KC Elvis of Feather Bear Forever: “Always be ready for the unimaginable”

Always be ready for the unimaginable. Like many other small businesses, we were planning to launch a product line, and the pandemic hit. This caused us to delay the launch. I really had to keep myself motivated and stay patient during that time. I had photoshoots planned that I had to cancel, among many other […]

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Always be ready for the unimaginable. Like many other small businesses, we were planning to launch a product line, and the pandemic hit. This caused us to delay the launch. I really had to keep myself motivated and stay patient during that time. I had photoshoots planned that I had to cancel, among many other things that I wanted to do to start marketing Feather Bear Forever.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing KC Elvis, Founder of Feather Bear Forever.

KC Elvis is Founder of Feather Bear Forever, a baby and kids apparel line launched in 2020. Feather Bear Forever is dedicated to inspiring open-minded hearts through its diverse designs, which teach children about the untold stories of cultures around the world. Raised in a traditional Athabascan village in Alaska, KC comes from a family of deep traditional heritage, with many members in his family being the last traditional chiefs of the Dena’ina region of the Athabascan tribe.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in college, there were these Idle No More gatherings at shopping malls and other very public areas in the U.S. and Canada where native people would gather, dance and sing traditional songs. I noticed that these types of events weren’t educational to the non-natives, which saddened me because that meant that less of the general population was being exposed to Native American history and cultural traditions. I felt our message could be more focused. As natives, we feel our voices are oftentimes muted and forgotten about, so when creating Feather Bear Forever, I wanted to provide an opportunity to educate kids about Native American cultures so that the next generation could have an avenue to learn about us in a way that was a little more fun. From there, that thought process evolved into the question of, “Does every ethnic group feel they are a little misunderstood?” I felt strongly that Feather Bear Forever could be the gathering place where we can have the opportunity to teach each other about what makes us culturally unique across the world.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

My co-founder and I were having a discussion about new designs we were about to launch, one of which featured elements that originated from an indigenous tribe. The day before, a fire had broken out near where the tribe is located. For a split second, we thought about releasing the design because we knew everyone would be on social media talking about it, and we could probably get good traction from it. In that moment, however, we knew we couldn’t release it without having a design approved by the people from that culture, like we originally planned. Instead of jumping on a trending event for the sake of sales, we instead chose to stick to our values as a company that collaborates, supports and respects other cultures. Moving forward, we decided that even if there is some trending event taking place in the news, we wouldn’t just latch onto it without going through every thorough step of our design process. The experience was eye opening for us, and helped us understand that the early building blocks about Feather Bear Forever’s morals and values were paramount. As founders, realizing those moments are vital.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The biggest mistake I made in the beginning was that I trademarked Feather Bear Forever’s name too early. I should have sought out a mentor in the fashion and apparel space earlier on in the process to get a better understanding of the process. When I was just starting, I didn’t realize the level of work that it took to develop a big enough collection to fulfill the amount of items that were needed in the trademark application I asked my attorney to file.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Often times, society believes that politicians and other leaders are the ones who are responsible for bringing about real change in our country, and the world. At Feather Bear Forever, we believe that the change we’re seeking can happen at the individual level by embracing the natural curiosity children have for what they see around them. Building on this natural inquisitiveness, we want to help children and their parents understand that although someone may look different from them, they have their own customs and family traditions too. Welcoming those thoughts will build upon our company’s mantra of creating “Open Minds and Open Hearts.”

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I don’t have any one particular story, but the feedback I receive on Feather Bear Forever is great. Everyone I’ve spoken with who has come in contact with the brand tells me how much something like this is needed. Our brand ethos is not just about the clothes. We want to be educational and help kids understand that they’re no different from their classmates, or friends, despite what they may see on the outside. We are in the process of creating and integrating videos featuring individuals from the cultures our designs represent who can explain the historical and traditional meanings behind the designs. We had to put this content aside during the pandemic as many of the culture bearers we want to feature are elderly and in the high-risk category.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

In Native American cultures, it is believed that we are borrowing this earth from our children. Because of this, we must put the earth and society in a better place than how we found it. With that in mind, we need to remember that political rifts trickle down to the younger generations, and your words have an impact on them. Instead of focusing on divisive language, we need to be more open and welcoming with each other while keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is to unite as human beings.

