El Kartel in the WESTENDER Newspaper March 20 2015, 0 Comments

"El Kartel carves out spot on Granville" by Niki Hope.

He is a kid from Mexico with a love of snowboarding, art, music, and fashion, and he somehow managed to carve out a clothing business in downtown Vancouver.

In 1999, Pablo Zamudio told his mom, who was back home in Guadalajara, that he was going to Canada for just six months. His plan was to get a job, make money, go back home, and open a business.

“It’s been 15 years, and I’m still here,” he says, laughing. “But now I am married to a beautiful Canadian, and I have my shop.”

Today, he owns two El Kartel locations – one on Granville Street and the other in Chinatown.

“We’ve always been about supporting the community,” Zamudio says about his stores. “We try not to follow trends. Our stores they are kind of like our house – we spend so much time there, so for us it’s really important the music that we play, the artwork that we display, and that people come and hang out with us all of the time, because it feels like home; it feels like someone’s house – the vibe.”

Zamudio opened El Kartel with a single location on Robson Street in 2003. Just before the 2010 Olympics, they were forced to move.

He managed to find a space in the 1000-block of Granville Street – the closest location he could find – and re-opened El Kartel, which sells streetwear for both men and women.

Last year, Zamudio expanded his operations into a larger store in Chinatown, where they hold art openings and music events along with offering their many popular lines, including Zanerobe, Stussy, Converse, Native and Asics shoes, Zespy, Penfield, Super sunglasses, and more.

“Right now we are focusing a lot on some European brands, some Australian and Kiwi brands,” says Zamudio, whose enthusiasm is infectious.

Zamudio, who did graphic design work when he first arrived in Canada, credits his rise from new immigrant to business owner to meeting the right people at the right time.

The name El Kartel is obviously a play on the word cartel, but Zamudio changed the spelling to make it not so literal. The word has two meanings, according to Zamudio – the first being the gang idea, while the less well-known carteles means a poster or advertising. The meaning of the latter is significant to Zamudio, because he loves the cool old posters for wrestling matches, music, and bullfights that he grew up seeing in Mexico.

Even his company logo is the head of a Mexican wrestler, a nod to his culture and his clever aesthetic.

• Follow Niki Hope on Twitter at @NikiMHope