An Infectious Spirit

Creative Islanders dip their toes in the waters of start-up business

Written by Ellen Egan || Photography by Stephen Harris

[Originally published in the November/December 2014 issue of G! Magazine]

REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE A LITTLE KID and you were told you could do anything or be anything you set your mind to? I‘m told I once spent a whole two months obsessed with the idea of being an “ear-piercer” at the tender age of 6-years-old. To this day, I’m still not sure where this ultra-specific aspiration came from (a fateful trip to Claire’s, perhaps?) and whether or not that is indeed a real occupation, but suffice to say I don’t spend my days poking holes in people’s earlobes.

Still waiting on the underlying message for that one, Universe. 

At some point along the way, however, many of us tend to lose sight of this wisdom and settle for careers that simply allow us to get by rather than pursuing truly meaningful work. 

But a fleet of game changers is making waves across our fair Isle, with many of them harnessing the power of the Internet, hard work and creative intuition to reimagine how we think about start-up businesses. When geographical location is no longer an issue, the possibilities become endless and true magic is allowed to happen. 

A prime example of this is a husband and wife duo I recently stumbled upon while perusing—you guessed it—the Internet. Well, Instagram to be exact. Together, they’ve developed a hand-made sunglasses company called Fellow Earthlings tucked away in beautiful Guernsey Cove, Prince Edward Island. 

Curious as to how they first dipped their toes into this new business venture, I recently caught up with one half of the power couple, Syndey Jardine, to find out where their inspiration came from and why they dared to take a chance on this start-up brand. 

As it turns out, it was after working for a number of years in the eyewear industry internationally and having invaluable mentors that the couple set out to offer a unique product. 

“It's little known that Prince Edward Island has a history of eyewear manufacturing and the leather covered RayBan's from Bausch & Lomb coveted today by collectors around the world was made here,” explains Sydney. “It was because of this that we had the great opportunity for Chris to apprentice with an incredible eyewear craftsman on the Island and that made our dream of starting this business possible.

“We really felt like there was very little choice for consumers in the eyewear industry and we feel that people want choice, both in terms of Canadian manufacturing and their own personal style. So we make to-order eyewear and you get to choose your shape, material colour, lens colour, and an optional engraving.”

Sydney says they find great satisfaction in being able to offer a product they’re truly proud of in a place they love. They’re also really inspired by friends who have built an online following for their handmade products in different categories: “With the Internet, you can market and retail directly to your customer and we think this is really exciting for all businesses.”

When it comes to the local market, she says that by nurturing local businesses they can create a rich culture that inspires creativity, right here in our community.

“Seeing new businesses succeeding in such a supportive environment gives you a lot of confidence in launching your own products and services,” she says. “We feel the more we work together and find opportunities for collaboration, the better. By supporting and promoting each other, we grow together as a community. We’re only getting started so we’re excited to see where this adventure takes us.”

To learn more about Fellow Earthlings and make your own a custom order, check out www.fellowearthlings.com

A New Breed

Island clothing company focuses on giving back and building stronger communities

Written by Ellen Egan || Photos courtesy of kioha

Founders of the new online clothing company, kioha, Tyrrell Hughes, left, and Martin Manning are setting out to make beautiful clothing while reinvesting 50% of their profits back into the community.  Photo provided by kioha.

Founders of the new online clothing company, kioha, Tyrrell Hughes, left, and Martin Manning are setting out to make beautiful clothing while reinvesting 50% of their profits back into the community. Photo provided by kioha.

[Originally published in the December/January 2015 issue of G! Magazine]

BUSINESS DOESN’T ALWAYS HAVE TO BE, well, business as usual. While traditional models are all well and good and serve their place in society, there’s now a lot more opportunity for new models to thrive in an ever-expanding marketplace. 

And correct me if I’m wrong (don’t go out of your way now, though), but I think more and more ambitious people are finding huge appeal in working for themselves and building truly meaningful careers. And why not? Now more than ever, we have so many resources enabling us to be self-sufficient that weren’t available even a decade ago.

Not surprisingly, one huge tool for small businesses in recent years has been the increasing growth of online communities. Without the upfront costs of things like rent and staff wages, there’s a lot more room for experimentation in the early stages and figuring out what works for your audience and what doesn’t—regardless of geographical location.

As a result, plans can be much more fluid and there’s less pressure to stick to one fixed concept, allowing the very best ideas can come to light. That is if you don’t get stuck in the black hole of watching cat videos for hours on end, but even then we all deserve a little break and every once and a while, right? 

The fashion industry is a great example of this. Even stores with physical locations often have an online shopping component as well. And I’m happy to see many Island brands tapping into this seemingly endless realm of possibilities. 

It was this past summer that photos of people wearing t-shirts, hats and sweatshirts with a bear logo printed on them began popping up on my news feeds. Intrigued by the look and feel of the design, I was keen to catch up with Tyrrell Hughes and Martin Manning, two long-time friends and founders of kioha, a new online clothing company, to find out how this all came to life. 

“The Internet has opened up opportunities for small businesses to be able to scale quickly, which means that we have the ability to create world-class companies from Prince Edward Island in ways that weren’t even conceivable a few years ago,” explains Manning, a graduate of the business program at St. Francis Xavier University, who has since spent his fair share of time living in and travelling to various corners of the world. 

“We’ve always been inspired by the creative expression offered by clothing,” he continues. “But we’re also inspired by the increasing interest people the world over are showing for businesses that focus on creating a better future together.”

When they decided the time was ripe to launch the business, Manning says they wanted it to be about more than clothes: “It had to have a meaningful impact on the world around it, too. kioha stands for “keep it one hundred always”—to be true and real—and that’s what the clothing company is about; being true and real to the community around you.” 

In terms of concept development for their brand, Hughes says they knew they wanted to provide fresh clothes that also support building stronger communities. 

“To do this, we run the company on a 50/50 business model whereby 50% of our profits are reinvested into community projects,” says Hughes, who has a bachelor of education from UPEI and also works as a substitute teacher on the Island. “We seek to engage youth through music, arts and culture, so we’ve partnered up with some really cool organizations to help us turn this dream into a reality.” 

So far, they have two organizations on board, Manifesto in Toronto and Head and Hands in Montreal, who are both active in engaging youth through music, arts and culture. They’re also in talks with a local organization in Charlottetown to develop grassroots programming as well.

Not only are they helping to build healthier communities, they also want to make sure their manufacturing processes have satisfactory working conditions for staff. In fulfilling this mandate, all of their t-shirts are manufactured in Quebec under the direction of their manufacturing partner, Delyla, who use 100% organic cotton in the production of their t-shirts.

“When we see someone wearing kioha, it makes it all worthwhile,” says Hughes. “It tells us that the idea to do business in this way speaks to that person—they see value in joining a team that has these goals. The more it grows, the more opportunity there is to have a positive impact on community development together. We hope to inspire people to join the kioha team by continuing to release fresh new designs while at the same time expanding the reach of our community projects.”

But as rewarding as it has been so far, it’s still in the very early stages and Manning says the key to their success lies in always being hungry to learn. 

“You need to be constantly craving the learning experiences that come with entrepreneurship and be ready to put those lessons into action,” he concludes. “It’s also hugely important to build something that inspires people to become a part of the story. Clothing is a fun industry to be in to do this because it’s easy for people to join the story and be a part of it all.”

To find out more about kioha and get on board with building stronger communities, visit www.kioha.com