We’ve been exploring the faces behind our favorite fashion houses lately and I am stoked I had the opportunity to chat with Mike and Alyssa, the owners, founders, masterminds, and power couple behind Freedom Rave Wear. If you’ve been to any festival in the past few years I’m sure you’ve seen babes and bosses running around in their amazing creations. These two have been absolutely killing the fashion and business game and they let me behind the scenes for a while. Check out our conversation below to learn more about their micro-factory and the road that brought them there.
Freedom Rave Wear has been in motion since 2014 when you two discovered your passion for the Electronic Dance Music world. How did you make the decision, as a couple, to go into business together?
Alyssa – We didn’t really make the decision. I made outfits for Nocturnal Wonderland 2014. That was the second rave we went to together. Our first was Hard Summer. Mike was very much into the scene and I wasn’t too into it but I fell in love with it all instantly. Via Instagram, I came across rave bras. I made myself an outfit and Mike a matching T-shirt with accessories. All night we had people saying “Oh my gosh, where did you get your outfits?” Halfway through the night, Mike was like, “So uh, do you wanna do this?” And that was the beginning and we have never really looked back. When we started there was no discussion of “Oh, we shouldn’t get into business together or we should.” We just knew I could make outfits. It was a great way to be involved and a unique way to pay for shows. It was very random and organic.
How do the two of you divy up the responsibilities of a successful company?
Alyssa – I love to create and make things look pretty and Mike loves to build websites and market a business. There is no competing within the brand as each of us has something we love within the business which is the exact opposite. There are certain things that are turf wars, things that are in between manufacturing and style. We’ve been in this a long time so we have gone through all the struggles and arguments and we’ve had really good mentors that have helped us determine what are your responsibilities and who’s in charge when it comes down to it. Time, learning, and good people teaching us.
As your brand has grown, how have you seen your design style evolve alongside?
Mike – The first sites we put together were so atrocious, but we tried and we were learning. I had no formal experience at the time and had just left college. I was looking for pretty much any way to not have a normal desk job so I was pretty motivated to figure it out. I think that motivation helped me pick up skills along the way. The way it’s progressed, now I have a lot of focus on a very clean, not busy look on the site. We bring life to the website by the color of the product and the focus of the products and we leave the rest of the website pretty simple. Everything is thought out in a way to be easy to shop on and easy to navigate.
Alyssa – Unlike Mike, I do have a visual representation of my early designs. So if I scroll back to the beginning of my Instagram I can easily say, “what the… what in the world was I doing?” As you get older, you look at your younger kid drawing and as an artist, I think, “Wow that was the start.” And I’m grateful for the start and I remember making all the bras and how much I love them, who they were for, and the effort that I put into making them and spending hours at the store picking out all the trim. But you know fashion has changed tremendously in the rave scene over the last years. I can’t remember the last time I got a request for a rave bra. When we did start I didn’t know how to sew or anything either so the only thing I could do was have a design eye and create by gluing things onto bras and making them look really pretty. As I grew and as I saw things I was like, “Ooo, I want one of those. I want this, I wonder if I can make it.” It was never, “let me go buy it from somewhere.” It was, “can I make a mini skirt, a fur hood, or bottoms the way I want them to look?” I naturally decided I wanted something and taught myself how to make it. Definitely a lot of growth in design and knowledge and fashion in general in the rave scene.
I’d love to hear more about the process you had to go through in order to open your own micro-factory in San Diego. What was that like?
Alyssa – I was the only person sewing things in the beginning for years. We would travel all over and I would sew, sew, sew. We tried a couple of times working with outside manufacturers to make things. We would get the product back and I would start looking at them and be like, “What is going on!?” We had some fur hoods and jackets sewn somewhere. I had sewn hundreds of them before and in order to sell them at our booth, I need more and I can’t do everything. We had 150 hoods made by somebody. We picked them up the same day we were leaving for shows. Mike was going to Freak Night and I was going to Escape. We were packing and I’m separating them for who is getting what. I finally look at one and I’m like “Wait, what the fuck? The ears are on backward. I don’t understand!” It was a nightmare and it ended up happening three or four other times. After that we were like “Nope, we can’t trust anybody else.” We can only trust me, Mike, and in-house talent. We have been very adamant about that and Mike has been really good about making moves to push us into the micro-factory.
Mike – I’m paranoid when it comes to control of the supply chain, and this was before coronavirus. Now, it makes sense because you can see the weakness of not having that control play out in real-time. It’s obviously devastating to see it play out when it has to do with PPE and medical workers on the front lines of a virus. It sucks that we’ve shipped away all of our factories over the last 30 years. We probably shouldn’t have done that as a society, but the pendulum will swing back the other way. We’ve been preparing as a business for the eventual resurgence of domestic manufacturing and we want to be on the front end of that. This is why we bought a big laser cutter and we are buying more machines. We can get cheaper products and drive up our margin by going overseas, but for us, we want to know how to manufacture ourselves because that’s a strength in the long run for a brand to sustain the test of time. It’s so much easier to do everything in-house.
Alyssa – Definitely, I guess we are a little bit of control freaks as well which is probably why we feel that way.
What can you tell me about your design process?
