Cover Frederieke van Doorn, founder and director of Frey

The founder and director of women’s tailoring brand Frey on the importance of tailoring for women, becoming an entrepreneur and bringing comfort as well as sophistication to women's business wear

After almost two decades in men’s tailoring, Frederieke van Doorn decided she wanted to offer women what men have for centuries enjoyed—the comfort and style of tailored suits and jackets.

“I love to wear jackets. I love how they are made. I think it’s one of the most difficult products there is. And I realised more and more that [women] don’t have that kind of product,” says van Doorn. “Of course, we can buy jackets and we can have suits. But they are not made in the same way. For men, they are all about comfort. It’s about how does it fit; how does it feel? For women, for me, I go [to a shop] and I put on a jacket and I feel blocked; I feel locked. I put on a jacket and it’s not comfortable here; it’s not comfortable there. Yet we put it on and we walk away with it.”

Van Doorn wanted an alternative solution. “In Hong Kong there are so many women in high positions who are required to wear business clothes like jackets and suits. But they are not happy with their choices,” she says. Most upsetting for van Doorn was the revelation that many of the women she spoke to had their work clothes and then their fun clothes. “This is so sad. You wear [your work clothes] for 60 or 70 hours a week and you don’t even like them. So, I thought I had to do something and put my knowledge from men’s tailoring into women’s tailoring.”

It was 2020 and the global pandemic was in full swing when van Doorn started working with designer Yulia Tlili on the first collection for the brand that would become Frey. “A lot of people got pregnant [during the pandemic]. This is my baby,” says van Doorn.

In 2021, the first Frey store opened on Ice House Street in Hong Kong’s Central district. Van Doorn was convinced of the importance of having a physical space, despite many new fashion brands going straight to online. “You need to feel it. You need to touch it,” she says of her product. “It’s not really an online thing. It will be, but first I need to establish it. You need to feel this and try it. It’s not just any other jacket.”  

This month van Doorn is due to open the second Frey store in K11 Musea in Tsim Sha Tsui, and is also considering the US as her next market, though mainland China is also a goal.

Frey’s products channel the ethos of men’s tailoring and are made in the same way. When it comes to crafting jackets, there are three options: fused, half canvas and full canvas. Fused is normally find off the rack and is where the fabric in the jacket is glued together. “That gives you no movement,” says van Doorn, whose products, both ready-to-wear and customised are half canvas, which means they are partly fused, but not all fused, allowing for a better fit and greater sense of movement.

We are in the flagship Frey store and van Doorn stands up and heads over to one side of the shop and picks up a jacket from the current collection. We feel the lapel where you can discern the small stitches and a looseness to the fabric. There’s a lightness and a roundness to it.” It’s round, like our body is, not flat,” she says, referring to what happens with fused tailoring that lends a garment sharper edges. Frey’s fabrics are also all natural, made for example from pure wool, which again lends an inherent lightness and comfort to the items.

At Frey, full canvas is also an option, which offers the best in fit and movement, though it’s more difficult to make and therefore more expensive, and for most, van Doorn finds that half canvas will suffice.

Frey has hit on a gap in the market. While a lot of brands offer a couple of jackets and perhaps a suit or two, there are few that focus on tailoring and offer a full collection that is customisable according to a customer’s needs and wants. Here, van Doorn shares more about her journey into entrepreneurship and what she hopes to achieve with Frey.

Describe Frey and the Frey customer

We try to serve all women. We have our basics, but we are also throwing in a little bit of the fun stuff. We have some fashionable prints, some fashionable colours. It’s it’s round, it’s feminine. It’s still powerful. We want everything to feel soft too. It needs to feel good.

Our customers are diverse. We also offer a broad size range and have the option to create your own. So our customer is really just women. I focus on women who would like to dress for business, who would like to dress up, who love jackets.

How does your work empower women?

We all know that if you have a presentation or need to make a deal and you’re wearing something uncomfortable versus wearing something comfortable, it’s a completely different story. If you stand up in front of people and you have movement, it feels different. The biggest compliment I got from a friend is that she comes home at night and doesn’t event take off her Frey clothes. She says she would normally put on something more comfortable but with Frey she doesn't need to. She keeps her jacket on in the evening.

How have you found becoming an entrepreneur?

I’m learning a lot. Retail is not completely new to me, but marketing is, as is finance. I’m trying. But that’s also the beauty of Hong Kong—there are so many people who are willing to help. The network is amazing.

What does work-life balance mean to you?

I think as a woman you never have the balance right. I get up very early to exercise before I bring my kids to school. I’m making the effort to do everything—you just need to fit it all in.

Do you have any advice for your younger self?

Don’t take everything so seriously. I’m a perfectionist, but it doesn’t all have to be perfect.

What do you find most rewarding about what you do?

The people who say thank you for doing this. There are women here who say they could never buy nice clothes. And they have big jobs and good salaries; they want to spend. We use an app where we take two pictures and we can make the whole suit, no measurements required. So they always start with one jacket or one suit. And everything fits, it’s nice, it’s made to measure. And they come back again and again.

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