When I was a kid, I went to career fairs where they would bring in people from jobs to discuss what they do and what their day-to-day looks like. It would be interesting to see a culture fair in which people are invited in from the community for a day to discuss and teach kids different cultures. It could include each culture’s food, songs, dances and language. If we could invite a child into a different culture for a brief moment, and create renewed curiosity, I believe the things we view as differences from one another will be seen as the things that bring us together. We could even call it Feather Bear Day!

As a Native American, I would really like to see politicians provide funding to help revitalize our languages across the country, and into Canada. We were forced not to speak our language by government institutions and government-funded boarding schools. We did not simply stop speaking them on our own. I would like to see this acknowledged, and funding provided to each tribe to help revitalize the language. Much the same way they already fund teaching Spanish and French in public schools.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me is leading by example, and actually caring about those around you beyond just viewing them as an employee and actually viewing them as human beings. When I was a young soldier in the US Army, our First Sergeant Cedric Moore was a part of every 10-mile run. In the mornings, if he made us do push-ups, he was doing them with us. On the weekends, he would come and knock on our doors and ask us if we would like to join him for church. He would ask each of us if we had the chance to talk to our parents, and if we hadn’t, he told us to call our moms and dads to say hello. That experience really showed me what a leader should be doing. When in a leadership role, remember that those you are leading are actual people, and treat them as such.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Always be ready for the unimaginable. Like many other small businesses, we were planning to launch a product line, and the pandemic hit. This caused us to delay the launch. I really had to keep myself motivated and stay patient during that time. I had photoshoots planned that I had to cancel, among many other things that I wanted to do to start marketing Feather Bear Forever.

Social media marketing is a bigger challenge than I thought it would be for a small company. I think that choosing one or two platforms is a good approach for which to start off. As you grow, you can build your social media presence. We’re still in the very early stages, so we will hopefully be hiring someone to take this on very soon.

The feedback from customers and passersby is so motivating. Even though we are new, I know that Feather Bear Forever will make a significant impact on our customers and beyond just from the feedback we have received so far.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Open your heart, and be open to learning about people other than yourself. One of the dreams I have for Feather Bear Forever is to see someone wearing one of our designs from a culture that is different from their own. This has the potential to spark so many conversations, and create new friends. Kids always like to do what other kids are doing — a 7-year-old at recess could say, “Hey I like your shirt,” because they recognize the design and feel like that person accepts them. We can all imagine the smiles on those kids’ faces that were a result of the mutual understanding that was driven by something as simple as a t-shirt. These feelings of cultural acceptance are especially critical today, given the tensions and climate in the United States.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I was born in the 80’s, and raised in the 90’s, so Michael Jordan’s will to win always sticks out to me:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan

I knew that I had big dreams and aspirations at a young age. The village where I was raised in Alaska didn’t have any opportunities for me. So, I was forced to go to a boarding school in Oregon at 14 years old. I later joined the Army to gain leadership skills while I had a baby on the way. I would then go on to enroll at the University of Houston, which was particularly difficult because it would mean sacrificing time away from my son in order to earn an education.

The consistent through-line for me all along the way was that I was a Native American kid traveling alone in life taking as many shots as I could. I knew I needed to keep on going, but being away from family was really hard for me. However, I knew that if I gave up, I would never reach my goals. Seeing Michael Jordan from the outside as a spectator showed me that you just needed to keep going and striving for something more.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have lunch with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. We have a lot of similarities — we both come from unique cultures, we both came up from rock bottom, and we’re both just trying to make it. When I hear the story about him taking his last little bit of cash and chasing his dream, it reminds me of when I had to sleep in my car while looking for a job after I got out of the Army. I feel as though someone like him could see the vision of the positive impact a company like Feather Bear Forever has on the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can check out Feather Bear Forever on both Facebook and Instagram.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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