Pier Five got the chance to meetup with local legends Rob Echevarria & Kim Barrera of Free Agent Wearhouse, Toronto's premier apparel design and decoration company, in their downtown Toronto showroom for an awesome chat about business through the pandemic, empowering local designers, the value of Canadian-made products and staying dedicated to your craft. Having worked with dozens of Canada's top brands and designers as well as a special project for one of Toronto's most loved Raptors, there's a good chance that you've walked past someone wearing something made by Free Agent Wearhouse and the stories they had were endless. Read through the conversation below and check out the sound bites to hear from Rob & Kim first-hand.
Hey Rob & Kim! Thanks for having us in your showroom today. For those who aren't familiar with you and Free Agent Wearhouse, can you tell us a little bit about this all?
Rob: I'm Rob, the owner of Free Agent Wearhouse. We specialize in premium quality clothing production and decoration, probably best known for our intricate embroidery.
Kim: I'm Kim. If I had to give myself a title it would probably be lead designer or maybe assistant project manager. I kind of do a little of everything since it's just the two of us here. I connected with Rob during the pandemic through a mutual friend and have been helping him with the business as it's been scaling.
What do you think sets Free Agent Wearhouse apart from the other design and decoration companies in Toronto, or maybe even all of Canada?
Rob: Our biggest focus right now is on helping smaller fashion brands get the look and feel of the bigger brands. While what we do is not necessarily innovative, when it comes to design, decoration and production quality, there aren't a lot of companies out there that will put in the time and attention like we will and I think that has gone a long way with our clients and the brands that choose to work with us.
Kim: We're always thinking about the future and how one project can lead to the next. We're more than just an embroidery company. We can advise on design work, help the brands out with their concepts, make connections to other brands or suppliers and so much more. In that sense we're almost like an agency and are always making sure that we are putting our best foot forward with every single client.
How did the pandemic affect the business?
Rob: Things were crazy in the beginning. We transitioned to face masks for a while and that was very busy. That's when Kim came in to help out. The pandemic really just created more of a desire to work within the community and do things locally.
There's a lot of buzz around "Made In Canada" in fashion. Why is this important and how does Free Agent Wearhouse fit into it all?
We're all about this (of course)! As consumers, we've all bought bigger brands for the logo or design but you know "that sweater" is just ok when it comes to the quality. There's a reason why people are proud to wear Canadian-made. It's because you know the quality is there and it's really made to last. The idea for us is to bring that type of high-value production back into Canada as much as possible.
FAW x Adidas For Kyle Lowry
Recently you got to work on a very special project with Adidas for Kyle Lowry. What was that like?
Rob: This one was different because we really had full creative control over the entire project. For a big company like Adidas to give control to a smaller design company really exercised every aspect of our capabilities.
Kim: It was amazing. Witnessing Kyle win a championship, leave and then be a part of something that was presented to him when he returned; that was really special! We were able to add those little personal touches that paid homage to him, not only as a Raptor but as a world champion.
(Listen to more below)
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into this business?
Learn every skill that you might need. If you can do it yourself, you'll always go further than if you have to lean on somebody else.
Just keep creating. Make something wack? Who cares!
Stay dedicated and learn from your mistakes.
The thing that you think might be the worst thing you've ever made might be the best thing in someone else's eyes.
Now that the world is opening back up, we imagine you must have some big plans in store?
Definitely! We're setting up a much bigger space which will be great for clients to be able to come by, see the work and hang out. We'll hopefully have some other big projects come up soon and we really want to get more and more into cut and sew. Lots to come.
Rob: At the end of the day though, even if we shut down again, the grind doesn't stop. I need to always be doing something. Even if the money's not flowing, you can catch me in the factory. There's always going to be something to learned and to do.
Kim: We're looking forward to all of it!
Make sure to keep up with Free Agent Wearhouse on Instagram and keep it locked to Pier Five for more conversations with the coolest entrepreneurs, designers, artists, activists and more out there.