Q&A: Comanche Founder of Intertribal Visions Talks Building a Family Business
The story of Comanche-owned multimedia design company Intertribal Visions Unlimited, Inc., involves married former heavy metal artists, their talented and business-savvy 18-year-old daughter, a move from Kansas to an Oklahoma reservation, operating a business from a garage (initially), and dozens of tribal business clients.
In late 2009, musicians of metal band Godzai, Travis and Kristy Komahcheet, uprooted their then family of four (now six) in Topeka, bound for the Comanche Nation reservation to reconnect with Travis’ father and his tribe. Travis landed a daytime job with Comanche Signs in Lawton, Oklahoma, but kept his nascent apparel/design business going on the side. When a conflict of interest arose between the two jobs, he ultimately decided to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams — even if it meant turning their garage into a full-time studio and their living room into a thoroughfare for clients.
Intertribal Visions, based in Lawton, Oklahoma, offers original and custom designs that represent the strength and unity of all tribes.”You know how the MC calls an Intertribal at a powwow? It means everybody, all nations. Strength, vision, unity — that is our motto for Intertribal,” Olivia, 18, said, while proudly representing Intertribal with her dad at the National Reservation Economic Summit 2016 in Las Vegas in March. This week she’ll join her parents at the regional RES Oklahoma, held at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa, July 11-14.
“We do custom design work and multimedia design, and we like to sell our own apparel designs across the country,” Olivia told ICTMN. “But we also do screen-printing, on all in-house equipment, including large-format printing: banners, signs, stickers, car wraps, business cards, anything.” The company also puts its unique designs on skateboards and other accessories.
In addition to its many tribal clients in Oklahoma and nationwide, Intertribal works with Native-owned companies like Native Style Clothing, and even military bases, as well as Native-run organizations and nonprofits, such as the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (National Center). Travis designed all the logos for the National Center’s various departments; among them: Indian Progress in Business (INPRO), Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), Native American 40 Under 40, the Native American Global Trade Center (NAGTC), and more. “For the National RES conference and other events, we initially helped with the graphics, booklets, etc. — whatever was needed. [National Center President and CEO] Gary [Davis] now has a great graphic designer in house,” Travis said, adding that he sent [the National Center] all his master files and design elements.
Travis and Kristy created Intertribal Visions in 2006, and they officially launched and incorporated it on May 5, 2010. At Intertribal Visions, Travis is the lead graphic designer, and Kristy handles marketing. Olivia dabbles in everything. “I’m learning the ropes of graphic design and Illustrator. Since graduating early from high school, I’ve been working in graphic design, social media and studying how to become an entrepreneur. That’s my main goal — to learn everything about the business and to get to travel.”
Indian Country Today Media Network spoke with Travis about growing the multimedia design business by word-of-mouth in Indian country, running a family operation, and about their brand expansion and re-entry into the music industry. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
What was life like when you (Travis Komahcheet) and your wife (Kristy Komahcheet) toured with a heavy metal band?
Our band’s name was Godzai. We toured off and on locally and regionally for four years. We practiced three times a week and we played out of town mostly on weekends, opening for national acts. At the time, we only had [kids] Olivia & Jaidah, but our focus was to succeed in the music industry. We invested a lot of time and money into the endeavor. The lifestyle was not only consuming our time, but our moral compass was always compromised. During the times we were in our band, we were also trying to attend church services and conduct Bible studies…. It was a strange time for our family. I [Travis] was struggling with some serious issues trying to break away from all of the ways of the flesh. The only way to succeed and to keep my family together was to leave and start over. I wanted to be here [on the Comanche Indian Reservation] specifically to get to know my father and my tribe.
How did you handle the transition from Topeka to the Comanche Reservation?
It’s a different pace here compared to how I was raised. I was educated in diversity and the real world: economics and ambition. Coming from poverty, I always wanted to prove myself, to amount to something and be someone extraordinary. When we were in the band traveling around states and selling shows, the merchandise was our bread and butter. It’s all about presentation, if you have good merchandise.
Why was moving to the Comanche Reservation so important to you, and how were you and your business received?
I wasn’t raised Native. I was the only Native kid around. Being poor on top of that, sometimes the only thing I would fall back on was knowing I was Comanche: knowing I was different, knowing that I came from an awesome tribe that I knew nothing about. I knew I was different, and it got me through the hard times. …Coming down here, it was important to me to be accepted by my tribe, and to find out about my people.
We immediately developed a niche in the design business. Based in Oklahoma, there were not a lot of places the community could go to for Native design work. Native organizations and schools were going to non-Native companies and getting cookie-cutter designs, and they were charged three times as much [as we would have charged them]. Some [commercial design] companies see tribal businesses as having a lot of money. To me I see that as unfair.
