Alex MacLean started his clothing brand, East Coast Lifestyle, as a project for his third-year business class on entrepreneurship at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. Just 21 years old at the time, he designed a logo, borrowed $800 from his dad and made 30 hoodies, which he sold around campus. The project yielded MacLean his first-ever A in his university career and, after five years, a nationally coveted label and thriving business with more than $10 million in sales. The Halifax native relies on social media to get the word out, a strategy so successful celebrities like Ed Sheeran and Sidney Crosby have been spotted sporting the brand’s distinctive anchor logo. More recently, MacLean launched a new, mountain-focused brand called West Coast Lifestyle and introduced his apparel to stores across the country.
Q: What is the thinking behind the brand?
The philosophy of the brand has always been to have a staple logo, but to introduce new, limited-edition and collaborative items. We’ve worked with athletic-wear brand Champion, headwear company NEFF on a toque and the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah on a hockey jersey. We [strive] to create unique pieces.
Q: Who wears your clothing?
Everyone from lobster fishermen to Sidney Crosby. People are proud to be from Atlantic Canada and the brand allows them to represent [that] when they’re travelling.
Q: How did you get celebrities to wear your apparel when you were starting out?
Mostly through Instagram direct message networking—this is the new form of email. We never asked them for anything; we gift things and hope [it happens] organically.
“People are proud to be from Atlantic Canada.” —Alex Maclean
Q: What’s one of the brand’s celebrity highlights?
We were blown away to see Kenan Thompson supporting the brand on Saturday Night Live. The show is filmed in New York City, and people [tune in] across the U.S., Canada and globally. We’ve been able to get in touch with Kenan recently and sent him a couple of extra pieces.
Q: How do you use social media?
The beauty of social media is that people from all over the world can find you, we’re getting followers and shipping orders to places we’ve never been to—from Atlantic Canadians to people passionate about their own country’s east coast.
Q: How did meeting Barack Obama come about?
I placed second in a student entrepreneur competition in Washington in 2015. After I spoke, I was given a note from the White House—I still have the [note] today. I was flown out to the White House a week later to attend Obama’s speech on global entrepreneurship. I was honoured to listen to him speak.
Q: Do you travel much for business?
We’ve done a lot of travelling in the U.S. because it helps us identify what people there like to wear—their style is definitely a little different. We went down to Florida to see what people are wearing, what stores are popular and to explore its east coast a little.
Q: How do you pass the time while flying?
I like to draw and whip up new logos. I actually drew our brand logo, the circle [and anchor] we eventually trademarked, while I was in the air.\
MacLean’s Top 3 Things to Do on the East Coast
1. Visit the Halifax Harbour
“Rent a boat and go to McNabs Island for hiking and views of Halifax. There are lots of great day trips. Mostly, it’s about trying to get on the coast and explore the ocean.”
2. Go surfing at Lawrencetown Beach
“Lawrencetown Beach is my favourite. It’s got world-class surf and sometimes has massive waves. It’s pretty amazing to go out there.”
3. Attend the Royal St. John’s Regatta
“The culture around the Royal St. John’s Regatta in early August is amazing—how many boats there are, and how packed the streets get is awesome.”
[This story appears in the August 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]