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Young Entrepreneur Series: From outsider to best local start-up

He may not have been born in the Okanagan, but a Kelowna business owner is wearing his pride on his sleeve.

<who> Photo Credit: Okanagan Lifestyle Apparel on Facebook. </who> Okanagan Lifestyle Apparel co-founder Markku Luopa wearing one of the company's t-shirts.

Markku Luopa, co-founder of Okanagan Lifestyle Apparel, was born and raised in Edmonton and moved to the Okanagan about seven years ago.

“The lifestyle out here is truly unique and it’s something I do not take for granted. The idea for Okanagan Lifestyle came as a creative outlet to express the passion I have for the Okanagan,” said Luopa.

Luopa said he set out to make an impact on the community. He came up with an idea for a clothing line and started creating designs on his computer.

In 2014, he approached his friend, and now business partner, Jaclyn Robertson to make their brand a reality.

“She loved it as much as I did, so we made an initial order of t-shirts and tank tops, and with that, Okanagan Lifestyle Apparel (OLA) was born.”

<who> Photo Credit: Okanagan Lifestyle Apparel on Facebook. </who> Okanagan Lifestyle Apparel for sale at Birch Hill Studio in Vernon.

At first, Luopa admitted he set out to be an entrepreneur for the flexibility of hours and lifestyle. Once they started OLA, that mindset changed.

“With Okanagan Lifestyle, I am an entrepreneur because I give a shit about this community and want to make a difference,” he said. “Design and apparel are my passion, and through Okanagan Lifestyle, we're hoping to connect and create positive change.”

When they’re making decisions on colour, design, marketing strategies and community interactions, Luopa said they focus on the quality of product, service and experience.

<who> Photo Credit: Royce Sihlis Photography. </who> Luopa and Robertson working on their products.

Giving back is still something they also put emphasis on.

“A portion of our sales will always go back into the Okanagan community in some unique way, shape or form.”

The company is deeply rooted in Kelowna, and it’s something locals seem to be pretty supportive of. In fact, Luopa said the community has embraced them “with open arms and high fives.”

“This community is so passionate about everything that the Okanagan stands for and that’s what we try to embody with Okanagan Lifestyle,” he said. “The pictures we see with people wearing OLA around the Okanagan, Canada and even the world has been overwhelming.”

“We’re beyond grateful to be a part of the Okanagan community.”

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And part of the community they are. After being here for less than a decade, Luopa said Kelowna is definitely home to him.

“I love this city - and the entire Okanagan for that matter. It’s a vibrant city with an emerging local business community, which is very exciting to see.”

Lately, Luopa said he’s met a lot more young business owners in the area, which is something he’s happy to see.

“With all the startups and local businesses you see and hear about in Kelowna, it’s hard to argue that it’s not a good place to start a business,” he said. “This community is passionate about supporting local ventures - that’s one thing we have noticed and we love it.”

<who> Photo Credit: Okanagan Lifestyle Apparel on Facebook.

Luopa said for those thinking of starting a business, it’s both one of the most challenging and most rewarding experiences you can go through.

“Not everyone wants to own their own business, but for the ones that do, I would abosolutely encourage them!,” he said, stressing the importance of doing market research and planning prior. “There’s always a lot more to it than you think!”

Even though they haven’t been around that long, Okanagan Lifestyle Apparel has seen some pretty great success, which Luopa describes as, “surreal.” For instance, OLA is now sold in the Orchard Park Shopping Centre out of the MAN + WOMAN store.

“We’re excited about our growth and collaborations in the past couple years and we are hoping to keep the momentum rolling in the coming years!,” he said. “I mean, Okanagan Lifestyle was just a sketch on a piece of paper in 2014 - and here we are in 2016, (having been) nominated and won the Best of Kelowna ‘Best Startup Company.’”

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow. </who> Robertson and Luopa accepting their Best of Kelowna award.

In the future, Luopa said they hope to grow the company within the Okanagan.

“We’re proud to operate out of Kelowna. As for the future, we have some amazing collaborations and projects in the works,” he said, keeping quiet on the details.

To check out more of what Okanagan Lifestyle is all about, visit their website.

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