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This article was published 5/8/2016 (1901 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In just a few years, Transcona’s Eric Olek , 26, went from selling shirts from the trunk of a car to seeing Friday Knights Clothing being sold by a national retail chain.
And he says this is only the beginning.
A self-described troublemaker when in his early 20s, Olek says his clothing designs are inspired by artists, DJs and musicians.
"The whole scene captured me and made me want to do something like that," Olek said.
Olek admitted his fashion design experience was somewhat limited when he decided to take the plunge.
"I could match my sneakers to my baseball caps. That was about it."
But he knew what he liked — nice clothing and brand name streetwear. It was often expensive and Olek didn’t always see items he liked. He began to design his own shirts, starting simply before becoming more creative over time.
Olek said he also had the good fortune of growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s, when hip hop culture went through a growth stage.
"There were so many styles of rap. It was not so much the music but that people were doing things differently. It showed me I could do the same thing," he said.
Olek comes up with new designs during "quiet periods." He sketches, and when something good develops, he lets his graphic designer know.
In the beginning, when Olek had put together some designs he liked, he began to look for places to sell them.
"I began selling out of the trunk of a friend’s car — I didn’t even have my own trunk to sell out of. We’d go to bars and sell to people smoking outside. I sold to friends on Facebook."
Olek said he learned about production on the fly.
"That same friend drove me around when I had no idea what I was doing. I began Googling and found one place that sold shirts, another that printed, another that sold tags and another that sewed them onto the shirts. I was going to six or seven places without my own vehicle," he said.
It took a couple of years for Olek to streamline operations at one location. At the same time he was refining his distribution network by striking consignment deals with local retailers.
"It’s really tough to make a business work that way but I made it work," Olek said,
Meanwhile, he studied business administration at Red River College.
"I thought I was doing great at so many things before I went to school and now I look back, shake my head and laugh," he admitted.
"Some of my Facebook posts to promote the business were just absolutely horrendous. I learned a lot about marketing, networking, talking to people and growing it that way."
Below the Belt has 28 locations across western Canada, and a pop-up location at 354 Portage Ave., which Friday Knights will be in through September.
Five years ago Olek set the goal of being Canada-wide before the end of 2016. His current goals are partnerships with more chains and the development of an exclusive line for boutique stores.
All while staying true to his original vision.
"I wouldn’t want to sell my stuff at Walmart even if they wanted to put it in 1,000 stores, because it would diminish my brand image."
To learn more visit www.fridayknights.ca or on Facebook.
Community correspondent - East Kildonan
Tony Zerucha is a community correspondent for East Kildonan. Email him at email@example.com