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The Kings of Kings: A Success Story

ARKA was founded in 2009 by Burag Celikian, Shant Der Ashodian, and Sevan Aliksanian. A clothing company that designs thought provoking t-shirts, ARKA embodies the mindset of individuals who are well rounded and can’t define themselves with a single word or phrase. Currently ARKA designs are carried in stores across the nation at high-end stores, such as Nordstrom’s and Fred Segal, and at fashion boutiques. In a mere five years the trio established their brand in the fashion industry. But success didn’t come easy.

ARKA was founded in 2009

ARKA was founded in 2009

Celikian and Der Ashodian graduated with a marketing degree from CSUN and transitioned into real estate; Aliksanian graduated with a degree in computer science and worked as a lab technician at Chevron. Embracing the age of entrepreneurship, the three always had a vision of starting a business together but weren’t really sure in which industry. They collectively felt they were not living to their full potential and were tired of working normal jobs and living average lives. It was Aliksanian who suggested a t-shirt line where every design graphic had a story and a purpose. Thus in 2009 ARKA was born. Arka is an Armenian word that means “king of kings,” and the trio felt the name would be easily embraced by non-Armenians. They chose the owl as their logo because owls are vigilant, elusive, and always appear deep in thought while symbolically representing wisdom.

“As in every business there is certain etiquette to abide by. Due to the fact that we had no background, sources, or contacts in the apparel industry, we had to do all our own homework. There was nobody to guide us whatsoever. We attended trade shows for over a year prior to launching the company just to give us an idea of what we were getting into,” Celikian said during our interview. Immersing themselves in a new industry was no easy feat but the trio was motivated to create thought-provoking graphics inspired by various influences around the globe. They met their first road block while attending a fashion seminar that included companies that led the industry, such as American Rag and Fashion Business, Inc. One speaker in particular caught their attention—a lawyer who represented many clients in the fashion industry. At the end of the seminar, the ARKA co-owners approached the lawyer to set up a meeting. Initially, the lawyer told them they wouldn’t be able to afford his prices, but had a change of heart when they told him they had a serious business plan and wanted feedback on legal issues they may possibly face in the future.

This meeting changed ARKA forever. Celikian remembers how he himself scoffed at their business plans, saying they would need at least half a million dollars to create a brand, and that they had no chance. The lawyer said he had once tried to start a woman’s line, but failed. He said that if he couldn’t do it, with all the financial backing he had, then ARKA didn’t stand a chance. The trio left the meeting deflated and it was in that moment of complete silence that their determination was set in stone.

When asked what other road blocks they encountered, Celikian said, “Our entire industry is a roadblock. Gaining acceptance amongst your peers is not easy in the business. Not only do you need to make something that people like, but you need to show that you are fully committed, knowledgeable of other brands, respect the business as an art form, and you need to show up stronger to every trade show.” The ARKA founders always had high expectations for their company and weren’t discouraged by the initial hardships they encountered. They set goals for themselves and worked hard to achieve them. They created the first business account with a store in Canada called Moule’—a high-end store with two store locations. “We didn’t take the small victories for granted,” Celikian said.

The victories only increased their motivation and they pushed harder to evolve the company year after year. “Really our only chance is making designs that don’t look like everyone else. But then you ask yourself, ‘Is that a good idea?’ ‘Do we want to be too different?’ There’s a constant storm in your head that makes you question things, everything, because our resources and window of opportunity is so small. Every dollar, every interaction, contact, design, everything has to count just so you can live another day.”

Looking back to that life-changing moment with the lawyer, Celikian said, “Honestly, if I saw him today I would thank him and shake his hand. I learned a lot from that encounter. We didn’t have anyone to really guide us in this business. But from that day forward, I promised myself that if I were ever in his shoes and a younger person approached me for advice, I would encourage them. I hope they will be just as foolish as us and not know what they are capable of. I will always pick up my phone when they call, I will answer all e-mails. I know what it’s like to be in their position: full of doubt, questions, and fearful of what there is to come.”

