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Design Thinking: Friend + Folk

(Image courtesy of Friend+Folk)

In Graduate School, one of the buzzwords professors love to discuss is "Design Thinking." Design Thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding (Dam and Siang). Design Thinking enables a company to understand consumer needs to serve their audience better. For this project, I contacted different companies to learn how the organizations apply Design Thinking to their market offerings. I spoke with Friend+ Folk and learned more about the company.

(Image courtesy of Friend+Folk)

1. What makes friend + folk different from other brands on the market?

Unlike other brands, we place inclusion + equity at the forefront of our brand and mission. Friend + folk was designed with every body + every gender in mind. I find other brands make gender fluid + larger-bodied individuals feel like an afterthought. When shopping at f+f, all customers in the market for premium clothing, regardless of gender and size, receive equal effort, attention, + option.

Our brand is inclusive from the ground up. We see a lot of bigger brands trying to keep up with the progressing landscape to be inclusive when their blueprint is inherently exclusive. They're" trying to do a "genderless" or "extended size" collection — but the offerings are usually limited, and the changes tend to be superficial instead of systemic to their institution.

Our clothes are designed, cut, + sewn in downtown Los Angeles using 100% organic cotton. It's much harder and more expensive to do production domestically, especially with organic materials. Still, we believe supporting our local economies and reducing carbon emissions are a priority that differs from most brands on the market.

(Image courtesy of Friend+Folk)

2. How does friend + folk stay ahead of upcoming trends?

Our first collection came from a lot of what I liked, and I paid less attention to what would be trendy. One of our main brand colors — Walden — is showing up a lot this fall; we got lucky with that.

My designer and I looked at a lot of what was presented during last year's fashion week to make our best projections, but ultimately we have only released what we consider "staples" and find they only deviate so much.

(Image courtesy of Friend+Folk)

3. Where does friend + folk draw inspiration from during the design process?

I have a really talented designer in Jessica Fisher, and an amazing manufacturing partner, Bomme Studios. A lot of really seasoned people were able to help me come to decisions since it was my first collection. I used inspiration from the communities around me and my personal taste in what I thought could be done better in loungewear both aesthetically, functionally, and inclusively.

We used fit models of all genders + sizes in the development process and created two samples per style so that our vast size range would fit real bodies appropriately. It was vital that I listened to their input on the clothes and how they made them feel. I was inspired by and committed to being able to bring comfort and style to as many people as possible, regardless of size + gender.

Pop culture and growing up in the 2000s also inspired some of the specific styles we created. The Ace quarter zip is inspired by the character Logan Huntzberger in Gilmore girls and is a version of a style sweatshirt he wore so much. The Banks long sleeve crop t-shirt pays homage to Ashely banks of fresh prince of bel air, who was the original crop top queen. Every piece from the collection has a story that is comforting + nostalgic, and I'm really proud of that.

(Image courtesy of Friend+Folk)

4. How does friend + folk incorporate its mission and vision into its product offerings?

Our shopping experience is incredibly inclusive. Products aren't assigned a gender, and all sizes are available on the main product page. We don't believe there is a "standard size" a body should be, so we make a size range to suit a variety of bodies. We know anatomy doesn't always dictate identity, and for some, gender can be fluid. We don't gender our pieces because our firm stance is that all of our styles are for whoever wants to wear them.

Representation is incredibly important to us. I grew up desperate to see someone who looked like me in a magazine or on a shopping site. In all of our marketing and product shoots, we included models of different races, sizes, + abilities. I want every individual to be able to come and see some part of themselves represented in our community. We also give forward 30% of our profits going to our non-profit foster + fund. Foster + fund provides grants and mentorship to systemically marginalized business owners + aspiring entrepreneurs who typically wouldn't have access to funding. This is the way our small business can do its part to help close the wealth gap in this country.

(Image courtesy of Friend+Folk)

5. What is the future of the company?

Hopefully, friend + folk sets a precedent of inclusion + equity from the ground up, and it becomes a model that is adopted everywhere. I would love to keep creating clothes that make everyone feel comfortable + confident regardless of their identity and size. I hope that our bigger contribution to the world can be to show that inclusion, production integrity, + giving forward can be profitable. I would love for bigger businesses to look at us as an example and be incentivized to be guided by their values and not just their margins.

I want to expand our products to include more clothing styles and maybe lifestyle + household items. We have hopes of creating a curated system so people can shop by fit and have a more personalized experience. As a self-funded small business, we are really at the mercy of our customers to keep us going and to allow us to be the societal change we want to see.

(Image courtesy of Friend+Folk)

Me on my first day of graduate school

Rachel Huss

Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my blog! Please reach out if you have any ideas for content, partnerships, and more!

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