c o r d i a c h a n - k a r m a c o l l e c t i v e
Cordia Chan started Karma Collective, a yoga and surf lifestyle brand that gives back, after a 10-day silent meditation retreat in Hawaii. Born and raised in Vancouver, BC, starting this project was a leap into the unknown that has taken her all over the world. "Breathe. Flow. Meditate." was inked onto the first Karma Collective tank top, but through social media and a loyal group of yogi brand ambassadors, the brand hosts a full kit of product offerings. What's more, she has engrained her personal philosophy for giving back into every piece of the brand. Share the karma, share the love - proceeds from current purchases are going towards building a school in rural Ecuador.
How’s your day going so far?
The day’s been really good. Usually I get up and take some time just to gather my thoughts - what I want to accomplish for the day. And as much I hate to say that I jump to my phone right away, it’s kind of the first thing I do. I check in on email, Instagram, social media, just seeing what activity happened overnight. Then I look to my day as to what meetings or other things I need to get done. I have a lot of errands to run, especially while I'm in Vancouver. There’s a lot of picking stuff up and dropping stuff off. I had a lot of design stuff that I worked on this morning. That’s a typical day - it’s all stuff that’s related to the business.
Let’s talk about the big picture - how did Karma Collective come about?
It’s quite the story but I’ll try to condense it down to give you a snapshot! About two years ago I was really unhappy at my job - I had never really worked a nine to five before I went back to get my MBA. I had always worked at home, for an experiential marketing company, or just doing my own thing. I wasn’t feeling connected or like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was looking for something else...but I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I was looking at jobs in the health and wellness area and I was actually really close to getting another job with another company that was an exciting role. I interviewed with them (a company called Vega, based in Vancouver). They called me at my work at the time when I had the biggest feeling of “I just need to get out of here”. They told me they had this opportunity for me as the North American Experiential Marketing Manager, opening up a sampling program across Whole Foods around North America. It just sounded so amazing and I was like “Oh my gosh, this is my calling!”. I had to put together all of these pitches and presentations and I interviewed with them for a month and a half starting around Halloween. I would know by Christmas if I got the job or not. At the same time, I was just doing everything I could to kind of find my groove.
A girlfriend of mine had done a ten day silent meditation retreat - I had talked about going but had never really made the time. I didn’t know if I wanted to use all of my time off to be in silence and on my own. I had looked into it and applied - it was going to be taking place in February and I was doing all of this interviewing and planning in October. By Christmas Eve, I was down to the final two in the interview process and I was pretty sure I had it. I was checked out of my job, feeling really excited. I had my out and had the opportunity I was waiting for, but I didn’t get the job. I was quite upset because I was still in this position and feeling unhappy but at the same time I was like “well maybe there’s a reason all of this is happening”. I’m a really strong believer in that - perhaps if I did get the job, I wouldn’t have been able to take that time in February to go on the retreat.
"Ten days in silence can do some really amazing things to you."
I went on the retreat and was super hesitant to go - I don’t even know what I was scared of. I guess maybe it was the thought of being on my own in my thoughts for ten days. There was no eye contact, no cell phones, no safety to check what’s happening or anything. I went and was told by a couple people “it’s ten days of your entire life that you’re giving up. And it’s not even giving up, you’re giving a gift to yourself”. I did it in Hawaii, and it’s not like I was at some beach. It was the complete middle of the rainforest surrounded by trees and camping for ten days. They don’t take your phone, but you voluntarily give it up, along with reading material and everything like that. It was a really really intense guided meditation and it was during that time that I was gone that the name Karma Collective came to me. I wrote it down but I had no idea what it would be. I had never even dreamt of having a clothing company or my own business or anything. I came back feeling amazing - ten days in silence can do some really amazing things to you. You really get to dig into your thoughts and really deal with stuff that you probably don’t ever want to deal with. It was enlightening and I came out feeling on such a high, I wanted to feel like that all the time. I was going around telling everyone about the experience I had and the positivity around it. It was nothing novel, when you’re immersed in such a simple place, you realize that there are some things you just don’t need to hold onto so much. Or, letting go of things that you can’t actually control and realizing that nothing is permanent.
