Comfortwear, once relegated to after-work and weekends only, experienced a renaissance in 2020 due to the global pandemic. One Canadian company was ahead of the curve with an offering meant to empower customers to be more confident and comfortable.
Richmond, B.C.-based Smash and Tess started out as an idea between the mother and daughter duo: Ashley Freeborn (Smash) and her mother Teresa Freeborn (Tess). Every year, they (and their style director Mercedes LaPorte) would start shopping for matching Christmas PJs as early as January. That passion for finding the perfect loungewear spurred the thought of turning the idea into a store someday.
In 2004, the younger Ms. Freeborn went to the Conde Nast College of Fashion Design in the United Kingdom for an intensive summer program. There she put pen to paper and created a business plan for their idea. After receiving the validation of a lecturer who worked at Vogue, Ms. Freeborn knew she was on the right track. She pitched the idea to her mom —they said ‘Let’s do it!’ — and the business of Smash and Tess was born. The company makes loungewear including one-piece rompers, a version of overalls called romperalls, bodysuits, sleek jogging pants, and matching sweaters.
For the pair, it was important to build in social responsibility from the start, which includes fair working conditions for those who make the clothes and creating a lifestyle of body inclusivity — more than just a clothing line.
Adhering to their values and giving back “in a really, truly meaningful way,” along with a “strong sense of values and that commitment to community” helps Smash and Tess “stand apart from everybody else,” she says.
That community of over 350,000 followers is what contributes to both the company’s success and growth. They released their first spring collection in 2016 and have grown ever since. By focusing on e-commerce and passing on launching in a bricks-and-mortar store, they proved to be visionaries.
Ms. Freeborn, who is the company’s chief executive officer, admits there were challenges along the way, including learning how to turn the mother-daughter relationship into a business one, the cost of manufacturing locally, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. But not having to pivot into an online business and their supply chain being shorter because their production is done locally helped.
Smash and Tess is a pandemic success story as sales last year topped $16-million, with growth of 85 per cent projected for 2020-21. That helped the company reach 24th on the Globe and Mail’s Top Growing Companies list in 2021. They currently have about 40 employees.
“We already had direct-to-consumer as our main line of sales,” says Ms. Freeborn, which was an asset when the pandemic hit. “We make really comfortable clothes. We make clothes that are made domestically. So, we’re not as impacted by the global shipping container crisis that’s happening right now,” she adds. Being an online business opened their customer base to the world, with Australia, U.K., and the United States rounding out the top three countries they ship to.
Smash and Tess are looking to the future. They already opened a second production facility in Vancouver and plan to expand production to Toronto or Los Angeles to account for their explosive growth over the past two years.
“I think our pre-order model (which limits the number of pieces available to purchase), a less wasteful approach to the industry, is a great one and it can work really, really well,” says Ms. Freeborn.
Clothing producers can reduce waste if they are “a little bit more thoughtful about testing their product to see what it is that actually, people want to wear and buy,” she says. “Instead of just the fast fashion methodology that [creates] so much waste and cheap clothing and cheap labour at the expense of human safety and wellness.”
Ms. Freeborn is particularly excited about other changes happening in the fashion industry. She points to the new way of thinking that’s taking over the fashion industry, particularly with inclusivity. Whether in sizing or in marketing, the up-and-coming brands and creators are changing the conversation and ushering out the old ways of doing business.
Smash and Tess’s goal is for everyone to feel beautiful and be able to imagine themselves in their products, she says. “We certainly aren’t slowing down. We have a huge vision for the future and continuing to spread the romper revolution globally.”