BY: VANESSA NIGRO
“We decided to name the company Sitka after the Sitka spruce tree that grows in the pacific northwest. Sitka trees thrive on being close to the ocean and are naturally drawn to water, as were we,” said Sitka’s CEO, Rene Gauthier.
“It all started with a surfboard,” said Gauthier. “We originally started out making just surfboards, and we’d work anywhere we could; my mom’s backyard, in my roommate’s bedroom, my business partner Andrew’s garage. Anywhere.”
Sitka has come a long way in a few short years—launching a lifestyle brand that makes documentary films, contributes to wilderness organizations and designs sustainable clothing. They have gone from making surfboards in a college dorm room to having stores located in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as Auckland, New Zealand.
Their mandate is built on the foundation of wilderness activism with a mission of shifting away from the current societal value of blind consumption to one of balance.
“To us, wilderness activism is being active in protecting and conserving the wild and enjoying it responsibly. It’s having that love and respect for the earth, taking care of the wild and being active in that. It’s about more than just saying you believe in protecting the planet, it’s actually going out and doing things to sustain it,” said Gauthier.
In cultivating a lifestyle brand that protects and supports life in the natural world, Sitka is aiming to get the public informed and involved on the issues currently threatening the environment.
“The mission is to get people off their butts,” Gauthier said with a laugh, “off their phones, off the television, and get outside and enjoy what is right there in front of them. Through doing that you develop a deep love for the wild, and that love will make you want to protect it. I think Jacques Cousteau said it best: ‘You protect what you love.’”
In the 2012 short film Tipping Barrels, Sitka Clothing teamed up with the Pacific Wild Organization to explore the Great Bear rainforest in Vancouver, British Columbia, exhibiting its opulent wildlife and beauty, not yet tainted by the movement of industry. The film chronicles the travels of surf activists Arran and Reid Jackson through the rainforest as they surf the pristine swells of the West Coast while enjoying all the land has to offer.
“We use surf activism as a platform to raise awareness. It’s something that we use to help enlighten people on issues that they might not have known about previously. Out here where I’m from, we don’t necessarily have a large enough activist population to vote in a government to stop the rapid industrialization of the rainforest, or to protest a pipeline going in,” said Gauthier.
“But the fact that so many people have become aware of what is going on through our videos is amazing. For a lot of people who have stumbled upon our film (Tipping Barrels), initially they were probably searching for a surf film. We used the platform of a movie about surfing to hit people with a real issue and now they’re educated about what’s going on, and hopefully they’ll take action.”
Gauthier is a realist in regards to how to begin mending the proverbial wall when it comes to our planet, “I’m not one to say that industrialization has to stop. Everything costs money. The world right now isn’t run by hugs and kisses, so I know stopping it completely isn’t realistic. But what we need is to have a plan in place, something that ensures we can have a sustainable future,” said Gauthier. “Shell—everyone knows they won’t stop their operations, but maybe they could come up with a plan in which they give money to certain businesses that can start working towards something a little more sustainable.”
Although confronted with the shadow of giant conglomerates not so eager to stop profiting from acts that place stress on the environment, he still displays optimism.
“We can’t work against rapid industrialization, but we can work with it. The goal shouldn’t only be profit. It should be people, and it should be the planet.”
From a clothing line, producing films, promoting various environmental causes and supporting musicians, artists, surfers and skateboards, Sitka is multifaceted.
“We choose certain causes because we are all kind of rallying around this vision of having a world in balance. Right now that is not the case, but we see it being achievable. One conversation at a time, we’re trying to get this movement started.”