Alyssa – I like matching colors and simplicity with comfort and versatility. I’m not out there making these crazy designs with a bunch of straps and rings that wrap everywhere. I’ve worn stuff like that and it’s uncomfortable to me. For me, I’m all about comfort and a really high quality product. I like bright, beautiful, and bold colors. I like to draw things out and do things with my hands. I don’t really work on them in a digitized form. The design aspect, the sky’s the limit there. I know my limitations and I know myself. As we grow, a goal of ours is to bring in younger, new, excited fashion designers who want to explore those types of things. I love what I do but I know there are a lot of other people out there that have amazing design capabilities. It’s exciting and rewarding to have an idea, come in, cut some things, sew some things, and bring it to life. I’ll put it on and think “Yup, that’s exactly what I wanted it to look like.”
Mike – When we bought our laser cutter we knew nothing about producing the cut files the machine would accept. So we had this huge investment and it forced us to learn. I think that’s part of the process we are in right now because we have only had the laser cutter since January. That’s changed everything for us. It dramatically transformed our ability to operate as a micro-factory. We’ve bought two more sewing machines and we’re just going to keep going.
How has Freedom Rave Wear transitioned from mainly vending at festivals to a completely online business?
Mike – When we started we did over 50 festivals in 2 years and it was Alyssa sewing everything. It started with us in a garbage Toyota Corolla. We would drive to these festivals and set up our booth and try to make some sales. We talked to so many people in such a short period of time that we learned quickly what it is that people were looking for. That period of time, then, we didn’t think of as market research. For us, it was getting our word out there and meeting people while making enough money to get to the next show. Looking back, I think it was the smartest investment, at the beginning, of our time, even though it wasn’t the biggest return on investment in the short term. We learned so much from talking to thousands of people at those shows. But that all ended in 2017. At the end of 2017, we had done every Insomniac show for two years and things were getting really crazy. Alyssa was sewing everything, us traveling to all these shows, we had bought a truck and a trailer. Our whole life was around the festival tour. Our online sales at the time started to pick up so then we had the challenge of not just fulfilling all of our festival tour demands but we also had this increase in online sales.
Alyssa – And meanwhile, our entire inventory was in boxes traveling from event to event so when we would get orders we would have to pull everything out of the truck and then repack it. It was a lot.
Mike – Words can’t really describe how unorganized we were at the time. Don’t get me wrong, when we showed up to a festival we looked like a drill team. The last EDC we did we had a 20×20 booth and 15 employees working with us at the show. So we would put on a big production but it was still so chaotic because we didn’t have scalable manufacturing in place. So we were struggling to keep things in stock. I reached out to Insomniac and let them know we had too many orders and couldn’t go to the next show. I think they missed the intent on our end, we weren’t trying to back out of the show. We weren’t able to produce enough. It wasn’t malicious as we had been to every show for two years. So things got weird between us and Insomniac. At EDC Orlando I was planning to ask Alyssa to be my wife. I let Insomniac know we couldn’t vend at the event. That period ended up creating some friction and we ended up not going back to festivals after that. It wasn’t necessarily our choice, but it became a blessing in disguise not being able to go back to another show. We got our office that same month and moved in.
Alyssa – We were in the apartment on my parent’s property above the garage that was 690 square feet. It was floor to ceiling boxes. My parents built a storage shed for us.
Mike – We were busting at the seams when we finally got this office space. It’s easier for us to be able to build the online side of the business and manage that and be able to actually grow it without killing ourselves. We stopped doing festivals at the end of 2017. We obviously still go to festivals and enjoy meeting new people but we don’t vend anymore.
How has your team grown to support the business needs?
Mike – We have six full-time employees, still a small team.
Alyssa – We’re a family business so Mike and I run the business and we’re engaged. My mom is our full-time Fulfillment and Inventory Manager. My Grandma comes in and helps my mom. Our seamstresses are a seamster and seamstress and they’re husband and wife.
Mike – We have Courtney who helps us as a digital marketing system. She’s a utility player. We met her through a model call a few years back. We have worked with different people locally on a contractor basis. We are a small team but we have a high output.
I love seeing your ambassadors across social media rocking your apparel. How does the program work?
Mike -The Ambassador Program is DOPE. Anyone can sign up and apply. We do have limited availability as far as how many we can have active at any given time. It usually works pretty well. People will be involved for maybe a couple of months but then they may not be going to a show for a while. People kinda come in and out of the festival space so they’ll shoot me an email if they need to step away for a bit. This month’s post was to create a virtual rave in your room and tag us in it. There is nothing like obligated posts. If you want to throw a rave in your room, share your discount code, and have your affiliate link. They get 15% store credit back and 10% cash commission on any sales. There are some ambassadors that make $400-$500 a month which is really cool. The ambassadors’ side is cool because I get to talk to people and ask how they’re doing. Especially at this time, I like to stay up to date with our whole network.
What can our readers do to support Freedom Rave Wear through the pandemic period?
Mike – We put a Donation Center up on the website. We have three categories of people. If you want to donate money, 100% of the money is being used to make masks that are being donated. If you want to be more involved, you can request to sew and we can send you raw materials. Then we will let you know which facility to ship those products to. All of that is also funded by us. The third option is, if you don’t have a sewing machine or money to donate, you can nominate a facility to receive a donation on your behalf. We are in the process of coordinating logistics with people who can sew at home and we have a laser cutter that can cut massive amounts of masks. We can send those pieces out and help other people who may not have the contacts or supply chain.
*Featured Images Via Freedom Rave Wear*