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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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Zahn Spirit of Innovation Award winner Kekoa Brehm exemplifies SDSU's excellence in global entrepreneurship. (Rachel Crawford/SDSU) Zahn Spirit of Innovation Award winner Kekoa Brehm exemplifies SDSU's excellence in global entrepreneurship. (Rachel Crawford/SDSU)

Wearing Creativity On His Sleeve

Sustainable materials are the hallmark of student innovation award winner’s clothing brand.
By Sarah White

From the hustle and passion of New York City subway performers to a trite saying on a tea bag, San Diego State University business management and entrepreneurship senior Kekoa Brehm threads an appreciation for the small things into his pursuit of becoming a world-class fashion designer.


His dogged determination led to him being recognized with the Zahn Spirit of Innovation Award. He will receive the award, dressed in an outfit of his own creation, at the Fowler College of Business commencement ceremony on May 12.


Brehm first got a taste of entrepreneurship by selling candy and digital currency on apps with friends in middle school. At 16, he started reselling garments online with some initial help from his parents. This venture and a family trip to New York grew his love for the fashion scene, so some folks around him suggested he try modeling.


But Brehm had different goals for himself. “I’d rather be the person making the clothes for the models.” 


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He funneled his creative energy into building his own clothing brand. When the pandemic started, designing new pieces became more challenging. His optimism and self-confidence dwindled as the future he had envisioned for himself and his business disintegrated. 


“I’ve witnessed failure on all types of things,” Brehm said. “I realized, how do I expect to handle success if I can’t handle failure?”


Reading an inspirational message that read “Peace of mind is created piece by piece” on a tea bag led him to an introspective revolution and a company rebrand into what is now Critique Fragmentation.


“Everything I do is just adding another piece to my puzzle, one step, one piece at a time. I’m fragmenting my own timeline,” he said.


Inspired by his skin’s sensitivity to synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester and a friend’s encouraging comment that people will always need clothes, Brehm set his sights on cut-and-sew manufacturing.


He plans to only use natural fabrics like organic cotton, linen and leather made from mushrooms or apples. Brehm said, “A piece of clothing is essentially a garment which acts as a canvas while the elements within the design create an outlet for storytelling.”


He admires creators like Basquiat, Virgil Abloh and Ralph Lauren but says believing in himself and honing his craft is what drives him more than anything.


RELATED: SDSU’s Top 10 Degrees Among 2023 Graduates 


“When I’m my natural self, I don’t say I’m a business owner,” the San Diego local said.


Going Global


Transferring to SDSU broadened Brehm’s horizons. As a commuter from Rancho Peñasquitos, he never missed professor Martina Musteen’s course on international entrepreneurship.


He had previously shipped clothes internationally and started manufacturing his first collection overseas, but each class provided something new he could apply to communicate more effectively with global partners.


Musteen nominated Brehm for the Zahn Spirit of Innovation award, noting his artistic authenticity, border-transcending aspirations and modest motivation to buy a house for his family.


“It’s wonderful that we can award someone who goes after their passion in an unconventional way,” Musteen said. “He’s not one of the flashy entrepreneurs who constantly promote themselves.”


After graduation, Brehm plans to visit other countries with thriving fashion ecosystems like Italy, Japan, Turkey and South Korea. He might potentially come back to the mesa to pursue a master’s degree and take advantage of resources like the ZIP Launchpad and Lavin Entrepreneurship Center.


“I wish I was here all four years,” Brehm said. “I haven’t even come close to scratching the surface of all that I want to do.”



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