The Sitka Story
Founders Rene Gauthier and Andrew Paine started hand-shaping surfboards in their garage and Sitka was born.
Like many great businesses before it, Sitka's early operations started out in a garage. Brought together by their love of cold-water surfing, Rene Gauthier and Andrew Paine turned their garage into a workshop and started shaping their first surfboards. Before long, the iconic Sitka tree was being printed on custom boards for friends in the Canadian surf community, and customers were asking for t-shirts with the Sitka logo.
A New Home
Sitka moved out of the garage and into its first official workshop.
The operation had outgrown the garage, and spilled over into spare rooms and the backyard. It was time to move. Rene and Andrew set up a workshop in an industrial space and ramped up their shaping business while finishing their degrees and still finding time to surf.
The First Shop
Here's a crazy idea: try shaping boards and selling them to customers at the same time.
With demand ramping up, Sitka opened their first storefront, which included a dedicated shaping facility. Still running a two-man show, Andrew and Rene would bounce between shaping boards in the back and running the store in the front, often getting caught covered in dust when a customer came along in the middle of a shaping session.
The Original Peak Hoody
A legendary sweatshirt, made in Canada for cold-water surfers.
Yearning for a hoody that could actually warm you up, Sitka designed the first Peak Hoody with Canadian cold-water surfers in mind. Made in Vancouver from heavyweight, ultra durable fabric, it was like no other hoody around.
The Victoria Flagship
A new store for a growing brand in the heart of downtown Victoria.
Before long, the streets of Victoria were filled with customers rocking hoodies and tees featuring the Sitka tree, and surfers up and down the coast were riding island-made Sitka surfboards.
Respect for the ocean was always at Sitka's core. After opening the new Sitka flagship store in 2006, Sitka took it a step further and sponsored its first global environmental research mission with OceanGybe Expedition, supporting a sailing expedition studying beach pollution around the globe.
With demand on the rise, Sitka shifted apparel manufacturing to factories overseas.
Seeking the most cost-effective way to keep up with the growing demand for its clothing line, Sitka began working with factories in Asia to scale up production. After racking up a lot of frequent flyer miles, Andrew and Rene would eventually go on to hire full time employees in China in an attempt to monitor factory ethics and ensure quality control.
The first Sitka shop opened on West 4th in Kitsilano.
The secret was about the little Vancouver Island surf shop that could. Its was time to make moves to the big city across the straight.
Growing Up and Exploring
Sitka grew out of its first downtown space and into a bigger store in Victoria. Sitka produced its first surf film Tipping Barrels to raise awareness of environmental issues in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Complete with a cafe serving the best breakfast burritos around, it was more than a store, it was a destination for west coast lifestyle and cold water surf culture.
Sitka's surf team traveled to British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest to explore the remarkable natural beauty, unique wildlife and epic swell. All of this was documented to raise awareness of the environmental threats to area; it was the first of several films Sitka would create to draw attention to conservation issues in BC.
The Sitka product line expanded into outdoor goods fit for the adventurous lifestyle of Sitka's customers.
Expanding beyond surfboards and clothing, Sitka started making outdoor goods, including axes, knives and camp goods built for adventures in the wild.
Height of Wholesale
Business was booming, Sitka was in stores around the world.
The Sitka brand spread beyond its small corner of the world and started selling products at stores from North America to Japan. Low wholesale margins meant driving costs way down and volume up.
A Line in the Sand
It was time to put an end to overseas manufacturing, conventional cotton and a lengthy supply chain.
The business had grown, but Sitka had lost its focus and started relying on cheap overseas production. It wasn't sustainable and it just didn't feel right. In 2014, a plan was hatched to move all clothing production back to North America, choosing less harmful fabrics, like organic cotton, and limiting blends which can't be recycled. From here on out, it was quality and responsibility over cheap and easy.
The Sitka Society for Conservation
The SSC was created with a mission to conserve and restore the natural environment.
Sitka became a 1% for the Planet company, and committed to truly living by its values. The SSC was founded to give Sitka employees and customers the power to support projects that protect the wild habitat we all depend on.
On February 14, 2014, Sitka launched the campaign #LoveTheWild as part of a Valentine's Day fundraiser for the SSC. More than 100K posts later it lives on because, hey, the wild needs love every day of the year.
The Big Shift
Sitka recommitted to ethical sourcing and brought manufacturing back home to Canada.
By 2015, Sitka had moved all of its manufacturing out of China and realigned the product with the values that had always been at the core of the brand. It meant making major changes to the company, but as they say, anything worth doing is worth doing right.
A New Direction
Sitka's model shifted away from wholesale to focus on delivering the most value to customers.
Changes in manufacturing led to changes for the entire business. By selling direct to consumers, Sitka was able to maintain quality and offer Canadian-made, environmentally responsible clothing at a fair price.
A new model for ethical fashion. Sitka launched a platform to let customers crowdfund new products that they believe in.
For The Greenhouse's debut, Sitka redesigned the original Peak Hoody and offered customers a chance to get involved with making a responsibly-sourced, made-in-Canada hoody.
Sitka's priority is a commitment to do always more with less.
Sitka is marching forward with a commitment to do more with less, to create new solutions where existing options fall short, and make products people can feel proud to own.