It all started when Jeremy Bresnen couldn’t find the right running cap for his eight-kilometre run-commute to work.
“There was a gap in the market,” recalls the father of two, who was frustrated by the quality and limited styles and colours available. “They didn’t fit right. They were ugly. I didn’t want to wear them.”
That’s when he and his buddy Mike Giles decided to “take a simple product and make it the best it can be.”
In 2014, they launched Ciele Athletics, a small startup in Montreal specializing in premium running hats made from lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking fabric panels of mesh and reflective detailing.
From trucker hats and seamless caps to wool beanies and bucket hats, Ciele’s headgear is “the intersection of function and fashion—that’s our niche,” says Bresnen, who worked for many years in the technical sportswear industry. “Our goal was to marry comfort and style.”
Both fans of action sports, including BMX, skateboarding and backcountry snowboarding, they joke that they “started at the top” by designing a timeless cap for people of all ages and fitness levels—from weekend runners to elite athletes—but not inclusively.
“Our tagline is ‘everybody run’ because running is the root of many sports,” says Giles, a former furniture designer, of the hats’ widespread appeal. “Ciele is a luxury brand that people want to wear.”
Using social media to sell their products and boost brand awareness wasn’t their plan initially, but it quickly became a powerful marketing tool for them.
When Giles and Bresnen approached “run-specific” retailers about stocking their brand, they discovered younger staff were already wearing their hats, having stumbled across Ciele on Instagram and Facebook.
“Instagram is probably the best and fastest way for us to witness (brand) reaction,” says Bresnen, who estimates half of their business is generated through e-commerce. About 50% of those sales are from the United States and 20% from international markets.
Traditional brick-and-mortar stores are equally important for building a community around the brand and offer buyers the opportunity to “touch and feel” the hats, Giles adds. “We have a product that’s quite personal. People usually know within a few seconds of trying it on whether they like it,” he explains.
“What’s been interesting for us is seeing how online sales increase in an area where we open a new retailer. The overall awareness of the brand increases and supports us as a whole,” he says.
The company, which sold 600 hats in its first year, is expected to sell 100,000 in 2020.
“Logistically, the barriers to being a small company make things tricky,” says Giles. “Usually shipping carriers offer volume-based discounts, so until you reach a certain scale, it’s hard to get the product—especially a small lightweight item such as ours—out to the end consumer.”
Ciele has partnered with Canada Post and FedEx whose premium options deliver their products to U.S customers within two business days. “That’s something that when we started five years ago was an impossibility,” he says.
2015 was a big year
Only a year after launching its original GOCap, Ciele was the official headgear for two big running events in Toronto: the annual Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and Bridge the Gap. Two limited edition caps were designed for each race. At last count, the company now sells more than 80 different designs.
How EDC helped
One challenge most exporters face is accessing working capital to grow their company. To help secure more financing through their bank, Ciele Athletics turned to Export Development Canada (EDC) for help.
Through EDC’s Export Guarantee Program (EGP), “we were able to borrow the money we needed to expand into new markets, specifically the United States, without fear of not being able to pay back the loans if a retailer went bankrupt,” Giles says.
“The loan guarantee gave us the confidence to know that if something gets tricky down the line, we have an efficient exit strategy.”
In 2020, Ciele will be launching a T-shirt collection. Bresnen says the tees will be made from 60% recycled polyester and 40% organic cotton. “I’m super excited about the new line—moving into clothing is the next step for us. We’re so lucky. We get to design exactly what we want to design.”
EDC service used
Our Export Guarantee Program (EGP) can help your bank provide you with additional financing.
We share the risk with your bank by providing a guarantee on the money you borrow, encouraging them to increase your access to working capital.