Meet the Maker | Freenote Cloth
Late 2018 I spoke to Andrew on the phone who was in New York at that time for business. Andrew is one of two brothers that founded Freenote Cloth in San Juan Capistrano back in 2013. As I learned during the interview the rancho-surf environment of this town on the California coast played a major role in building the brand. Perfection is what drives both Andrew and Matthew Brodrick and the passion they have for the ‘heritage way’ shows in everything they do.
During my conversation with Andrew I noticed that he’s pretty straight forward. I wondered if the same could be said about the brand. No meandering through a field of distractions. When you set out to create the best it’s easy to focus on what you are looking for. So, let’s start with something you don’t always get to read in interviews with the Brodrick brothers. Let’s start with the lifestyle side of things and how that influences everything they do at Freenote Cloth.
Matt and Andrew grew up in Florida. They spent a lot of time in the outdoors and they still do. They both love surfing and snowboarding. It is their way of getting out there and doing things that are not directly attached to fashion or menswear. But all together, what they do to blow off steam has a big impact on how the view the brand. Andrew: “We are being true to where we come from. It’s our daily lifestyle that keeps the brand authentic. We love music, we love going out and having a good time. But we’re also adrenaline junkies and go into the high mountains for some snowboarding. We put all this into our brand.” It is their lifestyle that determines the form and function of each garment. The active participation is a key element in the making of a Freenote Cloth piece. It’s a much different approach than just trying to make a garment without living it.
The Freenote Way. That’s what Andrew calls it. And it’s one hell of a life lesson. “If you’re not having some balance, you’re just in a rat race. Avoid relentless repeatability.”
When you are familiar with Freenote Cloth, you know that they leave nothing to chance. You might say that they are obsessive about details. Andrew: “Production and quality are paramount to the brand. We are very confident in the product we make, because I know the effort we put into it. We’re hyper conscious about the fit. Fit is very much an objective point of view. Our garments should be just as good fitting in the US as in other countries. And I think we do an excellent job when it comes to designing the right fit.” His brother Matt is meticulous about buttons. Matt spends as much time on sourcing the hardware as he does on sourcing the fabrics. That’s not a cheap process and it’s an important part of why the garments aren’t cheap.
We began talking about a jacket that Andrew considered the coolest jacket ever. Last year they introduced their take on the iconic Ranch Jacket in a double indigo fabric. This jacket was designed by Matthew whereas Andrew closed the deal with the contractor who was offered the job to construct it. Andrew: “We only made fortytwo of the Indigo Indigo Ranch Jacket. It’s such a special piece. The fabric is from Japan, so is the amazing Paisley liner. We used our branded YKK buttons from Kentucky. It took twenty different people making it.”
By manufacturing in the US Andrew is able to add value through is expertise. Simply put, it’s his job to make Freenote the best American made brand in terms of design, quality, details and construction. The piece that you own should be nothing less than perfection. To be able to cash in on that promise, they work with a handful of contractors from LA that they deem the best.
And as for fabrics they also source the best. Some 80% of the fabrics they use come from Japan. Andrew explains why: “We buy Japanese fabrics, because we believe it’s the best. They have a very strong ‘heritage’ approach when it comes to producing ‘nostalgic’ fabrics. They have the antique machinery to do so and highly skilled craftsmen to operate the machines. The Japanese are very precise, which is a great trade when you make fabrics. We have a great relationship with Kuroki that we really treasure.”
Relationships are another important foundation on which the brand is build. In 2017 they opened their first brick and mortar store in Highland Park, LA. It’s a busy area and home to the LA Denim Hangs. The shop is located in the heart of the denim community. It’s a place where you can touch and feel everything, where you can truly experience the brand. The shop is run by Greg, better known as @denimhound on Instagram. With his help they were able to set up the shop. “We have some great shops representing Freenote Cloth and they carry the breadth of the brand. We did not have that situation in LA, so we decided to open our own shop to be represented in LA. Here you get a handshake and a smile.”
Some great collaborations have originated through relationships. Long time friend Luke from Mildblend Supply Co. has done an amazing job for denim in general. Freenote Cloth teamed up with Mildblend to release an amazing 20 oz. denim. A Mildblend exclusive jeans in the popular Trabuco fit and pretty much perfect for the cold Chicago winter. Andrew: “Every collab is different, but it starts with an existing relationship. We make a few pieces and it’s for fun. And maybe a little for marketing and creating momentum.”
When asked what the future holds for Freenote Cloth, Andrew answers in the same straightforward way as he started the interview. “I’m always thinking about where we’re going to be next. We want to be part of the denim community and through it we want to educate people about well made products and take ‘em away from fast fashion. But we want to make more of what we make now. We’re going to do more of the same to get better at the basics. We want to keep consistency going. No bells and whistles, no magic bullets.”