Initially, rather than preaching all of this information to people and bombarding people, I was just going to let people read it. I was thinking “maybe I’ll put it on a bag, or on a tshirt!” That was the original inspiration behind Karma Collective. At the time I hadn’t connected the name to the idea. I was so excited about it and I designed a tshirt with my boyfriend at the time. The first one we made was a yoga ‘breathe. flow. meditate.’ shirt. Right away we knew we needed a name and that’s when I looked through my little notebook from the trip and stopped at Karma Collective. Right away we designed a logo and I was thinking about how we could test it - I needed to know that it wasn’t just something I liked. I applied for Wanderlust event in Los Angeles last minute and got in - I found out ten business days before the festival and had to put together a business plan and clothing line. That’s when it hit me that it was actually happening. I created a couple of other designs, made it happen, and went down to the festival in LA with my sister and my cousin who were going to help me out. Right away, the brand was picked up and that’s when it started to take off. It really was Instagram and social media - people taking pictures of it and asking to be brand ambassadors.
I get so inspired by the people that apply to be brand ambassadors - it keeps me going every day. It’s so lovely to see people connecting with the brand. It’s not just a t-shirt, it goes past that message.
Now that Karma Collective has grown up a little bit, what’s your vision for where it’s going?
It’s been just over a year since my website launched - that was July 23rd. A year ago it was just the tank tops and now I have the full kit (pants, shirts, everything). For Karma Collective’s future, I’m starting to expand the product offering. And for things that I can’t actually make, I’m going to start carrying other brands that resonate with everything that Karma Collective stands for. It’s all about giving back, sharing the karma and sharing the love.
"It’s all about giving back, sharing the karma and sharing the love."
That’s another big part of Karma Collective, the giving back aspect. Right now, a portion of each of the shirts goes towards our campaign with Change Heroes. I also work with Yoga Design Lab on the mats and they donate to education as well. There’s always going to be some component of giving back with every brand that I carry. I’m at a point where if I can’t make everything that I want to, I’ll partner with brands that can and that have the underlying social mission. That way, it becomes a collective of brands.
What would you say the happiest accident in this whole process has been?
It could be meeting my ‘male counterpart’, he's working on my men’s line right now in Bali. I randomly met him there and he happened to be creating a surf brand himself that seemed like a very good fit. That was very unexpected and totally unplanned. It’s great now, nice to have someone who has the same passion as you and is doing something similar.
Also, I think a lot of time the way the designs turn out aren’t always coming from my initial vision. But sometimes they end up being the top sellers. If I’m out and about and I see something, I just will take inspiration from there.
What made you want to take the brand to Bali and how do you think growing it there has affected it?
Going to Bali was sort of...initially...a three week vacation. Once I got there though….there’s just something about that island that is very magical, it sounds weird when I say that! You feel something there and I really just felt this draw to Bali. My decision to move the brand entirely over there started when I fell in love with the place. I was just asking myself how I could make it work. And, there’s an amazing culture associated with Bali. They have the yoga, the spirituality, they also have the surf. They have everything that I love and everything that the brand represents all in one place.
Back to the idea of happy accidents, I guess something came up that I didn’t expect. I was having lunch, sitting by myself at a communal table at a cafe in Canggu. I was thinking about relocating everything and making it work there, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. I didn’t know if it would be able to happen because I don’t speak the language and I didn’t know of manufacturers. I couldn’t go around and ask people to figure that out! But I was sitting next to this family who was from New Zealand and I started chatting with them, everyone is extremely friendly and just open there. The woman started talking about how she and her husband and family had been able to make living in Bali work because they spend half the time there and half the time in NewZealand. I asked her what she did that allowed her to have that kind of flexibility - that’s the biggest question for people living in Bali - “How do you make it work living here?”. She said that she had just started a clothing company and I was obviously intrigued and said “tell me about it”. It turns out friend of hers from Australia had started a children’s clothing line and recommended this woman to her. She in turn recommended her to me as well. I never even got this woman from the cafe’s name and I really wish I had because all I want to do is thank her right now. She gave me the name and email of this manufacturer and left with her husband to pick up her kids.
