Speak ya clout is a series of heart to heart conversations exclusively found at BSTN Chronicles. From insiders of the fashion business to blazers of new trails and creative forces from other industries, topics vary for each conversation while a rapid-fire style philosophical gut check ends every episode. Kicking things of is Free&Easy founder and L.A. native Kevin Circosta.
On getting started:
I started my first clothing brand in my early 20’s, pre e-commerce and pre social media. I had no experience in the fashion industry at all but I was fueled with lots of creative energy, new ideas and passion which eventually lead me to get my brand into Barney’s (RIP) and other taste-making stores across the globe. I also spent many years making music and playing in bands which taught me how to build an audience and keep the crowd intrigued. Later on, I was approached by the head of Live Nation and asked to consult, creative direct and help them re-build their global merchandise division. Artists from Beyoncé & Jay-Z to Paul McCartney and the estate of Kurt Cobain would hire me to do work for them and that’s when things really began to take off. I didn’t exactly plan this career path but as things grew, I really started to focus and was able to help build brands and do creative development for some of the biggest entertainers in the world for over a decade which was very rewarding for a small independent company like mine.
After many years of helping build brands for others, I felt the need to do something new and fun for myself. Free & Easy began as a small passion project, a collection of some basics that my friends and I could wear. Growing up in LA, if I wasn’t on my skateboard I was at the beach all the time. I really just wanted to recreate my family’s beach kit from when I was a kid. I always loved my dad’s surf t-shirts, surf trunks, corduroy shorts, hoodies and snapback hats. With my past experience and my wife Rachel Pally, who is also a designer, I had resources at my disposal and a warehouse in Downtown Los Angeles to base out of which helped give me a strong foundation to grow from. It all started with a hat and a t-shirt and has continued to organically grow from there!
On his skeleton key:
I aim to keep the brand real, no tricks, no gimmicks. It is straight to the point and it is exactly what it is. We put our spin on classic graphic design with a current feel and offer a variety of pleasing colors on soft, vintage feeling t-shirts, sweats and hats. I wanted to build a brand that could be worn by anyone in any lane, not just surf, skate, streetwear or fashion but something that was relatable to people from all walks of life and clothing that is “easy”. Our customer base is so diverse and that is what keeps me inspired. I love seeing all the different people from all corners of the globe rocking our stuff. We also produce everything in LA and are able to design and turn production over really quickly. When it’s hot, out we drop fresh t-shirts, not jackets and outerwear like the traditional fashion market schedule dictates. There are so many “rules” in the fashion business but part of what has set us apart is that we create what we want when we want, drop when we feel it’s the right time and really focus on our core customers and what we are feeling in the moment and we are able to do it all very quickly.
On staying independent:
Our mission from the beginning was to build our core audience and our direct to consumer website. But we also have always felt it was important to link with like-minded people, stores and companies to spread our message and help get more eyes on our brand. Our first collab was with Colette in Paris the last year they were in business which really helped people discover Free & Easy in Europe. Since then, we have been lucky enough to work with other amazing stores like BSTN in different places all over the world. From huge retailers in Japan to tiny shops in dusty surf towns in Mexico, we love to work with other companies who share our vision and believe in our brand and we love to support them as well.
As the brand has grown, we have begun to be approached by many larger companies who are interested in Free & Easy. We have a really exciting footwear collaboration with the most iconic California shoe company (hint hint) which drops worldwide in September of 2020! We have a Beer coming out in just a few weeks with a great local Los Angeles Brewery (hopefully good enough for German standards) as well as a retro 80’s Bicycle which also drops very soon. I love that big companies see the value in my independent business and want to work together. We have been blessed by all the people who support and wear our line from high profile influencers to everyday people. We love and appreciate them all. This harmony is what I strive for in life and in business!
On marketing and sponsorship:
To this day, we haven’t done any marketing. I’ve hardly done any photo shoots. I wish I could. I just haven’t had the time. The brand is growing organically instead of doing ads and being super hungry for attention. I’ve just let it happen naturally and it’s magic. We don’t want to grow too quick but at the same point, I can’t stop it now.
At first, we were not even aware that LeBron had bought our hat. We don’t seed stuff. I’m not generally opposed to the idea but it seems better when you actually want something. It’s not somebody trying to convince you to wear a specific item.
When LeBron first wore it, in my opinion, he was making a statement. It was the second round of the Playoffs, and there were a lot of headlines doubting whether he could get the Cavs back to the Finals. So after sweeping the series, he was sending a message. Let’s be real, he knows what he’s doing. He was telling the media and all the fans “Don’t trip. I got this.“ We’re gonna do it. So when he did that, it made the media storm pick up even more.
On manufacturing locally in L.A.:
Los Angeles still has a fashion industry here. So we’re able to make and cut fabric as well as sew our t-shirts here. We also work with local dye works and printers. For the most part, we can make everything we need to right here in L.A. I grew up in this city and through my years of working in the industry, I’ve learned how to do things quickly and locally.
I truly love helping my local economy and supporting those people behind the scenes who dye our fabric and print our shirts. And at the same time, it enables us to drop product quickly. It’s not going to take us six months. That’s been really helpful.
On LeBron and the Lakers:
Obviously I’m a Kobe-guy, originally a Magic Johnson-guy, I grew up in the golden era of the Lakers. Kobe meant so much to our city. We always respected LeBron, but he wasn’t our guy yet. In the back of our mind, we thought “wouldn’t it be amazing if he came to L.A.?“ When it all happened, it was so magical. It felt weird at the very beginning but now, he definitely is our guy. He is such a great person in the community, not just in L.A. but everywhere. He has been so embraced by the people here. We love him.
On Mac Miller:
Through my music business and design development and creative direction, I’ve actually worked on some stuff for Mac Miller that he didn’t even know. He didn’t know Free&Easy was me. He discovered it on his own and bought the hat. It’s the same for all of us. When we go out into the world and we see something that inspires us.
Such a creative guy, such a talented guy. I’m so glad that he put that music out for everybody to listen to. You could really feel that he was on to something, regardless of whether he was wearing that hat or not.
On the Don’t Trip claim:
It’s a colloquial term that was originally used in the streets. It started with kids and then skaters and rappers picked it up as well. Don’t trip literally means don’t worry. Don’t trip out. Don’t freak out. Be free and easy. I don’t want to worry about all that little stuff. I think that’s part of the reason why people have been attracted to the brand because our message is universal. The hat that Mac Miller wore, the rust-colored Don’t Trip hat, is one of our top-selling items. Right at the end of last year, I placed a big order to stock the hat for what I assumed would be the first quarter of 2020 … and by the second week of January we were sold out.
It has kind of become a slogan for people to realize: One step at a time, and we’re going to get through it.
Five quick hitters with Kevin Circosta
Jordan or LeBron?
Who’s the one autograph you’d want?
Brady’s rings or Deion’s swag?
Deion’s Swag ?
Checks over stripes or stripes over checks?
Checks since day 1 but I got love for them stripes as well!
Three things for that lonely island:
Surfboard, spliffs and a fishing pole!