Frederieke Van Doorn knows all about work wardrobes. She estimates that most people spend up to 70 hours a week in their work clothes – and they probably don’t even like them that much. Van Doorn was tired of the rigid, ill-fitting suits that dominate corporate culture, and was frustrated that there weren’t more options for women in terms of tailored suits, dresses and skirts. So, why not make them herself? That’s how Frey, a Hong Kong-based brand of high end work wear for women, was born. She sets out to offer custom tailoring for each and every item, so women can feel more comfortable and empowered in their work clothes.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
Tell us more about why you started your business.
After spending many years working in men’s tailoring, I realized that women simply did not have the same high-quality options available to them. When I moved from China to Hong Kong, I did my research and asked a number of women where they shopped for work wear or formal, tailored pieces – and couldn’t find a clear answer. There are so many women who are required to dress formally in their place of work – but there are very limited choices available to them.
I decided to create a female brand that meets the needs and wants of women’s tailoring. I wanted to create some magic – the magic that happens when a woman feels comfortable and empowered in what she wears.
How is your business different from others in your industry?
There is currently no fashion brand that is dedicated to women’s tailoring and offers tailoring of each clothing item at the core of its business. Exquisite craftsmanship truly sets us apart, and we are dedicated to designing excellently tailored classics that come in a wide variety of sizes, and that are fashionable for women of any age.
For many women, it is difficult to purchase clothing that fits their body shape perfectly. So Frey also offers a wide variety of sizes. And if a customer needs, we have an in-house tailor who can alter the “Off the Rack” piece to fit her exactly. Alternatively, you can create your own garments, which involves sending in exact measurements and choosing material before one of our tailors makes the item for the customer.
Tell us about your biggest success so far.
Knowing I have helped women find formal wear that they feel comfortable, confident and empowered in. Women have really struggled to find high-quality, stylish clothing for work, so when a customer grabs my arm and says, “Thank you for starting this, I finally like the clothes I wear to work,” that is my biggest success.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
As a new brand, my biggest challenge is reaching more women. I know I have created formal wear that provides impeccable fit and choice for women. When a woman tries on a jacket or suit, they usually want to purchase the item, because not only does the product feel good, but it also shapes their body perfectly.
We organize a lot of in-store events so we are able to meet and interact with women from various backgrounds and industries. We try to educate people about the product, as women’s tailoring is not very well-known. We focus on the quality, sustainability and longevity of every item. We talk through styling and building a wardrobe with timeless classics that can be mixed and matched for years. Wearing Frey is truly an investment in yourself, and the planet.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
Building a business can feel like a rollercoaster ride. I go from left to right in my head every single day. The smallest things can pick me up and also put me down. When I was offered a second store location for Frey. I went back and forth on the decision many times, weighing the pros and cons. In these situations, it can be difficult to make decisions alone, but I am learning to trust my instincts more and more.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Make sure you love what you do. If you love it, it will not feel like work, but rather daily achievements towards reaching your dream. You cannot be money-driven – instead, be purpose-driven. Ask yourself over and over: “Why do I want to do this?” Your answer will drive you forward each day. Also, are you adaptable and flexible? Because owning your own business (especially in Covid times) requires you to change direction quickly and effectively.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
For me, it is very important to build this brand together as a team. If you cannot share, you will not be able to multiply. We work together every day to draw inspiration from each other and share creative ideas.
What is your go to song to get motivated on tough days?
I love all kinds of music, so I have a lot of different songs I play for different moods and days. I love rap and hip-hop, especially Jay Z. But also rock bands like the Arctic Monkeys. Then some days, it’s all about singing along to good old Whitney Houston.
Who is your most important role model?
I don’t have a specific role model – I get inspired by a lot of people. I lived in China for 12 years, and have drawn a lot of my inspiration from the people I’ve met and worked with on this journey. Chinese culture is fascinating. I love their approach to life – to always live in the moment and know that tomorrow will be better. To draw happiness from the simple things in life – that inspires me. ◼
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