Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/5/2011 (3212 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Freed & Freed International used to make a lot more clothes in Winnipeg than it does today, but that trend is changing.
Back in the '90s, the company employed several hundred people in the city and also had Asian factories churning out raincoats and pants.
Although its main source of business — the London Fog line of overcoats and jackets — was lost with the bankruptcy of that company more than a decade ago, Freed & Freed remained active in the government and military-uniform business.
Last week, it won an award for the work it is doing for the RCMP, redesigning the force's iconic red serge regimental jacket, cropped jacket and ceremonial blue blazers.
Marissa Freed, 32, is now the fourth-generation family member to run the 90-plus-year-old company and she has big plans.
"I definitely hope there will be a fifth generation," she said.
Marissa came back to Winnipeg to take over the company from her father, Steven Freed, two years ago and brought a new energy and attitude to the business that had been in decline for many years.
"The RCMP work was the first major program I worked on since coming back and it's very exciting," she said. "These are very intricate designs and really are beautiful pieces."
In addition to the RCMP work, which was named Uniform of the Year in Canada last week by the North-American Association of Uniform Manufacturers and Distributors, the company is starting to branch out into other new lines.
Much of its production floor is occupied with production of a major Canadian brand of down outerwear.
"We have never done in-house down manufacturing in the past," Freed said. "To give ourselves a pat on the back, we pretty much had a product up and running and a line in place in the course of one month that would have taken others at least six months to get going."
The company has hired about 15 people over the last month and now has close to 100 people on staff. That's a far cry from the 700 it once employed in Winnipeg, but it is part of a modest shift that is seeing some garment manufacturing returning to Canada.
Bob Kirke, executive director of the Canadian Apparel Federation, said for the first time in five years, employment levels in Canada increased slightly in 2010 after seeing the workforce cut back by more than 50 per cent over the past decade.
"And these are honest-to-goodness production jobs," Kirke said. "The pendulum swung way to one side and now it's swinging back a little."
While most large, successful Canadian manufacturers — like Winnipeg's Western Glove Works — are doing the bulk of their production in lower-cost jurisdictions in Asia and elsewhere, there is also a growing demand for made-in-Canada apparel.
Freed said she hopes to keep doing more down outerwear and the company continues to develop other RCMP pieces.
She is hopeful Freed & Freed will win the production contract on the new blazers and jackets when that contract is let.
Cpl. Brigitte Brodeur, a manager with the RCMP's uniform equipment program in Ottawa, said Freed & Freed's work combines the best elements of the original designs.
"We're proud of the work Freed and Freed has done," she said.
She said there will be a tender issued when current supplies are depleted, but there is no guarantee Freed & Freed will win the production contract.
Government and uniform work now form the foundation of Freed & Freed's order book. But Marissa Freed, whose background is in fashion, said she is determined to see the company shift into its own designs and maybe even its own branding.
Her grandfather, 96-year-old Joseph Freed, still drives in to work most days.
She said the company used to make a line of jackets under the Joseph Freed label.
"We will be doing our own designs again," she said.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.