How Canadian fashion label Smash + Tess created an "everywear" empire one romper at a time

Aug 23 2021, 7:00 am

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Smash + Tess has just turned five years old. Not only has the Vancouver-based company become a household name with its comfortable and stylish rompers during that time, but it’s also given back to the community in the process.

For Earth Day this spring, Smash + Tess made limited edition rompers in collaboration with the Central Westcoast Forest Society and raised $8,000 to go towards the non-profit on Vancouver Island, which is working towards wild fish conservation through restoring habitat and research.

During the pandemic, the company’s three female owners have seen the company raise $20,000 for the World Health Organization through a virtual slumber party, scrub caps made out of fabric wastage donated to hospital workers across Canada, and a collaboration with Hilary Duff (which sold out online in an hour)!

 

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Before launching the company, co-founder Ashley Freeborn had a goal every year with her mother, Teresa: to find the perfect pair of Christmas pyjamas. Fast forward a few years later: that goal landed Freeborn her “dream” career with Smash + Tess.

Speaking with Daily Hive, Freeborn said she taught English and musical theatre for 10 years. She loved it, but there was a part of her wanting to do something different.

Thinking about her love for finding that perfect sleepwear with her mom, Freeborn decided in 2014 to pack her bags for the United Kingdom to pursue that dream.

 

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“I decided to go to the Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design to do their summer crash course in business, fashion and merchandising, and marketing,” Freeborn said.

“I learned really quickly, because you’re exposed to all these different areas, which was very overwhelming, but it was also so great to just dabble in the different areas to see what really did spark you — where you felt that fit, and for me, it was always the entrepreneurial side that really interested me,” Freeborn said.

“It was there really that Smash + Tess became a real thing, where I started to create a business plan,” she said.

Freeborn said she and her mom co-founded the fashion company. “It was just something we had this mutual love for … It was what we couldn’t find that really inspired us to create that niche that we felt was missing,” which was clothing that felt “chic and effortless, but that every woman could wear.”

As for the name, “‘Smash’ was my nickname growing up and ‘Tess’ is Victorian for Teresa, my mom’s name. We also wanted a name that celebrated the strength and femininity of the brand.”

Freeborn’s best friend Mercedes Laporte joined the company, and it took a couple of years to get the label up and running.

“We really were looking at more of a feminine vintage vibe, and then very quickly we did our first romper,” she said. “It really took off like wildfire. And it turns out women really love their onesies!”

Photo courtesy Ashley Freeborn

“We pivoted really, really fast and went from being something that was a little more pjs and loungewear-inspired to what we now call ‘everywear,’ so we’re not loungewear, we’re not athleisure wear. We consider ourselves ‘everywear’ for every woman for every occasion every day.”

Freeborn credits her tenacity for getting her to where she is today. “It’s literally about putting one foot in front of another, and not giving up, and not taking ‘no’ for an answer,” adding it was “one hurdle after another” when she started the label, and “there’s no one answer.”

“I’m a pretty determined person, so I usually keep at it,” Freeborn said. “There were certainly many times in the beginning where I thought ‘is this worth it?’ I was working full-time [and] starting Smash + Tess on the side. It was a lot. And I’m really glad that I didn’t give up, and I think a lot of entrepreneurs, especially in fashion, think it can be demoralizing and really difficult, and I think everyone needs to stick with it.”

That commitment has paid off for Freeborn. Smash + Tess has been featured in publications such as Forbes, Vogue, and Glamour, to name a few, and has been worn by celebrities including Jenna Dewan, Jillian Harris, and Alessandra Ambrosio.

Freeborn said seeing her pieces being worn by celebrities and featured in popular magazines is very exciting. “These people get a million things thrown their way every day, but I think the most exciting part is when you see how many women in your community are wearing it and sharing it and talking about it.”

“[We’re] helping women feel comfortable in their own skin and beautiful in every shape and size, so that’s really the part that fuels me,” she said.

“We believe that there’s so many more people that need to be part of our community of women supporting and uplifting other women,” Freeborn said.

 

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Michelle MortonMichelle Morton

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