Jamaican Hockey Entrepreneur Becomes Face of His Brand Despite Minimal Black Representation in the Sport

Jamaican entrepreneur, Zechariah Thomas, 21, didn’t set out to be the face of his company, Swift Hockey, because of the racism that exists in the hockey industry. Swift Hockey makes hockey sticks in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, and is certified by the National Hockey League (NHL). Thomas is a former defenseman of Jamaican descent who played for Jamaica at the 2021 Amerigol LATAM Cup, as well as in several junior hockey programs and the minor-league Watertown, New York, Wolves of the Federal Prospects Hockey League in 2021-2022.

Starting his company

Thomas started the company in 2022 to provide affordable sticks for players who were unable to pay the high prices of his competitors. Knowing how sticks break routinely, he is doing what he can to make the sport more affordable. He began the company in his basement, continued to expand the business, and now occupies a large office in downtown Oshawa. In an interview with CBC Sports, he said that while it is difficult to create a business in general, it was especially hard to create a hockey-related business as a Black entrepreneur trying to sell his products to those who “may not accept Black people in the sport yet.” Swift Hockey has a small team that consists, in part, of current and former hockey players, that has been with him since the company’s founding.

Fears of racism

Even then, Thomas’s ex-hockey mates, who are his friends and business partners, knew he had reservations about revealing to the public that Swift Hockey was a Black-owned business. “He never wanted to be the face of the brand due to, racism in the community,” Ryan Ellis, Swift Hockey’s chief operating officer, said. “In a primarily white sport, people might not trust a Black entrepreneur to create a new stick and trust that he has the background or much knowledge about hockey.”

Becoming the face of his company

In his teen years, Thomas played in the Ontario Junior Hockey League and also represented Jamaica on the national team at a LATAM Cup competition; he knows the game well. He got the opportunity to appear on the reality television program, Dragon’s Den, in 2023, when the Canadian edition of the show launched its 18th season. With this appearance, it became obvious that he would have to serve as the face of Swift Hockey to make his pitch for investment funds in front of a panel of venture capitalists. After the show premiered, Thomas received considerable support from hockey players who loved his brand. Black hockey players were especially encouraging. With this appearance, Thomas made a $70,000 investment deal with another Jamaican, Wes Hall, the founder of WeShall Investments, Kingsdale Advisors, and the BlackNorth Initiative. Hall also works  with the Hockey Diversity Alliance to fight racism and increase diversity in hockey. Throughout the process, however, Thomas’ goal in appearing on Dragon’s Den was not about making money, but about selling his vision of how the sport of hockey should be.

The origin of Swift Hockey’s mission

Thomas grew up playing hockey, beginning at the age of 10. His parents were able to support his passion for the game by keeping up with its associated cost, but he saw teammates and opponents struggle to obtain their hockey sticks as they were so expensive. Thomas would give away his sticks to teammates if they couldn’t afford to replace them if they broke. This experience fueled Thomas’ desire to create an affordable option for the parents of hopeful hockey players who wanted to pursue their dreams. Swift Hockey utilizes a simple plan to keep costs low. Instead of imposing markups of 300 percent as some big-brand manufacturers do, Thomas’ company keeps its markup low. The company is not interested in making millions of dollars but is really in business to change the industry and make a positive impact on the community.

Partnership with Team Jamaica

Arizona Coyotes player, Anson Thornton, is one of the many players who represents Swift Hockey. He is currently dividing his time between the AHL and the ECHL, but he is unable to use Swift-branded sticks when playing in either one of the professional leagues because there are no partnership agreements between those organizations and Swift Hockey. When Thomas created his firm, he understood the importance of partnering with Jamaica’s national ice hockey team. He approached Team Jamaica as both a former player and an entrepreneur who wanted to help the industry and encourage more people to get into the sport. A partnership deal between the national team and Swift Hockey was signed in the summer of 2023, and now Thomas’ company provides the Jamaicans with sticks and apparel.

Inspiration to others

As his company grows and serves as an example of what athletes can do at any stage of their hockey career, Thomas displays his pride in showing what an individual of his age and background can achieve. Thomas hopes that what he has accomplished as an entrepreneur and in the hockey industry will show other Black hockey players that “it’s really possible,” adding that he didn’t believe such things could happen at a young age.