Free People denim is forever changing and evolving. From the styles and shapes to the washes, it’s always exciting see what is produced each season.
A pair of blue jeans is essential in everyone’s wardrobe, but for me, I used to rarely EVER wear jeans. I never could pinpoint a reason for this, and it wasn’t until I bought a pair from Free People years back that my ways were changed. They fit right, the wash was light, and they had just the perfect amount of tiny frayed destruction to them that they quickly became one of the biggest staple items in my closet. When I find a Free People item that is so well made, fits perfectly and suits my style to a T, it makes me eager to run upstairs at our office and thank the specific designer for making such a brilliant piece of work.
I’ve always been curious about getting a little insight on the inspiration and process behind our denim, so I caught up with our senior washed wovens designer, Abbie. If not traveling around the world to work on different wash techniques and to help bring Free People products to life, Abbie is working from her home studio located in Oklahoma. Read on to get a glimpse into her world!
How long you have worked at Free People?
I’ve worked at Free People for 2 1/2 years.
What did you do previous to working with the company?
Prior to working at Free People is a bit of a long answer, so I probably won’t give you a direct one. My industry history has been all over the board; women’s suiting, surf/skate/snowboard industry, children’s, men’s and women’s sportswear, accessories, and I’ve learned so much from all of them. I’ve never been at a company longer than two years, so when I hit the 2 year mark at FP, I knew I was in the right place because I have never been happier!
What is your typical day like in the office?
As you know, I recently started working out of my home, so comparing my home office to the Philadelphia office is very different. What I can say is there’s not one day that is the same and that’s what I love about my job. I have amazing counter parts in Product Development, Design, Tech, Buying, and Production that I communicate with daily on all collection styles. We discuss the fit of a garment, is this fabric approved, what wash did you chose, did you receive the trim submit, let’s touch base on the status, this style is going to be late what can we do to keep the delivery, and everyone runs around trying to get this garment on the boat to meet our deadline. It’s a lot of teamwork and trust, and our end goal is the same: develop beautiful clothing to offer to our customer.
I heard you just went to China…what was that like?
China is madness and amazing at the same time. I’m actually in China right now. I come here every 3 months to work on denim, cord, twill, and canvas washing. Additionally, style developments and production outstandings. I have two current factories that I spend most of my time in, they both have incredibly talented teams. I’ve been with them since I started at Free People and we have built great relationships, in a way they are like surrogate families while I’m here. They know what food I like, the temperature in the work room, how I like my coffee — coffee is key, it’s the only way to survive when you’re sleep deprived — they take notice to what makes my day better and that means a lot! We just wrapped up 70 new washes for the holiday season. The sample wash room is outside of our meeting room so it’s really a hands-on experience. You can work directly with the technicians on how you want something to look, sometimes charades comes into play — it’s humorous, but I have never left unhappy and that speaks highly of the factories’ standards.
Where do you pull your inspiration from?
Oh gosh, where do I pull my inspiration from? Everywhere. I cannot say specifics. It can be my neighbor who is a construction worker and he has on greasy dirt-stained jeans or the latest runways show — it’s everywhere.
What are three things you cannot live without?
Three things I cannot live without… my husband, he puts me in absolute hysterics every day — our house is full of laughs :). My passport! My iPhone because it has a camera and music. I feel like the iPhone is sort of a cheating answer because you get multiple gifts from it :).
When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer?
I decided to get into fashion the day I couldn’t find cute jeans long enough. I’m 6’0″ tall and in the 90’s the only option of jeans with inseams weas men’s Levi’s. I think I just aged myself. My sister and I would sew a lot of our clothes, my parents would take us to the fabric store to buy the Vogue or Butterick patterns in the envelope and we would spend weekends sewing. Our mother taught us to sew on a 1970’s Bernina and to this day that is the only sewing machine I know how to use.
What are essential skills for being successful at your job?
I think in any job it is essential to be grounded, be true to yourself, be creative, speak up, listen, have discipline, be kind, don’t take criticism personally– at the end of the day it is about loving what you do and building the business and your job is to exceed the heck out of your role :).
What is your favorite piece you have ever made? Why?
That’s a really hard question. I have had a lot of successes over the years that I’m proud of. It’s funny when I think of some of them because I was so young and at the time it was a big moment for me. The most recent one that sticks out is the Bali Flare…. when I set this up in China I thought, “This is early in my career at Free People, the flare business is soft, but I love flare jeans. This print is pretty loud, can I make this a reality?” and I did! I think a lot of successes come from following your gut and asking yourself, “Is this something you are going to be proud of?” I try to put myself into the customer’s head and my biggest critics at work — Meg, Ana, Kristal :) — and if it’s a yes to both I go with it. You have to challenge yourself to think differently and trust your gut.
Do you travel a lot for your job? Where is the most beautiful place you ever visited?
Yes, I travel a ton for my job. I do most of my travel alone, it’s incredibly lonely at times. Yet, if someone were with me I would probably ask them to stop talking to me! :) I’m a very private person in general so I actually think I do better traveling alone. I have been doing work travel for 12 years, mainly to Asia, Mexico, Europe. It’s hard to say what has been the best place I’ve traveled to. By nature I am a water person and by default I want to be placed on a beach in the smoldering sun, but to this date I can say I LOVE Copenhagen and I would love to spend more time there.
What does being free mean to you?
What being free means to me is to be at peace with your inner self, when adversity arises you can critically handle the situation with grace, to be logical, not emotional. The last few years I feel like I have finally have come into my own and in it took a lot of soul searching. I’m naturally a “planner” and I’ve come to the realization I can plan but I must also be willing to adjust my plans if something or someone pops into my life unplanned, because sometimes those little pops are exactly what make you complete.
Thank you Abbie for letting us in!
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