What truly motivates ARKA? “If we can get ARKA to be at a level to where it is on par with Obey, The Hundreds, or Johnny Cupcakes, it would be amazing to have a brand that the Armenian community could claim their own. We are sons of the community. We all went to Armenian schools, had a modest upbringing, we could have simply decided to have a normal 9-5 job (which there is nothing wrong with), but we wanted to put ourselves to the test. We wanted to know what we are capable of.”

To read more about ARKA visit http://www.arkaclothing.com.

 

King Cake (recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse)

 

Ingredients:
1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 packages dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
4 to 5 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/2 cup warm milk (105-115 degrees)
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, cooled
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup finely chopped candied citron
1 pecan half, uncooked dried bean or King Cake Baby

Glaze:
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
Purple, green, and gold sugar crystals

Directions:
Preheat the oven 350 degrees. Combine the warm water, yeast, and 2 teaspoons sugar in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside to a warm place for about 10 minutes. Combine the 4 cups of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, nutmeg, and lemon rind, and add warm milk, melted butter, egg yolks, and yeast mixture. Beat until smooth. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place the dough in a well-greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top.
Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1.5 hours). Punch the dough down and place on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with the citron and knead until the citron is evenly distributed. Shape the dough into a cylinder, about 30 inches long. Place the cylinder on a buttered baking sheet. Shape into a ring, pinching ends together to seal. Place a well-greased 2-pound coffee can or shortening can in the center of the ring to maintain shape during baking. Cover the ring with a towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the coffee can immediately. Allow the cake to cool. For the glaze: Combine the ingredients and beat until smooth. To assemble, drizzle cake with the glaze. Sprinkle with sugar crystals, alternating colors.

4 Comments on The Kings of Kings: A Success Story

  1. Ապրեք Տիկին Տեր Պողոսյան եւ Ապրեն Ջելիկյանները
    Thank you for a very informative article. I wish you would come to Yeghegnadzor and mentor our youth into starting creative businesses. Should you accept this invitation, you would be our guests (aterjanian (at) yahoo.com)

  2. written in the article: “Our entire industry is a roadblock. Gaining acceptance amongst your peers is not easy in the business.

    Your are competing with their sales. If someone buys your ‘t’ shirt item they’re not buying the other guy’s product. None of your competitors feel they owe you or anyone else anything, business isn’t easy.

    There are textile manufacturing facilities in Armenia that might benefit your production costs. Just a loose thought and one more thing to deal with…

    Armenians relish challenges and as long as you’ve got some fight in you, you have a greater chance for greater success. GOOD LUCK!

  3. avatar Burag Celikian // April 30, 2013 at 9:56 pm // Reply

    @Antoine: Thank you very much for the positive words. I have traveled to Hyeastan 6 times but have yet to go to Yeghegnadzor. I will save your email and make it a point to see you next time I visit Hyeastan.
    @Mardehros Challenges were one of the reasons why we wanted to pursue this industry. I never expect anything from our competitors. However it is key to build strong relationships within the industry. I recommend this approach no matter what business you’re in. So many people we have come across have had a great respect for our designs and our relentless work ethic. Because of this, many people that have years of experience in this business have offered us useful contacts and sources. Regarding the Armenian Textile industry, I would love to find a reliable factory to work with in Armenia. We have reached out but haven’t received any response yet. It would be a fantastic opportunity. Thank you for the supportive words!

  4. Dear Burag:
    I am delighted that you will visit us in Yeghegnadzor. My phone#s are 0281-24837 and 077-024837.
    You may be aware that there is a Canadian Armenian who manufactures excellent Made in Armenia underwear and has thus created over 100 jobs in Gumri.
    We have a closed textile factory in Yeghegnadzor, and I believe some of the skilled workers are still around. I can show you when you come.
    We are here till July 1, then back to Canada and will return to ‘y’ in the fall for 90 days again.
    Looking forward to your visit

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