Local clothing retailer Sitka caught in name dispute

A Victoria-based clothier in the crosshairs of a massive competitor well-versed in big-game hunting has decided it’s better to avoid the fight and live to retail another day.

Sitka, a 17-year-old outdoor apparel company, has decided to change its name to ecologyst to avoid the chance of future conflict with U.S.-based hunting apparel giant Sitka Gear.

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“That was certainly the catalyst,” said ecologyst founder René Gauthier. “[Sitka Gear] had actually secured the trademark for the [Sitka] name basically everywhere except Canada.”

While Sitka was founded in 2002, three years before Sitka Gear came to be, Sitka had only trademarked its brand name in Canada. “When we ended up shifting to the direct-to-consumer model and moved our production back to Canada, that’s when confusion started to mount and when we noticed it online — a lot of our customers going to their site and vice versa,” said Gauthier.

He noted that while Sitka Gear — owned by W.L. Gore & Associates, which created Gore-Tex fabrics — was fine with co-existing, there were concerns about Sitka expanding into the U.S.

“They made it clear that if we did, down the road, want to open a store in Seattle or something like that, then that would not fly,” he said.

Gauthier said given the changes the company has been through, a new name made sense.

Since it was founded in 2002, Sitka has evolved from a surf and skateboard apparel and gear company into selling outdoor apparel products that are ethically and locally produced.

It also endured a financial restructuring in 2016 to deal with creditors owed $3.5 million, refocused to sell its own products rather than carrying merchandise from other manufacturers and brought its production back to Canada.

“We said let’s take a glass-half-full approach and see a silver lining and a name that speaks to more of what we are doing now as a company,” he said.

The ecologyst name aims to reflect the company’s work to eliminate plastics and petroleum from the product line, use natural materials and manufacture in Canada.

According to the firm, after those changes, revenue grew 235 per cent between 2017 and 2018.

Gauthier said they now face another battle to establish brand awareness under a new name.

“We certainly have a challenge ahead of us, but I think our team is excited about it,” he said, adding the company has kept its tree logo, which should help.

There won’t be a massive media blitz to get the word out, but the company plans to raise money through a crowd-equity fundraising program to help market the new brand and establish its retail location in Whistler.

The goal is to raise $290,000 from its existing customers.

Gauthier said they always loved the idea of their customers being owners, and now that is possible.

“The people who really grow the business actually get to reap the benefit of that down the road,” he said.

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