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- Photos by Elizabeth Daniels
- The brand's founder Nina Garduno.
- The patches on the jeans are mapped out and sewn on in the workshop.
- The infamous FREECITY sweats.
- Artwork from last year’s show.
- The FREECITY team’s cozy break spot.
- The rainbow skylights hit the trees midday.
- This 7000 square foot workshop is located just behind the store.
- Graphic designers at work.
- The iconic FREECITY hand.
- Garduno and FREECITY creative Adam Pogue.
- Prepping for next weekend’s two-for-one promotion.
- Inside the workshop, Mirna is busy shaving or “polishing” sweatpants.
- Pogue and Garduno relaxing.
- One of the sweatshirt designs for this year’s show: Field Trip.
- The very first FREECITY piece Garduno designed was this t-shirt.
Twelve years ago, LA's own Nina Garduno launched the brand FREECITY with a simple T-shirt that read "FREECITY Neighborhood." Today, the idea of that nabe has exploded into a 3,000-square-foot supermat on Highland Boulevard, complete with a workshop in the back that is well over twice that size. FREECITY is more than the comfortable sweats they are known for. While customers can purchase those and other products like buttons, posters and denim online, it is the supershop experience Garduno spends her days creating. "I'm a designer," she explained. "But I'm not a fashion designer." Each October, the FREECITY store becomes and entirely different show based on a theme and everything from the artwork on the walls to the merchandise and sounds heard throughout the store become part of the installation.
A self-funded company, the FREECITY experience is different for everyone. "All that matters is what you take from it," the designer told us. When it comes to those pricier pieces with the intricate prints, Garduno says they are supported by the more basic sweatshirts and souvenirs customers buy on the daily. "Isn't it worth it for the art of it?" She explained of the money she puts into such pieces. "Or are we all making stuff just to make stuff?" As for the brand's next step, Garduno is ready to expand. "I'm looking for partners at this point," she says. "I really want a packed store, I want little shops and bigger ones. I have to find a way."
How did you come up with the FREECITY idea?
"I took a trip to Copenhagen and someone said 'You should go to the Free City.' So I went to see this place that is actually called Christiania. It's basically a commune. I realized that I had been so many places like this, groups of people living this alternative life, checking the other box. It's a spirit. If I don't want to go live on the commune, how can I feel this and be this? Always. I can be FREECITY."
Tell us about the current show.
"This year, it was Field Trip: Golden Light, Golden Boom. 'Field Trip' is your soul's adventure this time around, on this earth. 'The Golden Light, Golden Boom' are those sublime moments; it could be falling in love or seeing something in nature, who knows what it is. They are yours. The golden triangle is the snapshot and everything is built around it."
Where do you find ideas for the shows?
"It usually comes from an experience that I've had. Some things are ideas I had years ago. So, it's my life's work. It becomes FREECITY once we adopt the idea."
What is the advantage of being based in LA?
"What is great about FREECITY and being born in LA is that we live with celebrities and they got shot buying a coffee or walking their dog in FREECITY and it became something that the world saw. It had that tabloid exposure that you don't get in other places."
Why did you set up shop in Hollywood?
"I had a smaller store in Malibu and moved it to Hollywood because I wanted it to be in my neighborhood. I wanted people to see it that weren't just people of the super privileged."
What is your favorite FREECITY piece?
"I would say the simple FREECITY t-shirt because I'm nostalgic."
How did you come up with the brand's hand logo?
"The hand originated from the opening of the shop because we wanted something that was iconic to the store. It came from a generic stop sign, something very fundamental and very basic and we morph it and FREECITY-ize it."
What is your biggest challenge?
"I think it is what anyone with a retail store is dealing with, with the Internet it now, it is to get people to physically come. There is something in having an experience. It's challenging to give the way you want to give it."
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