I emailed this manufacturer about one month before I was supposed to leave Bali in the spring and I didn’t hear back from her. It had been over ten days and I just completely forgot. All of a sudden, I got an email from this woman saying “Hi, I got your email. If you want, you can stop by my shop and I can see how I can help you.” I met up with her, a lovely Indonesian woman that has a family-run business. Her office is a house in a little neighborhood amongst rice fields. It’s by no means a big factory in the city, only a ten minute drive (actually, a scoot) from where I was living. Right away, we started working together on some samples and after a week or two she really showed the quality of her work and everything was just AMAZING. I loved that it was a family-run business. It was really easy for me to make the decision to give her all my business. And all of this happened because of the coincidental meeting with this woman from New Zealand who was open to having a conversation. It confirmed that the brand was supposed to be there, along with meeting my partner for my men’s line. Everything just started to line up. I’m going with the flow right now, going back there, and seeing where it takes me.
Tell me about the community of Karma Collective that you’ve created - ambassadors, business partners, etc.
They’re extremely supportive. It’s like a little family. I try to communicate with them now, before I had a community manager that kept in touch with them almost daily. It’s a very reciprocal relationship and that’s the kind of relationship that I really like to nurture. Any time I’m traveling around, whether I’m at a festival or somewhere in the states, I’ll always try to meet face to face, do a photoshoot, and hear how they’re doing. I want to see if I can help them out in any way by promoting events that they’re doing. It’s a very supportive community and like I said before, even when I get applications, it’s amazing how open a lot of these people are when they apply to be a part of this community - they connect so well with what Karma Collective stands for and that is just so inspiring. We’re in the midst of a 30 days of inspiration social media series and a couple of them have sent me inspirational quotes that they’ve either written themselves or really resonate with personally. Every day, we’re sharing one from each of the ambassadors and putting them together in a deck to send out with each mala. They’re such an involved community and they’re always asking how they can help! And they want to meet each other too, so I try to rally them together and help make that happen.
What environment would you say you’re most productive in?
In nature! Design wise, I get all my inspiration from the things that I see. I’m very visual and I need to be outside and stimulated to be inspired. Usually when I’m surfing is when I can think to and absorb the stimuli that I’m taking in during the day when I’m sitting at a cafe or something. That, or when I’m on a run and I have the same sort of alone time.
Do you have any daily rituals that you try to stick to?
Sweat once a day! I always have to do something, whether it’s a surf or a run or even a quick walk around the block. I have to do that for myself. Sweating for me, is almost a meditation. That’s something that I’ve been making time for every day and despite how busy I am, I’ll always go first thing in the morning or in the afternoon to get outside. That, and trying to connect with at least someone every day. That could even just be touching base with one of my brand ambassadors and having a conversation because it’s so easy, when I’m working on the computer and social media, to not talk to anyone. So once a day, I usually try to pick up the phone to talk to a friend, or call a brand ambassador, or meet up and have a coffee with someone. It’s just me right now and my partner in Bali right now so sometimes it’s tough to feel truly connected. Because you have this community and you know it’s there, but I like to actually feel connected on an emotional and personal level. I don’t have time to meet up and have coffees with people every day, but I can always make time for a fifteen minute phone call.
Who inspires you?
I would say my brand ambassadors. It’s crazy to hear the stories that they share with me. They keep me going and they give me ideas all the time about things they want to see. I want to share those stories when I get them from people!
What is your mantra?
I’ve been thinking about that one...Right now, it’s do what you love. Go with the flow and know that you’re following your truth. For me, everything has worked out when I go with that.