Kalen Emsley was at his computer, looking through Facebook, when he came across arresting image after arresting image of friend and former football rival Dave Luba in Hawaii. Luba, who was attending school on the islands, was also surrounding himself with nature — he was hiking, biking, surfing, scuba and sky diving. And he invited Emsley to come along. The next day, Emsley boarded a plane and by the time the two returned to their home province of Saskatchewan they were armed with an idea inspired by their experiences: Ten Tree.
Ten Tree is a lifestyle apparel company, but it’s also an environmental advocate. For every item of apparel sold, 10 trees are planted. It’s not a marketing gimmick. In fact, the clothes came out of the concern. When Emsley and Luba were in Hawaii, they were first and foremost motivated by a desire to protect the environment, and to find a creative way to do so.
Two early successes gave the duo the confidence to dedicate themselves to Ten Tree full time (the team is rounded out by designers Amelia Dayhuff and Lucas Howlett, business manager Derrick Emsley and web strategist Stephen Emsley): an initial printing of a couple hundred tank tops sold out in two days and a Fall line sold out in a single day. Since then, Ten Tree has crafted lines of apparel that strive for a clean, simple and positive style.
“Our goal is to make our clothes similar to Apple,” explains Emsley, referencing the tech giant renowned for designs that are iconic because of their simplicity. “When you get an Apple package, it’s clean; you know exactly what it is. When you get a Ten Tree shirt, we want it to be clean and you know that it’s something for the environment, something to get people outdoors and something that plants ten trees.”
In the spirit of the company’s get outdoors philosophy, the apparel features lifestyle and active wear in men’s and women’s styles, from lightweight v-neck pullovers, hoodies, yoga pants, t-shirts, tank tops and hats carrying the Ten Tree logo or designs espousing the Ten Tree lifestyle, like the “Creation Over Destruction” men’s tee ($35), the “Free ‘N Easy” hat ($30) or the “Ten Tree & Livin’ Free” unisex hoodie ($75). The apparel is carried in 120 stores across Canada and can also be purchased online at tentree.org.
The company also got a recent boost in its profile with an appearance on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, a reality TV series that features entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas to a panel of venture capitalists. Kalen and Derrick Emsley and Luba appeared on the program and were offered deals by three of the Dragons. They accepted a tag-team deal from panelists Arlene Dickinson and Bruce Coxon, who understood the company’s focus on the environment aspect of their plan.
Ten Tree is involved in a variety of tree planting projects in Canada and around the world. The company partners with WeForest, a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable re-forestation, on projects in regions as diverse as Brazil, Haiti, Ethiopia, India, Honduras, Madagascar and The Philippines. In two months, the Ten Tree team will visit a unique project in Zambia where planting will be done at the Kamfinsa Prison. The prison houses inmates and their children but faces a severe lack of funding and overcrowding. The goal of the Kamfinsa project is to provide inmates with meaningful work and to generate income by planting fruits and vegetables that can be sold to the communities outside the prison.
Ten Tree also partners with the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF), a charitable organization that advocates protection of Canada’s wild species and spaces. CWF was a partner who, early on, buoyed Ten Tree’s activities in another area that motivates the company – inspiring people.
“We want to do something for the consumer that really cares,” says Emsley. “In two weeks, we’re releasing a new site called Inspirestory.org. It’ll feature awe-inspiring stories and sayings, and it’s focused around our campaign to get kids outdoors. We want to be a part of something that’s greater than just a clothing line.”
Part of that philosophy is encouraging people to embrace what nature offers. Ten Tree’s slogan is “Protect the World You Play in” and they aim to lead by example. The apparel is produced responsibly, and the tree planting projects are based around building sustainable communities, providing shelter, increasing quality of life as well as creating and restoring bio-diversity and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere among other environmental benefits. The Ten Tree team takes these activities to heart because they are also actively “playing” in the environment. The company is quoted on its YouTube page as saying: “It doesn’t matter if you are surfing the most terrifying wave in your life or running a grueling marathon, every breath of air consumed in these moments is special.”
Emsley echoes that belief: “When we came up with the idea in Hawaii, we were out there hiking, biking and surfing. You see all the beautiful things the earth has to offer, just taking advantage of all of it is something that we want everyone to go out and do – people need to be in touch with nature and go out and do things outdoors. That’s the best way to learn that the Earth really needs our help. We have to make an effort to protect everything we have and conserve it.”
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