In a sea of tradeshow booths, one brand that really stood out to us in January was Freenote Cloth.
The brand has the look and feel of a vintage, worn-in pair of jeans you might pick up at a second-hand store, or a soft chambray you score from your older brother’s closet. The brand has a bit of a mature vibe in a world of 20-somethings, but that’s not to say they still don’t convey all the qualities that make surf industry brands what they are. Above everything, though, the brand is about “getting back to the basics and rediscovering the "American Dream,” with classic, timeless styles that transcend trends—values that seem to be shared with several new brands that have been cropping up lately across the board.
We were intrigued about the roots of Freenote, and followed up with founders and brothers Matt and Andrew Brodrick. The two hail from impressive careers that include work in design, finance, sales and marketing at major action sports brands, and a combined total of 20 years experience working in the apparel and accessories industry. After putting in their time, the Brodricks set out to create their own company from a different perspective.
“We wanted to make a product with the best ingredients, rather than caring solely about the cost and the bottom line,” says Andrew. “We had graduated from wearing surf/skate-inspired clothing, but didn't necessarily want to wear our dad's clothes – we wanted to make something that we could be proud of and actually want to wear.”
With that in mind, Freenote made its official debut at Agenda in January, and has since been cultivating the release of its initial collection—not to mention cueing up a celebratory bash for the unveiling of the brand’s newly polished headquarters in San Juan Capistrano. We checked in with the brothers Brodrick to hear more about how that’s been going since we last saw them, the advantages and challenges of producing denim domestically, and why they believe in making a high-quality product that lasts.
How did the idea get started, and how long from concept to final product was that process?
Freenote has been a lifetime in the making but was brought to reality in the past year or so – we've been studying garments and gathering a library of information far longer than that.
What does the name Freenote mean to you? What did you intend for it to stand for?
As a company we are committed to getting back to the basics and re-discovering the "American Dream" – the name Freenote is a cross between two really strong and all-American words, "freedom" and "noteworthy."
Both of you have extensive product development and marketing background from previous industry jobs. Can you elaborate a little on your professional backgrounds and how that has translated into creating your own brand?
We both worked in the apparel/accessories industry for more than ten years – Matt started off on the finance/accounting side and eventually held the title of Director of Finance, before making a change into design and production, when he accepted the role of Director of Accessories and Apparel. Andrew's specialty is in sales, operations, and retail marketing, as his title at his previous company was Director of North American Sales.
I love the idea that everything is made domestically. Where are your production facilities located?
All of our production facilities are here in Southern California – our denim is produced in Los Angeles, where some of the best denim houses in the world are located. It's great because not only are we playing our part in boosting US economy, but we are able to be on-site and have much more creative control from initial design to final product.
Obviously, making everything in the States gives you an advantage to see the product through from design to finishing touches? What’s been some of the challenges to this production approach?
Less facilities available – selvedge denim is created on vintage looms. When people outsourced this work, they also sold off all of this machinery overseas, so there are less places to produce and they are definitely higher in demand.
“There are a lot of new brands coming into the landscape and it's growing as more boutiques and stores are opening as well. People are veering away from fast fashion and paying more attention to ingredients, investing in garments that will last and improve with time – there seems to be a lot of growth and opportunity in that space.” —Matt Brodrick, Freenote
Do you source your material domestically as well?
We work with Cone Mills out of North Carolina for some of our denim, our waxed canvas material that we use in our jacket category is also from a mill here in the US, and some of the cotton fabrications that we use for knits are too – the majority of the rest of our fabrications are from Japan.
Some of the fabrics and design details on the wovens, Tees and denim were really impressive. Talk about what went into putting those together, and what sort of aesthetic you were trying to convey?
Our design is inspired by authentic American culture and its timeless style icons – you'll see Western-inspired prints, and some inspired by railroad workers, silhouettes inspired by traditional workwear styles, various rocker-inspired details, as well as some hints of that traditional Southern Hospitality vibe – encompassing all of those nostalgic, Americana elements.
When will this first collection hit retailers?
Our launch collection is set to ship to retailers in September 2014, however, we will be shipping a smaller capsule collection to 3-4 select retailers this summer, in June 2014.
What kind of response did you receive from retailers at this first round of shows? Can you name a few stores that have picked up the line already?
We had a great response at each show – this summer we will be shipping our capsule collection to NORTH Menswear in Laguna Beach, Convert in Northern California, Animal Traffic in Portland, and then plenty of other retailers across the United States in September – everywhere along the West Coast to Nashville to Brooklyn. We are focused on the menswear boutiques and shops space for now and are so excited about the shops that have picked us up – we really want to partner with them to help drive business back to them and do what we can to help with sell-thru.
If you had to describe the essence of Freenote in three words, what would they be?
Timeless, Masculine, Built-to-Last
What under developed opportunities within the apparel market do you see? Why do you think 2014 is a good time to launch a new men’s apparel brand?
Guys are caring more and more about their appearance, investing in wardrobe/grooming, so this is a great time to launch a nice menswear line. In addition, people are starting to become more aware of their own social responsibility and willing to pay more for items made domestically.
Will Freenote stay limited to men’s apparel or do you have plans for a women’s collection within the line down the road?
For now we are going to stick to menswear – we do have an amazing patternmaker who has done both men's and women's apparel very well, so we could expand in the future.
What are your thoughts on the overall state of the industry? What role do you see emerging brands playing in that?
There are a lot of new brands coming into the landscape and it's growing as more boutiques and stores are opening as well. People are veering away from fast fashion and paying more attention to ingredients, investing in garments that will last and improve with time – there seems to be a lot of growth and opportunity in that space.