Kendal Netmaker is a man on the go, literally. During a recent phone interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, the 27-year-old founder of Neechie Gear was driving from his home in Saskatoon, Canada, to launch his brand of lifestyle apparel in another city three hours away.
“I’m always working my butt off. That’s how a lot of entrepreneurs have to do things,” said the Sweetgrass First Nation native, who launched an athletic wear company in 2011 while still a senior at the University of Saskatchewan, and his company has been rocketing to the top ever since.
It’s really the story behind the business that has earned Neechie Gear so much attention and praise, not to mention a bevy of business awards. To date, Netmaker and his aboriginal-owned business have amassed nearly 10 distinctive business awards (and counting), including Entrepreneur of the Year in the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame, and almost $80,000 in prize money that he has invested back into his business.
Most recently, Netmaker was honored with the National Youth Aboriginal Entrepreneur Award by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) at a ceremony in Toronto—an award that came with a nice $10,000 prize.
“What is absolutely outstanding about this young man is that he gives a percentage of his profits back to the community,” said JP Gladu, CCAB president and CEO, and an Anishinaabe from Thunder Bay. “It’s a compelling story. I circled around after the gala and talked to other people about Kendal and some were brought to tears.”
The story goes that Netmaker was raised by a single mother and didn’t have the money to participate in youth sports. The parents of a classmate stepped up and paid the fees for him to play soccer for the first time. It was that act of kindness that changed the course of his life, and it is the reason why Netmaker donates 5 percent of Neechie’s profits to help other underprivileged children participate in costly sports programs.
This weekend, Netmaker will be honored once again at the Indspire Awards in Alberta, which recognize indigenous professionals and youth for outstanding career achievement. He will also be in Dubai a few weeks from now to meet the judges and give a presentation as the only North American finalist in the Youth Entrepreneur of the Year Award. “Getting recognized at this international level has never been done by any aboriginal in the world,” Netmaker shared proudly. “We are becoming that role model company for aboriginal people around the world, and we have an opportunity to keep inspiring other aboriginal entrepreneurs.”
In addition to running a thriving apparel company that has grown more than 500 percent since its inception, and picking up all his business awards, Netmaker travels throughout Canada as a motivational speaker for corporations, high schools and colleges.
His message is clear: Success is an ongoing work in progress. “People see all the awards and good things about success, but they don’t see the hard work and the struggle behind it.”
Netmaker said he is inspired to pound the pavement every day by his two children, ages 3 and 1. “I have struggled since day one. I am always hitting obstacles every day and work to get around them, looking beyond them.”
Long-term goals for this accomplished business owner are to distribute Neechie Gear internationally. Currently, he sells his clothing direct to consumers at the company headquarters in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and online at Neechiegear.com. He also wholesales with many retailers throughout Canada, and one in North Dakota.
Contributing business writer Lynn Armitage is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.