Try and remember back to the world pre-Instagram, pre-Off-White, pre-high-fashion collaborating with streetwear, and when Tumblr was the “IT” fashion social media app. Streetwear and fashion were a very different landscape than today, but one brand was ahead of its time and helped usher in what streetwear is today. This brand is Freshiam, helmed by Tunde Ogunnoiki.
For most, this might be the first time hearing about this brand, but more than likely, you’ve seen their pieces and their influence. Started almost 12 years ago in a small apartment in Atlanta, Tunde wanted to make high-concept pieces in a streetwear context. He pulled inspiration from his childhood growing up in Nigeria, being around his grandmother’s bridal shop, his mother’s luxury boutique, and his mentor, Dosa Kim, while apprenticing to become a fine artist to create Freshiams base aesthetic. One thing Tunde never imagined was being copied or bootlegged. He thought this was reserved for luxury brands, but he was in for a rude awakening.
The first piece bootlegged was the “FUKK” hat from the first collection, “STATE.OF.MIND.” The collection was a set of 10 hats including; “FRSH”, “NOPE”, “GONE”, “SAVE”, “MAD”, “+F.I.A+”, “CVL”, “FUKK”, ‘3rd EYE graphic’, and “EVOL” to go against the then-current state of fashion headwear. Each letter is cut from a treated bamboo fleece and sewn to the front of each hat with a typeface Tunde created. Each hat was meant to reflect the state of mind the wearer wanted to project.
The “FUKK” hat was the most sought-after “fashion snapback hat,” just after the famous Don C leather brim strap-back hats of popular sports teams. It also didn’t help that Rihanna became a huge supporter of the brand, wearing the hat courtside at Lebron James’s last game with the Miami Heat and following them on Instagram. As the orders started to flow, Tunde could barely keep up with fulfillment given that each hat was made by hand in their Atlanta based design studio.
At first, it seemed like some people were just making their own “FUKK” hats at mall kiosks, but over time, Tunde quickly realized this was a full-fledged operation that started making whole collections using not just the “FUKK” designs but other designs from his collection.
For Tunde, it hurt when people started tagging him and Freshiam on Instagram, thinking they were wearing their pieces just to find out they were fake. Tunde was upset that this was happening but even more devastated when large Italian fashion stores were selling copied FUKK hats and tees.
The counterfeit market is set to make trillions this year and continue growing. Many brands get reproduced or bootlegged, but very few are consistently bootlegged and copied like a brand the size of Freshiam. Whereas bootleggers might take one thing and change something here and there, the bootleggers that copy Freshiam use everything with no changes whatsoever, similar to other popular brands.
Many online shopping platforms allow the counterfeit market to flourish. A quick search on them will bring up blatant copies of the brand. It’s now so bad that these companies are now flagrantly selling Freshiam’s signature designs as white label to other brands.
Tunde was stuck—sending cease and desist letters is not cheap, and suing people costs money. As a budding brand, it felt hopeless. The following season, Tunde noticed many top Streetwear and fashion brands created a similar style of hats that he previously had. A similar sentiment Virgil Abloh made in a Vice Magazine interview about Off-White being bootlegged and copied. Tunde decided to continue to create and push forward but also fight back, using unique production techniques, and adding small details to each garment that only a seasoned buyer would recognize.
Tunde hasn’t let any of this slow him down, and he’s not looking for pity or sympathy. Instead, he states that his ultimate dream is to stay focused on the larger goal of building a fashion label that he could one day leave to his family.
Today the brand is still pushing the boundaries of what streetwear can be. Tunde has started a sub-line under Freshiam called Art Club. He explains it as the research and development department for the brand and an outlet to create the most exciting ideas using upcycled garments from collection samples, past collections, and future silhouettes. The main line is also still pushing the boundaries on what Streetwear can be through the pieces and silhouettes in Freshiam’s latest collection of denim flares and balaclava beanies, which, you guessed it, are also getting bootlegged.
Fortunately, not all hope is lost to get your hands on your favorite Freshiam piece. You can find authentic Freshiam pieces today at Freshiam.net and select boutiques worldwide — H. Lorenzo in Los Angeles, Moda 404 in Atlanta, and Nubian Tokyo in Japan.