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Local biz helps clothe our athletes

I stumbled onto Olympic secret

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Coats for the Canadian Olympic team on the production floor of Freed & Freed International Ltd.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Coats for the Canadian Olympic team on the production floor of Freed & Freed International Ltd. Photo Store

Who said I couldn't keep a secret? And a national one at that.

It's been more than a month since I stumbled upon the secret I'm finally at liberty to share.

Initially, I spied what I wasn't supposed to see after being fitted for my Guardian Angel fashion show appearance at outerwear company Freed & Freed, whose office is conveniently located next door to the Free Press on Mountain Avenue.

Marissa Freed, the 34-year-old president of the nearly century-old family business, had just finished my fitting in an upstairs area when, on the way out, something caught my eye.

There, draped handsomely on a garment rack, was a red, white and black coat with the word "Canada" stitched across the chest. I was surprised because I hadn't seen that design before. But what the look represented -- beyond the obvious -- didn't register until I was on the way out, whereupon I received two more surprises. The first was seeing a factory-floor full of red, white and black duffle being made into more coats. The second was seeing any garments being made on a factory floor in Winnipeg.

Apparently, Freed & Freed was manufacturing made-in-Canada Canadian Olympic apparel.

Who knew there were still any garment manufacturers in Winnipeg?

Actually, there are at least one or two others. But once, the city had a truly booming rags-to-riches trade that dates back to the late 19th century and as recently as 1970, the garment industry was said to be the second-biggest private employer in the city. Of course, that was before factories left Winnipeg and North America for overseas, unable to compete.

Anyway, it was a few weeks after our first meeting that Marissa and I met again, just before the Guardian Angel event at the convention centre. Marissa said while I was being fitted at her factory she didn't realize what I did next door at the Free Press -- that I'm a professional blabber mouth.

"Had I known who you were at that time," she said, "I definitely would not have had everything out."

I asked if it was supposed to be top secret. "Yes," she said.

By then I had figured out she was making coats for the Olympics. But what I didn't know was the back story that was about to break the following week in Toronto, when most of the Canadian Olympic gear was unveiled. Photos of the men's and women's hockey jerseys, which weren't made by Freed & Freed, had already been leaked in early September. For her part, Marissa had won the business after making an introductory visit to the Hudson's Bay department store's Toronto office (and obviously making an impression while she was at it). Now it was late October and Marissa was being invited to the Olympic clothing-line launch, even if she, and her role in the story, remained in the background.

Her part, along with other Canadian manufacturers chosen by Hudson's Bay, was as a "Made in Canada" supplier of clothing specifically for our 250 or so athletes at the upcoming Olympic Games in Russia. Freed & Freed made most of the outerwear -- the duffle, soft shell and puffer coats -- which means when you see the likes of Sidney Crosby in his Team Canada jacket you'll know where they originated: on the factory floor of Freed & Freed.

Marissa's go-for-it spirit also won her the contract for the replica Olympic outerwear that was made in Asia and is now available at Hudson's Bay.

I think what Marissa has accomplished is a great local story. But her own local story is even better. Marissa represents the fourth generation to lead Freed & Freed, including her grandfather, Joseph, who turns 99 this month. Mind you, her joining the company wasn't necessarily planned. Marissa worked at Miami-based fashion magazine Ocean Drive after graduating in Florida with an MBA. She was just approaching 30 when she decided to head home for a visit. Since she was back, Marissa dropped into the office to help out her dad Steven Freed. Six months later, Marissa decided she might stay for a year or two and see what she could do to refocus and revitalize the company.

"Now we're just shy of five years later, we're an entirely different company; everything is brand new, and I have a fantastic team," she said.

And where Freed & Freed had 20 employees when she arrived, there are now more than 100 and the company has stitched together a customer base that includes the RCMP, the Canadian military, and now Hudson's Bay and our Olympic team.

You can't get much more iconically Canadian than that. But, as I told Marissa -- and she agreed -- there's one thing that's even better than "made in Canada."

Made in Winnipeg.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2013 B1

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