Winnipeg Indigenous entrepreneur operates clothing brand after turning away from life of drugs, gangs

An Indigenous street wear business in Winnipeg is helping those who want to turn their lives around by offering them a second chance. Alex Karpa reports.

An Indigenous streetwear business in Winnipeg is offering a second chance to those wanting to turn their lives around.

Sean Rayland started his clothing business Red Rebel Armour in 2018 after deciding to chart a new path in his life.

Rayland, now 36, never envisioned his life would be this way seven years ago when he was in and out of jail and growing up in a rough area.

“The gang violence, I know there was a crack epidemic at that time, lots of alcohol, there was so much going on there. That was normal though, that was normal living to me,” Rayland recalled.

Rayland was in a gang and selling drugs at a young age; he was 18 when he first landed in prison.

But he decided to turn things around at the age of 33. He pursued a social innovation and community development course at Red River College, which taught him the skills to set up his business. Now he helps others who were in the same position as him.

“We’re selling streetwear with the positive messaging, doing all that advocacy, truth and reconciliation and healing and using those funds to offset the costs for new hires for our social purpose, which is hiring our relatives that are returning home from the criminal justice system,” Rayland said.

Rayland employs six people who produce Indigenous-made and authentic T-shirts, hoodies, cargo pants, among other items.

“We’re working with pretty much anyone that shows up at the door and we have capacity.”

Ryan Sais, who works at Red Rebel Armour clothing, in Winnipeg Oct. 25, 2023. (Alex Karpa, CityNews)

Not all his employees are from the criminal justice system. Ryan Sais, who started working at Red Rebel Armour in August, believes he could not find a job anywhere else simply because he is Indigenous.

“It was very frustrating because I don’t have a criminal record, so being stereotyped like that is just annoying, and I was like, ‘man I don’t have a criminal record, why are you trying to act like I do?’” said Sais, who is the company’s retail and Shopify operator.

Sais says it’s important to stand up for yourself and not let others take you down.

“Just keep pushing yourself, no matter what anyone else says,” he said.

Red Rebel Armour clothing brand. (Alex Karpa, CityNews)

Rayland feels it’s important for him to give back to the community he hurt and help others avoid the path he used to be on.

“To see someone thriving that has come from a really dark place, really gives people hope,” said Rayland.

Red Rebel Armour warehouse. (Alex Karpa, CityNews)

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