Being a startup is no simple task, but being a fashion retail startup in the pandemic is even more challenging. As a result of the city’s lockdown, flight restrictions clouding overseas supply chains, and exorbitant rent prices, brands have struggled to survive, and were forced to come up with agile methods to simply keep businesses going.
Founded in September 2020 in Hong Kong, in the midst of the pandemic, women’s tailoring brand FREY has managed to make its mark in the local fashion industry. On top of its flagship store on Queen’s Road, the brand is looking to open a second location in town and expand its territory.
Retail in Asia had the pleasure to catch up with Frederieke van Doorn, founder and director of FREY, to discuss the hurdles and obstacles of being a fashion retail start-up, the brand’s secret to make it through the pandemic and future plans.
RiA : What makes FREY stand out in a sea of fashion retail startups?
Doorn : FREY is Hong Kong’s only female-dedicated tailor. It is a brand that offers both an Off the Rack seasonal collection and the option to ‘Create your Own’. The team brings 20+ years of experience in tailoring and has a holistic understanding of what it means to create a high-quality tailored-to-fit garment from fabric, design, and sharp tailoring to production runs, emerging trends and the industry’s market mechanisms.
A tailor that uses natural materials, dead stock and regenerated buttons from nuts and pearl shells. Using a sustainable approach to designing and creation allows the garment to last for many years. On top of that, the highest quality sustainable formal wear for an affordable price.
RiA : Which of the following would you consider to be the biggest hurdle for a start-up: funding, business concept, sourcing or location?
Doorn : Personally, I believe the biggest hurdle for any new business is building brand awareness within your target market. It also takes time to educate potential customers on why building a sustainable wardrobe with high-quality pieces is good for both the planet and a woman’s own confidence and sense of style.
RiA : As a tailoring brand, does FREY have a signature fit? What is a classic Frey lady like?
Doorn : As Hong Kong’s only female dedicated tailor, FREY offers women extremely high-quality, timeless classics made from natural materials that can last season after season. The FREY jacket is lined with canvas and horsehair to create the perfect shape to fit a woman’s body. This is very common in men’s tailoring, but very rarely used in women’s tailoring. We work very closely with a highly skilled team of craftsmen who tailor finishing touches by hand.
With 20+ years of experience in tailoring, FREY’s signature fit is the ability to dress all women regardless of height, shape or age. With the option of an in-house tailor or a ‘create your own’ tailoring service, the clothes are made to fit a woman’s body perfectly.
A classic FREY lady feels both comfort and confidence when dressed in FREY pieces. She has the freedom of movement to conquer a 12+ hour day while looking stylish and feeling empowered.
RiA : Can you tell us a bit more about FREY’s personalized digital tailoring service? What is the technology and inspiration behind this digital initiative?
Doorn : FREY offers ‘create your own’ tailoring service where you can have something designed and created especially for you. For this process, FREY uses the digital Tailored by Tailie app for a 21st-century approach to tailoring; simply come into the store to have a couple of photos taken (or do it yourself online), then choose your fit and fabric. The finished suit will be delivered in just three weeks.
With this technology, we want to ensure the customer experience is as seamless as possible and ensures the customer feels comfortable while receiving the highest quality service. We have many women who have tried the tailoring service and then repeat orders because it fits their body and style so well.
RiA : Is sustainability the core focus for FREY? What are the measures taken for FREY to minimize waste in the production process?
Doorn : Yes. Our mission is to create high-quality goods that come at no cost to the planet. Our garments are made of natural materials and dead stock sourced from Italy and our buttons are made from regenerated nuts and pearl shells. We practice renewable sourcing methods by using recycled or upcycled fabrics.
We pride ourselves on only using the materials available so this can sometimes mean we only produce 10 pieces of one style. With this design and creation process, we are able to drastically minimise waste.
RiA : Will the brand keep reinventing new measures to achieve sustainability apart from the use of deadstock?
Doorn : We are constantly striving to ensure our business operations are as sustainable as possible. We also partner with like-minded sustainable brands each season. This summer we offer KIBO in-store, KIBO produces recycled sneakers and biodegradable eyewear. Last season we partnered with an upcycled jewellery brand. We want to help women build a sustainable wardrobe that represents their style and lasts for many years.
RiA : Having previous experience in the men’s tailoring business, how do you approach men’s and women’s tailoring differently?
Doorn : When tailoring for men and women there is not a big difference. Tailoring comes down to ensuring the best fit and materials for the customer’s body shape and lifestyle. We are always revising patterns and materials as comfort is king and one of the most important factors in tailoring.
RiA : Are there any plans for an Asia expansion? What are the countries that you would be interested in exploring? How will you address the needs for women in the Asia market in particular?
Doorn : We are exploring opening the second store in Hong Kong, and then our next stop is Shanghai. FREY offers global shipping from our website and we are looking more into the Singapore and London market.
There are so many women in Asia with careers and high powered positions who are required to dress formally in their place of work but have very limited choices available to them. Women also seem to keep their work and weekend wear very separate, and we are looking to change that. We want women to feel comfortable in their clothing and be able to wear the pieces day to night, every day of the week. You can style a FREY blazer in five different ways depending on the function. Women can wave goodbye to stiff fast fashion, and embrace a more comfortable, sustainably stylish wardrobe.
RiA : Does the post-covid working style pose a threat to FREY in any sense?
Doorn : Covid has of course posed some challenges over the last few months, but we are now extremely excited about the ease of restrictions in Hong Kong and the opening up of the city. We invite women to come to our store, meet our team and ask any questions. Our store is very welcoming and comfortable, the perfect place to feel at ease when finding your true style. Women may now be working from both office and home and that works well for us, as we offer a wide variety from cotton or silk t-shirts to comfortable summer skirts and dresses to tailored blazers and jackets. Our collection meets every need.