Peace Out: Ezekiel’s founders and managers leave company after apparent culture clash with investor.

An apparent culture clash has split apart the ownership-management team of Ezekiel, leaving many wondering what’s next for both the brand and its founders.

The e-mail from Ezekiel Founder and Partner Vinnie De La Peña came as a shock to many: “On behalf of Shaine {La Voie} and myself, we would like to thank you all for supporting us as individuals and as the founders and owners of Ezekiel. Today is a day we never imagined would come. It is a dark day for us, but life must go on, and it seems as though Ezekiel might go on — but without either one of us.

On Friday June 13, De La Peña, Sales Director and Partner Royce Cansler, and Production Director and Partner La Voie tendered their resignations to American Fashions President and CEO Steve Kurtzman, who acquired a majority stake in the brand back in August 2000.

Kurtzman said the announcement was a shock: “For whatever reason, they have decided to leave the company. I was surprised by it, and at different stages asked them to stay, but they want to go on to different things. Even the people here today don’t understand why they left.

According to De La Peña, “When three out of four partners resign on same day, that should give you good indication of why they left. Most retailers know how I feel about this brand and that we wouldn’t just walk away for some stupid reason. We’ve been pretty patient over the years with the people we’ve worked for, but after a while you have to stop drinking the Kool Aid.


Cansler is even more direct: “I felt like all my powers had been stripped. I didn’t feel like a partner-owner anymore, and I felt like I was involved in an unpleasant working environment.

La Voie, Cansler, and De La Peña hold a minority interest in the Ezekiel brand — but it’s unclear how, when, or even if this status will change. On this topic Kurtzman will only say, “We have partnership agreements, and those agreements will be fulfilled.

This seems a source of ongoing conflict between the three outgoing partners and Kurtzman. According to De La Peña, “The status of our ownership is unfortunately in the hands of legal counsel.

Cansler explains, “To the best of my knowledge, Vinnie, Shane, and I still own a large percentage of the company — but that’s what legal experts are trying to determine.

Regardless, it’s clear that the Ezekiel brand will continue on without its founders — and Kurtzman is optimistic about its prospects. He’s promoted San Diego rep and longtime Ezekiel employee Greg Osthus to head up the sales effort, and hired Jim Shubin — mostly recently the sales and marketing manager of Dwindle Distribution — to the now-vacant marketing position. The rest of the team — including Creative Director And Head Designer Ryan Rush — have remained with the brand.

“This is not an outsider trying to build a business, Kurtzman says. “We’ve have a team of people from this industry to carry the brand to the next level. We’re moving aggressively forward. Greg has done a good job with the retailers to calm everybody down. There have been no roadblocks so far. No one is going to see any steps backward. If anything, they’re going to see a lot more aggressiveness going forward. The three members of the team we now have are very, very passionate people.


“Ryan, Greg, and Jim are Ezekiel, continues Kurtzman. “I’m just their support person and mentor. I’m the person who gives them the tools to build the business. I have no interest in being the front person of the brand.

According to Osthus, “This is the best time in Ezekiel’s history. I’ve talked to a lot of retailers. Once they heard that nobody else was leaving, that there was money behind the company, the designer was staying, and that we’re hiring someone new in marketing, everything was okay. They want brands like Ezekiel to succeed.

Kurtzman also hints that he’s looking for additional companies to invest in. “I’m not going anywhere, he says. “I have millions of dollars innvested in Ezekiel, and I’m spending more money every day. I’ve hired a good team, and that doesn’t come cheap. If anything, I plan on investing more of my time and capital into this side of the industry. So why would I be doing that if I didn’t feel comfortable about the brand?