The owner of a sports shop in Lake Tahoe, Calif., saw something he had to have: a T-shirt, its intricate screen print unique compared to his store’s current stock. This distinctive design wasn’t from New York or Los Angeles. It was from Montana.
Machi Block was a sophomore at Flathead High School when he opted to start his own T-shirt company. Five years and two clothing lines later, his apparel is worn as far away as Croatia.
Kavadba and Elevated Clothing are Block’s two trademarked brand names. The company relies on word of mouth and “street teams” across the country to promote and distribute the merchandise without any formal advertising. Customers often get cost breaks or free goods if they agree to advocate the brands. This alternative approach to marketing has allowed the business to branch out across the country.
But its roots remain grounded in Montana. Block operates his T-shirt business out of his girlfriend’s garage in Bozeman. A Montana State University graphic design major, Block designs all of his merchandise. He sells several shirts through his Web site, but the majority of his attire is sold at retail locations: Spirit Skate Shop in Kalispell; his booth at Montana State University; and Shoreline Ski and Sports in Lake Tahoe.
Both brands were inspired by the extreme sports culture and outdoor activities of Northwest Montana. Most of Block’s merchandise has a sketch-book look. Rough lines and penciled graphics appear to have been lifted straight from doodles in a notebook. Block targets his merchandise toward participants in all activities, rather than limiting itself to one or two sports, to become a lifestyle brand.
The Flathead calls for a clothing line to encompass its diverse but interconnected interests, Block said. “We want people to expand their horizons, broaden their minds and hone the skills they have,” Block added. “You have to be eternally grateful for the gifts and opportunities God has given you in this life.”
His brother Zach Block calls the apparel more than just a shirt on your back.
“It is about trying to expand a positive idea and lifestyle,” he said. “The clothing just represents that.”
Kavadba was established in the party environment of a 2002 spring break trip to the Bahamas. The phrase “Cuban Kavadba” encompassed both the region, although the Blocks didn’t visit Cuba, and the fond memories associated with it. Kavadba, a word created by Block, means “best of times.” He and a friend decided to print their motto from the trip onto a T-shirt. Then, other friends began asking for the shirts. During his senior year of high school, using a screen printer his uncle gave him, Block began mass-producing T-shirts.
That same year he launched his second line of clothing, Elevated, which was created as a more spiritually influenced counterpart to the Kavadba brand.
“Elevated shares the enthusiasm of Kavadba but in a varied way,” Block said. “It is about elevating your life closer to God.”
“As Machi’s lifestyle has changed, so have the brands,” Zach Block said of his brother. “They have matured with him.”
The Kavadba brand has since dropped the Cuban in front of its name to avoid confusion among buyers. Both brands have expanded beyond T-shirts, branching into sweatshirts, long-sleeved T-shirts, polos and a female line of tank tops, shorts and capri pants.
In the first year and a half Block made $2,000, and profits have remained steady. He has about $5,000 invested in both inventory and equipment. Block spends nearly all of his free time running and promoting the company. Being a full-time student and traveling during the summer with various religious groups, he isn’t able to devote all the time he wants to his business.
Zach Block has $15,000 set aside for when his brother graduates to turn the brands into “a legitimate company.”
“It has always been my dream to work with my brother,” Zach Block said. “I am proud of him and what he is accomplishing.”
Until Machi Block graduates the brand will continue to focus on fan support to get their products to the masses.
“Fans play the biggest part in gaining the brand’s notoriety,” Block said, adding that fans are encouraged to participate in promoting and shaping the company through the Web site. The fans seem to be doing their part. Block has a push pin on a map everywhere someone is wearing his brand.
His brother sees a connection in all the markers littering the map.
“It spider-webs across the country and the world,” Zach said. “But you can trace the center right back to Montana.”
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