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Not Just a Vape Company: The OKAMI Lifestyle Brand

Okami Brand Blog

“I tried the product, I believed in it, I looked into it, started researching more, and then boom, it happened.” - Dre Liang, OKAMI CEO

Why paint yourself in a corner? OKAMI certainly hasn’t, but many vape company owners and operators can certainly relate to feeling like a one-trick pony these days. With so much confusion and uncertainty with the PMTA deadline looming down on the industry in September, it’s important to look to company models like OKAMI for a vision of the future. In this blog, we sat down with Dre Liang, founder, and president of OKAMI to discuss what their company is doing right- and what the rest of the vape industry can learn from his experience.

What's in a Brand?

From the outset, OKAMI is visually striking and incredibly appealing. One look at their logo, and it is easy to see what makes them stand out. In Japanese Kanji, OKAMI means wolf- but the logo is so much more than a traditional wolf howling at the moon. Gritty and with a 90’s feel, the first thing you will notice about the logo is the triple eyes. At first glance, the wolf’s face is eerily unsettling, but Liang’s creative partner did this intentionally to “create a logo where it messes with your eye.” The driving force behind the logo’s design is power and strength to leave a lasting impression- it’s meant to be instantly recognizable. In addition to being visually gripping, the triple eyes have a personal significance as well. OKAMI was founded with three partners, and each eye represents one of the founding members.

From the outset, OKAMI is visually striking and incredibly appealing. One look at their logo, and it is easy to see what makes them stand out. In Japanese Kanji, OKAMI means wolf- but the logo is so much more than a traditional wolf howling at the moon. Gritty and with a 90’s feel, the first thing you will notice about the logo is the triple eyes. At first glance, the wolf’s face is eerily unsettling, but Liang’s creative partner did this intentionally to “create a logo where it messes with your eye.” The driving force behind the logo’s design is power and strength to leave a lasting impression- it’s meant to be instantly recognizable. In addition to being visually gripping, the triple eyes have a personal significance as well. OKAMI was founded with three partners, and each eye represents one of the founding members.

Creating a brand is so much more than just developing a product concept and slapping a logo on it, a fact that Liang has been acutely aware of since his early days. “Before [OKAMI], I did about five years of hotel operations, I did all things, like front desk, hotel ops, stuff like that.” Already business-minded, it wasn’t long before “one of our friends jumped into the industry,  and I was a smoker then. I tried the product, I believed in it, I looked into it, started researching more, and then boom, it happened.” Founded in 2013, OKAMI is a long way away from where they started but has consistently stayed true to their mission statement:

“Champion a creative instinct. Nourish a furious appetite for innovating visual communication & always keeping vigilant in strengthening brand integrity while always expanding our global reach.” - OKAMI Mission Statement

Since then, Liang and his partners have maintained a forward-thinking approach to building and developing their overall brand presence. Rather than pigeon-holing themselves as a company that only produces e-liquid and vape products, they have continued to expand their operations into areas that interest them, like streetwear and graphic design, while consistently staying true to the OKAMI brand. At the outset, they were solely focused on developing e-Liquids to perfection, rolling out classic vape favorites like Lychee Lauren and Dolce Guava. A nod to luxury brands like YSL and Dolce & Gabbana, “we did a play on high-end designer companies” which was a concept that proved to be both lasting and successful.

OKAMI products did not appear on retail websites and store shelves overnight. In an industry rife with copycats, knockoffs, and “inspired by’s,” Liang and his partners took cues from what worked for other successful brands like Naked 100 while closely adhering to their tastes and style. “When we developed juice,” says Liang, he would make suggestions like “‘hey you know what, this is working already from another company, let’s try this,’ but my creative partner, he’s not about that. He doesn’t copy or follow anybody’s footsteps, he just does it himself.”

This unique and individualized approach has guaranteed tight creative control through all steps of product development, production, and consistency as the OKAMI brand has grown over the past seven years. The process has also had to evolve alongside the industry, as well. During the early days, this meant Liang and his partners would “see what flavors that aren’t done, and what you would like to vape” and products would grow from there. However, “as the industry grew, almost everything’s been done.”