Hitting the powwow scene, we gained a lot of clientele for custom work. Word got around so fast. We produce quality design work and offer great customer service.
Are your kids [Olivia, 18; Jaidah, 11; Elijah, 5; and (eventually) Kimora, 10 months] connecting with their tribal roots?
Being in the business we are in, we meet and deal with a lot of Comanche tribal members needing our services. Sometimes we are provided original art, old photographs, old articles that have been passed down from generation to generation. Of course seeing this cool stuff strikes interesting conversations, which we share with our children. It’s stories and facts you don’t get from any book.
Our children, Olivia and Jaidah, become involved in different activities that the Comanche Tribe offers to the youth, and they are always learning the history, the language, as well as Comanche hymns. Jaidah has some close family that has helped her make her own regalia, and when we can fit it in our schedule, she loves to dance at powwows.
You moved your family and apparel design business from Topeka to the garage of your Stillwell home in November 2009, at age 35. How did you and your family handle it?
It was do or die for us. The struggle was just intense, because of the fact that we were running the business out of our home. Clients would come by our house; we had an office set up in our front room. Olivia had problems with it at first, problems adapting. She felt she couldn’t bring her friends by the house. And with her being 11 going on 12, she was going through a lot.
Beyond powwows, how did you acquire new clients?
We actually picked up some of our first clients at the American Indian Chamber of Commerce’s annual business summit. [This year’s summit takes places October 24-25 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.] We set up a booth to show our services and products, and in doing that, we met two of our now really good friends and clients.
[Conventions] were good stepping stones for us. We met individuals behind a software consultancy company out of Durant; we have a continuous working relationship with him. The other was Gary Davis. We just wanted to shake Davis’ hand and ask him to check out our booth, to get his input. At first, I think he was nonchalant in his approach; he said he would stop by if he had time. He finally did make it to our booth, and when he did, you could see it looking at his eyes. He was impressed. We dove into talking, and he wanted to set up a conference call with us about doing designs for his businesses. We did a couple designs for him; we wanted to smash it out of the park to impress him. He wanted to talk to us about being partners with them. It was a huge opportunity for us at time, and we were in negotiations to partner up.
What ultimately happened with your business and personal relationship with Gary Davis?
We stayed independent. It was a really tough decision. It was important to me to keep my family on the reservation and not move them again, [this time] to Durant. It ended up working out well because shortly after that Gary Davis was asked to join the National Center as interim president and CEO in early 2012. He was really wanting to give that whole organization a facelift, and he knew I was the guy to help him accomplish that. I was able to help design the new National Center logo and program logos.
How did you move from the garage to an office?
When Comanche Nation Economic Development ended in 2012, the tribe asked us if we wanted to move into their former building. We moved in in early 2013. We divided the area into one side for clients, administrative and design; and the other side for production and printing. …I believe our prayers were answered. …And I believe it was a full-circle thing for us. When we first moved down here, the place I had walked away from was being handed to us, and it was not us pursuing it. It meant a lot to me, the Comanche Nation putting faith in what we were doing.
The tribe also invested $90,000 in our business. The Comanche Nation had gaming monies that had to be spent on economic development or they would be lost. At the time, Intertribal was the perfect candidate to fall into the economic development bracket.
What a lot of people don’t understand, though, is that when we moved into the building, we had a lot of clean up, renovation and fixing of equipment to do in order for everything to run correctly.
You have a very musical family. Who plays what?
I play Native American flute, guitar (acoustic and electric) and piano. Kristy plays bass guitar and acoustic guitar. Olivia plays the guitar (acoustic and electric), piano, and the viola, violin and cello. Jaidah does vocals. [Two non-familial band members include Eric Nauni & Rianna Nauni.] Eric plays percussion and piano; and Rianna does vocals.
Olivia added: Naturally, I picked everything up. I know the acoustic and electric guitar, piano, and a little of violin, cello, viola, and I’m learning vocal.
Travis: Olivia has come around lightyears since she moved down here. She’s been involved since age six.
Intertribal made its musical debut at a mixer at RES Las Vegas 2016, with you on the Native American flute and Olivia playing the keyboard. How would you describe the music you played?
We cater our music to the event that we play: Native contemporary, world beat, classical, easy listening, ambient.
What else makes Intertribal music unique?
Larry Yazzie is independent and we are collaborating with him and his dance troupe Native Pride Dancers. We are currently sending songs to Larry so he can choreograph the dances to our live set.
What’s next for Intertribal, music wise?
We already are being presented with opportunities to perform at bigger music festivals. Our direction is to perform to more diverse audiences, and at outdoor venues. We currently have a show set up in Canada in August of this year at a large music festival. The reality is that we will play in any venue as long as it isn’t an environment that is compromising for our children. Jaidah, our 11 year old, is gearing up to perform with us.
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