Ciele is a Canadian company launched in Montreal in 2014 and their headgear has become ubiquitous amongst certain runners in the know. Comfortable, stylish and independently-owned and operated, Ben Kaplan talked to Jeremy Bresnen, founder of Ciele Athletics, on his victory for Winter Toque of the Year.
Ben Kaplan: How do you position yourself as a global brand based in Canada?
Jeremy Bresnen: The reality of launching a brand now, or anytime in the past few years, is that the expectation is that you’re global from day one. Instagram did that. A month after we launched somebody posted a photo of them at the top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps with a rainbow in the background wearing the chaka edition of our GOCap. We were global then, without really trying. We do our best to be available for runners around the world, but there are logistical barriers that not everyone sees, or understands. It can be frustrating, because you want to be there for customers worldwide, and there are great opportunities that present themselves, but you can also grow too fast, open too many doors, and ultimately lose visibility on how the brand is being presented. At the end of the day, we’re OK taking more time opening up new countries to truly become a global brand, to ensure that we do it in the right way and can support the community on the ground in a meaningful way.
BK: What makes you a Canadian company?
JB: The idea for Ciele Athletics was birthed on runs to work along the St Lawrence River. We’re headquartered in the borough of Notre Dame de Grace in Montréal, Québec, Canada. We have a satellite office in Vancouver, British Columbia. We test all of our products on the roads and trails around our city. Early on, after Montreal, we found customers and then FAM in Toronto and then Vancouver and then every other Canadian city and we’re clearly influenced by that, both in our approach to product design but also in our approach to people and community. We’re bilingual, welcoming, open, considerate and.. we likely say sorry more often than we should.
BK: I first saw your hats at BlackToe running and they were everywhere; I mean to say: you seem to have come up grassroots. Was that part of your game plan, initiating yourself into the core running community and then becoming more widespread?
JB: We started a run brand. The crux of it is that it’s rooted in the runners we know and have met along the way. Since day one, we’ve tried to surround ourselves with good people, and—within our capacity—find ways to support them. The majority of the relationships we started in the early days are still going strong. The people closest to us—we call them FAM—are like a real family; they can’t leave, they’re stuck with us. That circle continues to open doors for us, make introductions and give us the insight needed to build a world class brand, company and community.
BK: What are the ambitions for your company? What does success look like?
JB: We want to continue to design and build the very best in performance headwear for runners and adventurers of all kinds. We are known for headwear and believe there’s still so many great products to develop and build in that category. We often say “we started at the top” and as such, we have plans to build beyond headwear. Our NSBTshirt was a glimpse of that. We took a basic T and turned it into something that could meet the demands of our customer who sees running as their core activity, but also wants to represent the brand and the sport beyond their run. More to come. We promise. Our brand’s connection with the community is the most important aspect of what we do. We need to do right by them. We aren’t chasing a number or a milestone from a sales standpoint, we’re more comfortable growing at a pace we can maintain and that allows us to focus on what we feel is good for our friends, family and customers. We’ve always been conscious of that, but we’re getting better at it and really believe that if we get that right… Success.
BK: And lastly: what’s the trick to your style? How do you get it just right? Millions of hats exist in the world. But only one Ciele. So. . . how did you know you could do it differently?
JB: Good question. Back in 2014, we started with a cap because we simply couldn’t find a running cap that met our needs technically. They were clearly an afterthought in most company’s design schedules. They lacked breathability, sun protection and often, comfort. Beyond that we just wanted a cap that we actually liked, that we might choose to wear on days or in moments that we weren’t running. That meant there was an opening to do something different. We weren’t sure what to expect when we first launched – were there people out there that felt the same way as us, and wanted the same thing? We’re still here six years later so thankfully there is a section of the running community that really cares about the same things as us. In terms of style? We really believe that style is relative. It’s on you to figure out how to wear what we offer up and we work hard to offer, in our own way, a lot of options that allow you to find the right fit, always with the idea that we build our products to run in.