Designer’s big break

Below the Belt adds Winnipegger's Friday Knights hip-hop line

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I think it’s safe to say that it would be a dream come true for any local designer to get picked up by a national retailer. You know, starting off small, putting in long hours promoting your threads at local markets, building that brand recognition and then finally getting that call.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/08/2016 (2248 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I think it’s safe to say that it would be a dream come true for any local designer to get picked up by a national retailer. You know, starting off small, putting in long hours promoting your threads at local markets, building that brand recognition and then finally getting that call.

For Eric Olek, that dream is now a reality — the designer of Friday Knights has gained momentum for his brand, culminating in a deal with retailer Below the Belt to have the brand represented in 30 locations across Canada.

I was lucky enough to chat with Olek a few times over the past few months about the brand, getting national exposure and the journey it took to get there.

FP: Below the Belt — that’s a pretty big deal. How does it feel to finally be picked up?

Olek: That’s the number one thing I get asked about this whole thing, and really it’s kind of surreal. I feel like it took five years just to get to the starting line. It hasn’t sunk in for me, but I know it’s a milestone for the brand, and it was one of my five-year goals when I started out to be carried Canada-wide.

FP: It’s been a long journey from the trunk of your car where you started to bricks and mortar. What kept you going?

Olek: When you’re on the verge of a big opportunity, it’s important to reflect on all the little things that helped to get there. Honestly, my support base here in Winnipeg is the biggest reason I’m still doing this, the demand for new product and positive response from the people that wear Friday Knights is incredibly affirming. My friends are very encouraging, the hip-hop community here provides constant inspiration and my mom would ring my neck if I ever gave up on anything.

FP: You talk a lot about how the hip-hop community has not only shaped your brand but helped it grow. How do you define that?

Olek: I’ve been growing the brand and clicking with a lot of musicians outside of Winnipeg, and now we have adequate representation in those cities as well. It’s one thing to be in stores nationwide, but the real goal is to have the same positive influence in those communities as we do here. Connecting with artists and youth movements and helping to foster change and growth in the hip-hop scenes across the country.

FP: For the trunk of your car to a pop-up shop and now Below the Belt, what’s on the horizon for Friday Knights?

Olek: Spring 2017. I’m wrapping that now and working on getting orders. I’ve also got some fun projects coming up, collaborating on tour merchandise with Kayo and Quake Matthews — hip-hop artists from Toronto and Halifax respectively, shooting a miniseries with local influencers and rolling out exclusive product at our downtown pop-up.

FP: Any tips for up-and-coming designers aspiring to follow in your footsteps?

Olek: Don’t try and do everything by yourself. It’s OK at the beginning, but eventually you need to network your butt off and build a team. There is no way I could have made this happen without the help of half a dozen hard-working individuals.

Friday Knights is available at Below the Belt locations across Canada, at Olek’s downtown pop-up shop at 354 Portage Ave., and online at www.fridayknights.ca. Got a suggestion for a future column or trend worth following?

Email Connie Tamoto at connietamotofashion@hotmail.com.

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