Back to the basics: Life in the fashion industry

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As a parent company, DownEast attributes its success to continuing to innovate, including with the new launch of its sister apparel brand Lemon Ice, a boutique store located at the University Mall in Orem, Utah. (Photo courtesy of DownEast Outfitters.)
As a parent company, DownEast Basics attributes its success to continuing to innovate, including the new launch of its sister apparel brand Lemon Ice, a boutique store located at the University Mall in Orem. (Photo courtesy DownEast Outfitters)

Low-rise jeans and crop tops were growing increasingly more popular, so Charlie, Jonathan and Bill Freedman had the idea to start selling layering tees and camisoles, allowing women to enjoy modern trends while still maintaining modesty.

Founded in 1991, DownEast Basics has grown tremendously in the past two decades with more than 50 stores in seven states and a wide range of inventory, from dresses to scarves to furniture. While BYU is known for its great academics, dating scene and subsidized tuition, it also served as a major support in the creation of the company.

Bill Freedman, vice president and co-founder of Home Furnishings, commented on the role BYU has played in the success of the company.

“At BYU, the field was ripe and ready to harvest. We could not have chosen a better community and student population to germinate the business,” Bill Freedman said.

What started as a small business selling off-price clothing in the trunk of Jonathan Freedman’s car has now become a popular store for women and girls to find fashionable styles at an affordable price.

According to the three brothers, running a business is no easy feat.

“There’s not any downtime. You have to be able to handle stress when you own a company. It is stressful owning your own business,” said Charlie Freedman, vice president, general counsel and co-founder of DownEast Basics.

“It can’t be about making money. Making money is great, but it can’t be all about making money. You have to love the concept. You have to love the business,” Charlie Freedman said.

The Freedman brothers attribute a lot of their success to the help of their phenomenal team.

“If we can say that we’re smart about anything, it’s that we have known when to hire for positions where we’re not qualified,” said Jonathan Freedman, vice president of apparel and co-founder.

The current DownEast executive management team includes BYU graduates (left to right) Jonathan Freedman (1998), Klane Murphy (1990), Charlie Freedman (BA-1990, JD-1993), Bill Freedman (1992), Rich Israelsen (1994). (Photo courtesy of DownEast Outfitters.)
The current DownEast Basics executive management team includes BYU graduates (left to right) Jonathan Freedman (1998), Klane Murphy (1990), Charlie Freedman (BA 1990, JD 1993), Bill Freedman (1992), Rich Israelsen (1994). (Photo courtesy DownEast Outfitters)

The Freedman brothers recently hired a new designer to lead their design team. When they came across the résumé of fellow BYU grad Grant Leeds, they flew him to Salt Lake City for an interview.

“When we met Grant, it was really exciting for us. He had so much experience in design, and it became immediately apparent to us that he could be a tremendous addition to our design team,” Jonathan Freedman said. “We really wanted him to not only join the design team, but to lead it. He immediately fit into the company culture.”

The California native has come a long way since receiving his degree in fashion design from BYU. After a four month internship at BCBG in Los Angeles, Leeds moved up from intern to assistant designer. Following his time at BCBG, Leeds transferred to Dallas, where he worked as senior designer of the Worthington brand at JCPenney.

Leeds, like many BYU students, found a major he was passionate about. His advice to current students is to find what they love and pursue it.

“Do what you are excited about, and be passionate about it,” Leeds said. “I went with what I was passionate about and what I wanted to do every day for the rest of my life as opposed to what I should do every day for the rest of my life.”

When asked what a typical day is like in the fashion industry, each member of the design and leadership team answered a little differently.

Leeds said his days are busy and generally fast paced, but they allow him to release his creativity and look for ways to improve his work approach.

“My favorite thing about my career is the end result of seeing someone choose something that you’ve designed as a form of their personal self-expression,” Leeds said. “It’s knowing that you struck gold. You did it. I don’t think there’s any bigger payoff, in my opinion.”

For Bill Freedman, every day is about focus and constant engagement in the business.

Jonathan Freedman explained the thrill from starting a business with his brothers.

“We started from nothing,” Jonathan Freedman said. “We couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve built. It started out of the back of a car and quickly moved to BYU. It’s just so satisfying to see our company grow, not just in dollars and locations but looking at the members of our team. We’ve added key members to our team that have allowed us to expand our operation.”

In response to Jonathan’s comment, Charlie Freedman said, “It’s really fun to see your vision happen. It doesn’t necessarily have to happen the way you dreamed it up, but some elements of that dream come true. It’s important to keep dreaming. You can’t stop.”

DownEast Basics is now thriving with more than 50 locations, but it started as a dream shared among three brothers.

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