Free Country has had one singular purpose since it was founded more than 30 years ago — to make outerwear for the outdoors at an approachable price point. Today the New York-based brand launches its largest marketing campaign ever to drive that message home.
The campaign, which has the tag line “Outside is Ours,” was shot in the Pacific Northwest and includes both print and video assets that will run in Outside magazine as well as on on-demand television channels including Hulu, Roku and Apple TV and on social media.
“From 1990 to 2000, it was all about active,” said Ira Schwartz, Free Country’s founder and chief executive officer. “Then from 2001 to 2015, it was about athleisure. But athleisure is now morphing into ‘outside’.”
The trend was sparked by the pandemic, which drew stir-crazy consumers out of lockdown in their homes to the relative safety of the great outdoors. But the price points of the technical apparel they needed to be comfortable in the elements was beyond the reach of many people.
Enter Free Country, which seeks to provide many of the same bells and whistles as popular high-priced brands but at a more-accessible price. Free Country’s outerwear, which still represents more than 60 percent of its overall business, averages $100 at retail and its highest priced product retails for just over $200.
While the price points are markedly different, Free Country still seeks to offer trend-right pieces that are functional and versatile as well as sustainable. About one and a half years ago, it created Free Cycle, a proprietary synthetic fill made with Repreve, which is created from recycled plastic bottles. So far, 12 million bottles have been saved from going into landfills, and now all of the company’s fill jackets use the same materials. For fall, the company is introducing the Free Cycle Puffer, which boasts a fully recycled shell as well. Even so, the price points remain reasonable, with the men’s puffer retailing for $120.
Schwartz said the “Outside is Ours” campaign has been in development for more than a year and is targeted to anyone wanting to be outdoors.
“It’s not a trend, it’s more of a movement,” said Ronna Wolf, vice president of merchandising.
In addition, Free Country just completed an upgrade of its web site where it will go beyond simply selling product to adding content about health and wellness such as recipes for the best granola, Schwartz said.
“We want to be an educator of the lifestyle,” he said.
Free Country’s direct-to-consumer business currently represents about 10 percent of overall sales, but Schwartz is hoping to increase that number in the future. Opening retail stores is also in the cards. So far the brand has tip-toed into brick-and-mortar with a few pop-ups, which Schwartz said have been successful.
For now, its products are available at mid-tier department stores, outdoor and farm stores including J.C. Penney, Nordstrom Rack, Bass Pro Shops, Academy Sports and others. It is also establishing a business with Lowe’s, the home improvement chain, that has begun selling fashion apparel from Free Country alongside workwear brands such as DeWalt and Milwaukee. “It’s a test business, but it’s doing well,” Schwartz said.
“The lines in retailing are blurring,” said Jody Schwartz, president and Ira Schwartz’s wife.
In addition to outerwear, Free Country, which started as a men’s skiwear brand, has expanded into a number of other categories over the years. It now offers women’s and children’s outerwear, activewear, base layers, footwear, eyewear, cold-weather accessories, socks and swimwear. Most is produced in-house, but there are 12 licensed categories.
The company was founded in 1990 by Ira Schwartz, who grew up in the fashion business, cutting his teeth at the family’s retail chain Fur Vault Inc. His uncle was Fred the Furrier and his brother is Andrew Marc of the leather goods brand.