Skip to content

Entrepreneur hits a winning combination

Harlan Kingfisher took COVID-19 lemons and made lemonade.

SASKATOON — In the middle of the pandemic, Harlan Kingfisher took lemons and made lemonade. 

That ‘lemonade’ is a clothing brand he launched in 2021 – Smudge the Blades – a clothing brand which creatively blends Indigenous culture and humour with hockey culture and lingo.

The idea for the clothing brand had been percolating with Kingfisher for years, but the coronavirus shutdown presented an opportunity.

“COVID shutting things down gave me time to give it a go,” said Kingfisher, a member of Sturgeon Lake First Nation who works full-time as a power engineer.

"I launched it with the idea of making clothing with Indigenous hockey talk and funny sayings. And it blew up. It went crazy within the first month, and really started snowballing in the social media world,” said Kingfisher.

Since launching, his clothing has not only been purchased by customers nationwide, but worn and shared by some famous Canadians, including singer Bif Naked and former NHL player Andrew Ference. 

“I didn’t expect it to go into the non-Indigenous side as well,” said Kingfisher.

“I have so much pride in my clothing brand, to see some of these (famous people) wear it and also have pride in it," he said. I’ve been getting requests from people all over the world to send them clothing,”

This success is even more impressive considering that Kingfisher is truly self-made. He not only designs the majority of the clothing himself but prints and ships the clothing out of his own home. 

“The biggest challenge is keeping up with the orders,” he said. “I’ve also been travelling around Canada, going to youth conferences and encouraging young people to follow their dreams.”

This desire to give back is foundational in how Kingfisher runs his business. Shortly after launching, he received an email from a mother in Ontario, who couldn’t afford the hockey gear for her son, who was also experiencing racism.

“I thought to myself, ‘My clothing brand is bigger than just me. I need to do something to help those who need it,” he said. 

Since helping the woman out with gear and hockey fees for her son, Kingfisher has been helping out others around the county, using the revenue from his sales to help those who can’t afford to play.

“I see posts all the time about how expensive hockey is. I remember not being able to play one year as a kid because my dad couldn’t afford it,” he said. “I know how hard it can be. So I do my best to help as many people as I can.”

Kingfisher said he believes giving back has contributed to the popularity of his brand, with people online feeling inspired to jump on board and support Smudge the Blades.

His online presence since launching has also ballooned – on TikTok, Smudge the Blades has almost 55,000 followers, and over 1.1 million likes. His popularity on the social media platform has led him to be named one of TikTok’s 2024 Indigenous Visionary Voices – a feature for Indigenous History Month that shares the voices, culture, and stories of Indigenous creators. 

“A lot of people who are following me are Indigenous creators from across Canada. So I started mixing in culture-related content on TikTok,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of history being taught on TikTok, so as part of my clothing brand I wanted to tell those stories as well.”

Kingfisher’s culture-related content has certainly made an impact – a TikTok video taken at a powwow has accumulated 2.6 million views. He said these views are translating to website visits and sales, enabling him to help more young people get into and continue playing hockey. 

“I love being Indigenous and I love seeing other Indigenous people succeed. Showcasing an Indigenous person, our struggles, and how we’ve overcome them is a huge part of my videos,” he said. 

“Cool things happen when you’re doing good things for others.”

On June 24, Kingfisher will be featured on the APTN show Bears’ Liar for the chance to win $100,000 for his business.