The story of Pela is fit with inspiration. From the culture and community Brad Pederson found in Kelowna to the beauty of being outside in the Okanagan, Pela continues to inspire and be inspired in their manufacturing work.
After seeing plastic debris in the water around Hawaii, Saskatoon environmental consultant Jeremy Lang felt compelled to do something about it. So, in 2011 he helped invent Flaxstic®, a tough but compostable material made from flax straw. Then he started making phone cases. Then things got interesting.
After meeting Jeremy in 2015, entrepreneur Matt Bertulli invested in Pela, and soon became CEO. “I didn’t particularly care too much that he was making phone cases,” says Bertulli. “But I definitely liked that he had this compostable material that seemed to have a better end of life than plastic. So I was really interested in what else it could be used for.”
The company went on to diversify. “Now we have all kinds of other compostable accessories like smart watch straps and Airpod cases. We’re also making sunglasses and lenses from special polymers that are landfill biodegradable. We own a personal care brand for deodorant, shampoo and conditioner and currently have several new products we’re working on. Pela is a brand that makes products with a graceful end of life. The idea is to get rid of plastic waste.”
“While looking for a location, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary and Kelowna were all options. We flew out here at seven in the morning and met with the mayor and then Corie and Krista from COEDC. In just one day I think we met anybody and everybody in Kelowna. They were really welcoming.”
“The thing that surprised us was everybody was singing the same tune. In Toronto, there’s a lot of different businesses competing for attention and here was Kelowna telling us they’re really focused on startups and tech. The community was clearly thriving and it seemed like a really good place for business. So Jeremy and I moved here with all the injection molding machines and set up a small manufacturing facility.”
“I think my initial fears around a city this size was just recruiting talent locally, finding certain senior levels of people. But it’s been pretty easy so far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. We’ve managed to attract some pretty wicked people.”
“The lifestyle here is awesome. I’m a mountain biker and I like to ski and this place facilitates a very active outdoor lifestyle. And that’s also great for the kind of brand we’re building. We attract those kinds of people and they’re creating the kind of culture we need to build.”
“The perception is the pace of work here is slower, but people are just as effective and they get more done and they’re just happier. So this has been very refreshing. Sort of like a restart to my entrepreneurial journey.”
How does Bertulli sum up that journey?
“We liken it to surfing. We happened to be in the water with a surfboard and a very large wave came along and we happened to know how to surf very, very well. So it’s all just good luck but the right sequence of events counts. I call it a really good return on luck.”
“Pela is a brand that makes products with a graceful end of life. The idea is to get rid of plastic waste.”