Surf Soap Stories: On Growth, with Akela Surf Co.
Created in 2014, Akela Surf has stayed true to what they believe most: ethically designed quality eco-friendly products for the surf community.
They combine style and passion with all of the ocean's elements - utilizing their extensive travel experience, life challenges and collective creative vision.
I was lucky enough to snatch a few minutes of this vibrant couple's time to talk to them about how Akela Surf came to be, what challenges they faced while growing and now with COVID, and where they see the brand going in the future.
(Thank you Annie and Servio for your time! xx, Kayla at Surf Soap Co. )
What inspired you to create Akela Surf?
I've been a clothing designer for 20 years and working for other brands. It was always my dream and in my plan to create a Brand related to sport for women. When I was surfing, I personally found it hard to find swimwear that will stay on, last more than a few months and give you confidence in the water. After seeing that need in others as well, I combined both my passion, knowledge of design, and surf to create Akela Surf with my partner Servio.
How did each of you grow up, and did this have an impact on what you pursue today through your surf shop?
We both have a different background, but I think that's what makes us unique and interesting! I, Annie, am a French Canadian. When I was younger, I moved to Whistler for snowboarding. I studied Fashion Design in Vancouver while I was there.
After spending 10 years on the West Coast, I moved back to Quebec for a few years. Then, after personal dramatic events, I left Quebec and traveled for many years. I explored Tofino - where I learned to surf. I went to Asia, and also lived in France. I have to say it did have a big impact on my life! Living by the Ocean is really different than the Mountain. Eventually, I went back to Montreal, without knowing really how long I’d stay. It was in Montreal that, I met Servio, now my business partner and the father of our little, Kaiko.
Servio grew up in Margarita Island, Venezuela. Servio has been surfing since a young age. Because of the critical political situation, he left Venezuela hoping for a better life and came to Canada.
When we met he was studying Business at HEC. Early on, we talked a lot about creating a business...and this is how Akela Surf was created!
Tell me about the process you went through to get Akela up and running?
I have to say it's been a ride! Every year it changes and brings new challenges that you are not prepared for, like COVID!
I did have a great background in the Fashion Industry, and also business knowledge. Throughout our buildup, we listened a lot to our instinct and vision. Servio knew about the surfing industry, especially in the Carribean places like Barbados. It takes time, especially to establish a great relationship with your makers, sales reps, and ambassador team. We worked slowly, but surely, to build Akela by using both our experiences and knowledge.
What hurdles and challenges did you encounter while growing Akela Surf?
Competing against the big three! It's hard to get the attention of major buyers when they are comfortable buying from the same reps/brands for so many years, regardless of the benefits Akela Surf offers.
Another challenge we encountered was gaining the acceptance in your own community, city, province, and even country! Starting small requires a village of supporters built as quickly as possible, and for most people, it’s too easy to recommend a brand from another place. Not enough emphasis was placed on buying local, and it wasn’t really a thing when we started up. But now, there is an opportunity, the customer is not afraid anymore to buy direct from the brand online, as more and more brands sprout and grow online.
Tell me about a breakthrough you had that allowed Akela Surf to really start growing?
I like to see it more as several small wins than one big win. We get really stoked when we see a surfer girl totally ripping the waves with our products; seeing our product featured in a magazine or in the stores next to a big brand.
Its cool when you go surfing and you see someone in the lineup with your product. For me, this is my breakthrough and what keeps me going.
What is Akela Surf's mission?
To empower the women in the water! Surf your style! We always say, “Welcome” in the Akela Surf Family. Because that's who we are - we are welcome everybody! For us, it's important that people feel confident in the water - Don't be ashamed! Be proud of yourself! It's not about age, race, talent, or body shape! It’s about loving what you do and having fun doing it.
How are you pursuing that mission?
Every single day we live this mission, and we try to instill the values of confidence, humility and openness in our child as well. We want everyone to know that it’s ok to be different, have confidence in yourself, and to embrace yourself!
What aspect of earth/ocean conservation is most important to you and why?
Please don't throw your trash out your car window!! We are living in a beautiful spot now in Nova Scotia, Canada. On one side we have the ocean and on the others, it's the forest. We see the wildlife every day.. But it breaks my heart when I see all the trash on the roadside..in the hiking trails, and floating in the ocean on the beaches...A part of our land is actually protected and I really hope in 50 years from now on our son can still enjoy it with his family.
You are a family business, what is it like working with each other - challenges? Unexpected perks?
Well, we work aaaallll the time! The business has a big part in our family. We trust each other but don't always listen to each other.. we do have different visions, but it's ok. Our different perspectives i help us to grow, in business and as individuals.
How do you find balance in your lives?
It's definitely not easy... but we learn along the way how to prioritize and making sure our son is happy. Our crazy cat actually taking a lot of our time right now!
Where can people find and support you?
On our website: akelasurf.com they can reach to us and follow us on Instagram :)
This interview has been a collaboration of Surf Soap Co. and Akela Surf Company. Please consider supporting locally made, sustainably produced surf companies in favor of mass-produced brands. Surf Soap and Akela Surf proudly support ocean and wildlife conservation efforts in Hawaii and Canada respectively. Visit their websites to find out more.