FEATURING: Brad Gadd, Business Administration 2006
It’s hard to believe that one humble gift was all it took for Brad Gadd (Business Administration 2006) to know his future would be leather-bound.
“An old boss gave me a canvas and leather bag and it had this perceived quality and beauty to it,” Gadd says. “The characteristics of leather just aligned with my core values. It’s simple, authentic and sustainable.”
Recognizing that he had a real appreciation for the raw material, he approached his father with one simple question: where does one get a piece of scrap leather? “My dad chuckled and handed me a box filled with tools my mom got from her grandpa, and leather projects she did when she was young,” Gadd says. “Without even knowing it, I stumbled upon this cool little starter kit and a pretty rad family connection.”
Before there was leather, there was apparel. The Populess brand was born in 2003 when Gadd and some high school friends set up a screen-printing operation in the back of local skate and snowboard shop Boarderline (which is where Gadd’s storefront, which sells quality handmade leather goods and apparel, is located today.)
After graduating high school, Gadd enrolled in the Business Administration program at Lethbridge College. The only founding member to continue with the business post-graduation had no intention of parting ways with the brand he had come to love. “I knew I already had some sort of entrepreneurial blood in me, but, just like a scrap piece of leather, I needed refining,” Gadd says. “It’s probably pretty common, but some of my most hated courses are the ones that I find myself still looking back on.”
Southern Alberta’s importance in shaping Gadd in business and in life is seen in Populess’ main slogan: “Born where the prairies meet the mountains.” “I’m very proud of our little corner of the world,” Gadd says. “There is something so beautiful and humbling about looking into the horizon and seeing the prairies behind you and the mountains in front of you. It definitely tugs at the heartstrings.”
Hearing Gadd speak about the longevity of the company and his love of Lethbridge, it’s easy to see why one of the business’s core values is “cultivating community” and understand why the rugged shop owner’s arms flood with goosebumps when speaking about the local consumer’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Before everything got flipped upside down, it was a bit of a trend for people to ‘shop local,’ but it felt more like lip service,” Gadd says. “But, in the face of a global pandemic, our community came together and showed up for each other in a lot of ways. It was incredibly humbling.” Gadd is proof that when you craft something by hand, you leave a part of yourself in it. “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I do what I do, and I keep coming back to one thing at my core – shared delight – and I’m just getting started.”