couch surfing at friends’ houses all over Canada. A friend who donated his house in Bali for years for me to stay in. Sales rep friends with other brands sending customers over to our booth at tradeshows. Volunteers helping out at events. Friends who are pro boarders getting in trouble from their TMs for loading up their boards with our decals. Underpaid photographers. Handsome pals modelling on their days off. Shared hotel rooms with buyers and competitors alike. My amazing girlfriend Chelsey who designs all our tradeshow booths booths and in-store merchandising for little more than the odd plane ticket. Pals in Bali who make international flights for us to ‘smuggle’ samples here and there. Team guys like Ryan Hall, Dustin Craven and Chris Rasman who never got a cent from Ekumenik. Even our accountant who is a CA, is currently working pro bono.

It’s been tooth and nail for 10 years. Without any one of these people we’d never be here today. That’s why I say “we.”

Today, “we,” is a little easier to explain because our team of sales reps and in-house design/production staff are some of the best in the world. Together we have well over 50 years of experience in every facet of garment delivery, from fabric development to end boarder. We try to position Ekumenik as a lifestyle brand. As mentioned earlier, I was never very talented boarder, but I always loved it, and always found myself aligned with the same values and desires that our industry lives and breathes. As cliché as it sounds, there is something honourable about doing what you love for the sake of it, not for financial gain. That’s why our whole team, does what we do. We are all broke, living month to month, planning that next mission and that next shred. Desperately hoping not to have to one day get real jobs.

 

INTERNATIONAL PRODUCTION

Producing anything overseas with as many moving parts as we have is a serious undertaking. There are also a ton of fun challenges with language barriers and cultural factors. Not to mention different laws within each country with specific rules surrounding transporting goods or raw materials from each country to the next. It can really make your head spin. I once found myself strapped with a rudimentary voice recorder in an overseas immigration office with $4,000 in a brown paper bag. The unnamed officer for whom the contents were destined, was about to get my discounted “fine” in cash in return for my passport and safe transit elsewhere.

 

TRADESHOW RESPONSE

Tradeshows for us are a blast! We have the best time, travelling to other parts of the world, coming together to visit with friends and meet up with retailers. Things with the brand are growing and sell through has been so strong, it really makes doing business at the shows that much better. Plus, everyone we work with loves their job, so coming to show our most recent creation/collection is really something we all look forward to.

 

 

IN THE WORKS

We are currently in the process of shifting some of our manufacturing out of Indonesia. We have had a great experience here and learned a lot, but we are struggling to find eco responsible fabrics here, and the Indonesian government makes it very difficult to import our raw materials. As for women’s line, nothing on the horizon. We are going to focus some energy on International markets because we are seeing some success with exporting and we really don’t want to dilute the Canadian marketplace. We have the BEST retailers in Canada, and we’ve always been very careful to protect them from over saturation. We are now selling coast-to-coast, so it’s time to spread the love internationally.

The next stage of our international marketing is to talk about how/where we develop our products. It’s pretty hilarious how secretive people can be when it comes to business, like the “Caramilk secret” if you know our suppliers we have nothing left. Like the only value they add is being a middle man. Well, we are pretty open about it. I’m happy to take people on factory tours and do it all the time at our facility in Bali. There are no shortcuts; in the end we’ve worked so hard for the little market share we have, I sometimes want to laugh when people tell me they want to start a brand. It’s the most underpaid, overworked job of anyone I know, including any of the worst jobs you want to throw at me. Because of the way the time zones fall almost perfectly spaced by eight hours, between Canada head office, our retailers/distributors in Europe, and our factories in Asia—it’s business hours 24 hours a day.

Just want to take this opportunity to thank all the retailers out there supporting the cause! I also feel the need to thank our amazing staff and the “we” team who truly deserve any/all credit and accolades Ekumenik earns.

You can find us at www.ekumenik.com and @ekumenik on Instagram.

 

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