"[About OKAMI Grape Ape] I’m not really a grape person, but when I started vaping that, I was like ‘wow this is actually really good.’ It’s super flavorful, that’s why it’s probably our number one top seller next to OG Bubba, those two always compete head-to-head in that line, then comes Apple and Blue Razz."

Once the U.S. market was thoroughly saturated and the thirst for OKAMI e-Liquid temporarily quenched, Liang and his partners set their sights on the international market. They began researching more complex flavor profiles and developing options that would cater to different cultural demographics. Chinese vapers, for example, gravitated towards options like Red, Mung, or Green Beans, whereas French consumers who vape preferred savory and sweet desserts like cheesecake and Malaysian customers who tend to seek out sweets and menthols. Developing an international brand following is no simple feat,

and it required a lot of research, travel, and hard work to gain a foothold in international markets. Surprisingly, OKAMI has made the biggest splash by far in Russia. At their last vaping convention there, Liang and his partners “had these young adults coming up to us saying, like, ‘oh we love your brand,‘ some people speaking in broken English, some speaking in Russian to us about it, and then some speaking Russian to our translator telling us this. The love was amazing over there for us!” Having established global brand recognition, Liang and his partners felt more comfortable with an investment in other opportunities,

as had always been their intent. “When we made the brand,” explains Liang, “we didn’t put ‘vape’ or like ‘e-juice’ or anything like that. We wanted to be universal, where we can take the brand and the logo and transition it to apparel.” A streetwear and apparel line had been a dream for both Liang and his partners since high-school, and their interest in high-end designer fashion has always “tied our entire corporate element together,” explains Liang. From the packaging and flavor names to the flavor profiles and high-quality ingredients themselves, opulence is a hallmark of the OKAMI brand.

Therefore, it was only natural they soon began applying the same strategies used with OKAMI e-Liquid to apparel. Researching “how to distribute our marketing material as apparel. We didn’t just do simple cuts or plain t-shirts with the logo on for marketing. Instead, we did more advanced and different designs, stuff that you can wear.” With a heavy-handed social media push for the new designs, “we started getting a lot of online orders where people loved our hoodies, people loved our shirts, all our accessories, so we started selling a line.” Tanks, joggers, collections of outerwear, headwear, and more, the OKAMI apparel line today takes notes from the early 90’s and 2000’s favorites like Marc Echo, who Liang names as a big influence on their designs. Since its launch, OKAMI apparel has enjoyed measurable success in this space. Today, “we have multiple accounts, like streetwear stores that carry our brand.”

Another recent company success is their venture into the world of branding and creative design. Recently, Liang and his partners have begun applying their passion for brand development by collaborating creatively with other companies in the Las Vegas area, where their headquarters are located. In addition to branding, Liang and his partners have designed literal creative art for some local nightlife clubs- something many OKAMI fans don’t even know. Their creativity knows no bounds, and regardless of the medium, there’s always the OKAMI touch to the finished product.

It’s easy to discuss OKAMI’s many successes, but like any company, they have overcome many challenges along the way. “You just have to be prepared to take losses,” advises Liang, and in a relatively new vaping industry, this is sound advice. As regulations continue to change, packaging and labeling requirements mean companies will need to be flexible and sometimes pivot at a moment’s notice to comply. Experience, however, has taught Liang to stay the course. To young entrepreneurs looking to found a business, regardless of industry, it’s crucial to “just stay focused, be 100% about your company, 100% about your business, no distractions. Just focus on it and you’ll get there.” If OKAMI’s overall success is any indication, it’s clear that persistence is key when it comes to achieving forward-thinking goals.

"[These days] I vape my OMNI disposable Passion Fruit or Grape Ice, which does pretty well too."

As for the future, like other e-Liquid manufacturing companies in the industry, OKAMI is facing one of their biggest challenges yet with the new upcoming legislation and regulations due later this year. Due to their foresight and an ambitious drive, however, Liang and OKAMI will be prepared to do everything they can to navigate the journey ahead. With a diverse investment in additional opportunities, it’s clear that this company is ready to go wherever the road takes them.

TL;DR: "Fire. Straight Fire." - Dre Liang

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