The future of streetwear labels in the era of COVID-19 is in flux as much now as it was in the first few months of the pandemic. Some retail giants and upstart labels have folded completely. Others seem to be adapting to the challenges of a market that is now largely direct-to-consumer. One label that’s managed to stay afloat — thrive even — in these tough times is Teddy Fresh, a brand that’s been a favorite of ours for some time, appearing fairly often in our weekly sneaker and apparel roundup. Chances are you’ve seen the brand on the backs of your most stylish friends, and some of their early pieces, like their pastel color-block hoodies, have inspired a range of copycats.
Teddy Fresh operates under a deceptively simple slogan, “Making clothes that you can wear.” While that mantra sounds almost head-slappingly obvious, the three-year-old label focuses on the subject of the sentence — “you.” Since its inception, the brand has been producing unisex streetwear staples like sweaters, hoodies, jackets, and t-shirts in sizes running from XS to 3XL in their signature playful, pastel-heavy aesthetic. Their collections truly feel built for everyone, no matter who they are or how they’re shaped — a stark contrast to how many streetwear labels operate.
But it’s not just the sizing that makes Teddy Fresh cool. Like the slogan, their clothes may appear simple, but there’s a hidden depth. Fast fashion shortcuts are eschewed for embroidered detailing and a commitment to sourcing quality fabrics. In a world where the fashion industry accounts for a considerable amount of waste, that approach — which obviously increases production costs — is bold for such a young brand.
This week, we linked up with the label’s head designer, founder, and CEO Hila Klein — who filled us in on where she’d like to take Teddy Fresh, what inspires her designs, and what needs changing in the streetwear scene.
One of the things I really love about Teddy Fresh is the label’s early commitment towards unisex clothing. Now that the brand is expanding and Teddy Fresh is able to do things like have a female department in the works, in a perfect world with unlimited resources — what clothing pieces would you love to design under the Teddy Fresh name?
NASA’s next-generation spacesuit? Maybe that’s out of our technical capabilities for now, but who knows in the next five years? On a serious note, we have been singularly focused on our production capabilities and feel like we can match any streetwear brand out there on quality and polish. We’d love to make furniture in our color blocking style — a couch or a coffee table — that’s something we’ve always dreamed about. We definitely have some really exciting things coming in 2021!
I know you have a background as an artist, but where does your initial interest in the fashion world come from and what led you to want to start the brand?
I’ve always felt there is a lack of really fun clothes that I would want to wear. The only thing that I ever find is either vintage or kids clothing. Why do kids get to have all the fun? Some of the kid’s clothes I see absolutely blows my mind in terms of color and creativity. The only place you see that kind of clothing for adults is in brands like Gucci, but our goal is not to be high fashion or inaccessible to most people because of the price.
As a fairly new label working in modern times, I imagine sustainability is something that is constantly weighing on your mind. What are some of the challenges of becoming more eco-friendly and what would help make it easier for labels to transition to more sustainable practices?
Small steps. For example, we just switched to fully recycled plastic shipping bags, and we are looking into recycled fabrics. The clothing industry is extremely wasteful though, and to be completely honest, I have a problem with the majority of the “eco-friendly” messaging you see from other brands. I feel like it’s just trendy to say but doesn’t really mean anything. The truth is that low quality and quickly discarded clothing is what is causing the majority of the waste.
The best thing a brand can do is make high-quality clothes that last. It’s an uphill battle though, as many consumers expect extremely low prices set by fast fashion companies, and when they see a hoodie for $85 they think they’re being ripped off. The difference is that our hoodie could last 30 years.
All that being said, we continue to explore this topic and educate ourselves so we can do our part as much as possible.
Teddy Fresh as a whole has a very light-hearted and colorful aesthetic. What are some of the inspirations behind your designs and approach to color?
I just want it to be fun. I want people to feel happy wearing our clothes. It’s clothing, it’s really not that serious. Being fashionable doesn’t need to mean looking like you are cruising through The Matrix, not that there’s anything wrong with that, either. I love The Matrix.
Can you walk us through your general process when it comes to working on a new design? Where does the inspiration come from, how do designs start out, and how do you know when a piece is finished?
I love color, I’ll usually have a color combo in mind and I’ll start by sketching in my sketchbook, and then take it to the design team where we workshop in many different ways, styles, colors until we think it’s as close to right as possible. It is a very collaborative environment and so I really gotta give a lot of credit to our design team.
I imagine it’s hard to pick, but what Teddy Fresh piece are you most proud of and why?
Colorblock hoodie. One of our first pieces, the colorblocking fad really hadn’t come back in fashion yet. It has remained our strongest piece for three years and people just can’t get enough of it. There is something magical about the color combination I really can’t explain. After that, I would say the Grandpa Jacket aka “My grandpa passed and all I got was this jacket” — which is a new item of ours.
I feel it represents our evolution of production capabilities. It’s beautifully constructed and classic but still has the Teddy Fresh spirit. Perfect, timeless, buy it, and love it or your money back. That is my Grandpa’s guarantee right now to you the reader.
The pandemic threw a lot of small labels’ futures in the air, but Teddy Fresh was able to persevere. What challenges did you face with COVID-19, and what has it taught you as the CEO of a brand?
Direct to consumer is king, and we are just lucky to have that be the vast majority of our business. We had an enormous partnership with Zumiez right when COVID was looming and we decided to part ways amicably with them because we wanted to bring everything in-house — simply because we did not know what the fate of in-person retail would be. It was extremely risky because we had to absorb all of the clothing that they had ordered into our inventory, but we are happy with the decision. Our fear was that they would have a ton of unsold clothing that would be going on clearance and we felt it was necessary to protect our brand.
In-house, it has been extremely difficult. We take COVID very seriously and don’t allow anyone in our office, except for an essential few, while wearing masks. But for the most part, we are all working remotely. It makes reviewing samples and creative workshopping so much more difficult. I miss everyone. I love our people so much, I want them to be safe, but we all just can’t wait for things to return to normal.
What would you like to see begin to change in the world of fashion and streetwear moving forward?
I’ve been seeing more independent artists and small brands rise through social media and selling online, and I love to see it and support it. People are making one-offs and selling them directly to their followers and it’s all really exciting to me. I want more of that!
What can Teddy Fresh fans look forward to in 2021?
The best clothing we’ve ever made. Female collections, instead of just unisex. Incredible collaborations. And of course NASA’s next-generation spacesuit.