Akela Surf: Family business done remotely… With a good dash of punk
Creators of Akela Surf pretty much represent the brand they are a part of — they are free-minded, wild at times and always relaxed. The journey that led to what Akela Surf stands for now wasn’t linear and the essence of the brand still isn’t strictly set in stone. “Sometimes it’s difficult to describe what Akela Surf is,” says Servio Anez, the male half of the founding couple. “I want to associate Akela Surf with free creation. We try to hear and understand everybody and try to find the connection with everyone and do something.”
Back in the first days, Akela Surf was created from the need of unique and stylish women active clothing that wasn’t anywhere to find. Annie Gagne, the creative force behind the brand and now also Servio’s wife, jumped on her creative career in her early teens, designing skater tees and loving the whole skate culture. Over the course of the years she discovered surfing, set up the first shop in Sri Lanka and returned to Canada armed with newly acquired skills and inspiration.
Servio joined her later in Quebec after spotting her on a street and asking out for a coffee. Today they work under the Akela Surf brand and deliver cool clothing for surfers, skaters and yoga aficionados, regardless of where they are located at the moment. They create a balanced team, together with their son Kaiko and external collaborators.
“I find new artists on social media. Sometimes I see a picture on Instagram and I’m like ‘wow’! It’s more like chemistry, a chemical connection between people. The most important thing is that your ego won’t be too big so you can hear other ideas and start developing something.” Servio sheds some light also on another theme where huge ego can be a problem — brand ambassadors.
“When we created the ambassador program we wanted to be more human-oriented. So we invite people who aren’t necessary very famous but have a talent in some way. One of the mistakes we did when we started was that we found big divas and gave them free stuff. It was a BIG mistake, they never gave us pictures. People think ‘I’m a diva, everybody should give me free stuff.’ Now it works another way — if you’re an ambassador, you get 50% discount and when you buy a product, you give us the pictures. If the person doesn’t want to share photos of our product at least they paid for the stuff.”
Fashion education in Florida
The creative spirit is one of the strongest elements that define Akela Surf, but not the only one. The focus on the balance between style and function can be seen throughout the range. “All the pieces are designed to be more free and more fashionable without losing the comfort. The big problem is that tech companies are not very fashion-oriented and fashion companies are not focused on tech. We want to offer something very fashionable and functional but very unique and artistic at the same time.”
Functional products and great looking activewear are indeed something we would like to see more, but offering them online is only one part of the equation. Especially with products like surf clothes that you want to touch, see and try live. Guys from Akela Surf understand the importance of a physical outlet and from time to time set up a pop shop to bring the concept to local people. One of the most recent places you could see them live was at a Cocoa Beach store in Florida in november 2014.
The connection with passion is very weak in Florida, Servio observes. “Bringing Annie there was an amazing experience because people understood that fashion is something that is created every day, instead of something they see only in fashion magazines. People associate fashion with haute couture like Prada, Gucci and Coco Chanel but it’s more democratic.”
So does it mean that Akela Surf tries to bring some fresh air in the stale waters of Florida’s fashion? “The new generation of people in Florida is more oriented towards design and fashion but the baby boomers are more lazy. They want everything in plastic and just buy, buy, buy.”
Keeping it in the family
It may take a few seasons until we see significant results in fashion education and pioneering. Short term plans for Akela Surf are a bit simpler but still aim at diversity. “The biggest goal for now is going to California for the Swim Collective Trade Show. We’re also working on collaborations with other brands in Montreal. Apart from that, we are launching now new shorts and we are going to have more stuff for men.
It’s not like we are planning to grow in a specific direction, we’re just trying to see how it works.”
While we chat over Skype, Servio’s son Kaiko reminds us from time to time of his presence. Occasional pauses for the father and son moments let me make notes and I can’t help but smile looking at those two. I can’t even imagine the pressure the family business must generate in one’s day-to-day life. But for Servio this is a no-brainer. “It came very naturally. For me, being a family and being a company is the same thing. Akela Surf is a second baby to us. We take care of Kaiko and we take care of Akela Surf.”
This gets somewhat difficult when one travels as much as Servio and Annie. Is traveling something that has a negative impact on them now they’re a family? “We used to live in very weird places, like in Palm beach — we lived in a very old, colonial hotel in a beatiful area… but I’m pretty sure it was haunted,” laughs Servio reminiscing about their past jaunts. “We don’t have preferences, it’s more about Kaiko. We try to give him some comfort but we’re not very picky with places.”
Second home in Barbados
When we speak about traveling, it’s evident that we have surfing destinations in mind. “It’s the way I escape from stress,” Servio describes his relationship with surfing. Growing up on a Venezuelan island of Margarita in the Caribbean and surfing since the age of four, it’s only natural that his life path has led him to be a part of a surf brand.
Barbados seems to be one of the most popular places in Akela Surf family, both for surfing and working on business. Having lived there for two years, Servio has something to say about its surf spots, too. “Many people are going to say that Bathsheba is the number one. It is indeed a pretty cool place and it’s for high level surfing. Many pro surfers go there but I love South point because it’s so beautiful, the colour of the water is so blue and the waves are perfect with perfect conditions.
People and even my wife says that I need to go to Bali… Maybe one day but Barbados is very convenient for me. It’s only a five hours flight so I can surf the same day as I go there. I know everybody there, I go to a restaurant and see my t-shirts. So for me Barbados is like home.
I spent the whole life surfing in the Caribbean, Portorico, Trinidad, Barbados, Margarita… this is my area. I’m not really a traveling surfer who surfs in many places, I’m more a person who finds a nice spot and sticks there. It’s the same as with my wife — I stick with my wife. I don’t care about other girls so I can concentrate my energy on other stuff.”