Every business has to start somewhere. For Eric Olek’s hip hop-inspired clothing label, Friday Knights, that start came while the Red River College grad was selling T-shirts out of the trunk of his car.
“It was really messy,” says Olek of his company’s hard-knock beginnings in the spring of 2011. “I didn’t have any organization or accounting skills or anything like that. I look back on my social media feeds and I cringe at some of my marketing efforts. I was a rookie.”
Thankfully, there’s an RRC program for that. In September of the same year, Olek closed his trunk and opened the doors to the College’s Business Administration program so he could put his company on the right path. As challenging as the two-year experience was, it would be prove to be less rocky than the routes he’d taken in his younger years.
“I was kind of troubled in my early 20s, and I just had a big wake-up call and I wanted to do something positive with my life,” says Olek, now 26. “I really knew I needed to turn it around so I put my head down and focused on my education, and trying to start the business.”
Hip-hop music and style had always been a big part of Olek’s life, but designers just weren’t making clothes that he liked. He figured he wasn’t alone, so why not just make them himself?
Creating the clothing came naturally, as did the name for the company – which he thought of while mopping floors at a local convenience store on Friday nights, wishing he were out pursuing his passion instead. But clearly there was much more to running a business than that.
Going into Business Administration, Olek already knew what he wanted to do; he just needed the tools to do it properly.
“When you go to college, you’re doing things because you want to do them – you’re not doing them because the next guy in high school is doing them or because you’re worried about what your peers are going to think,” says Olek, who juggled both Friday Knights and his full-time convenience store job while going to RRC. “You really fall into your own and you learn about the type of person that you are.”
That he did. Along with business fundamentals such as marketing, accounting and networking, Olek learned how successful he could be when he stopped worrying about conforming to social pressures. He came into his own by adopting his own personal style, interacting with others in a group setting – and getting over his fear of public speaking.
“By the time I got out of Red River, I could give a 30-minute speech to 200 people,” laughs Olek, who still keeps in touch with a couple of his instructors. “(The program) articulated me and it showed me that I was smarter than I thought I was.”
The company’s latest collection of graphic tees – eight designs that feature tongue-in-cheek logos parodying five of Olek’s favourite streetwear companies – was an instant hit, as was a new line of long-cut shirts that caught the eye of buyers at Canadian clothing chain Below the Belt. The latter items were released this week, and are being sold in 15 locations in 11 cities across the country.
“Sometimes you make that right design and you strike gold and everybody wants it,” says Olek.
Friday Knights, in collaboration with the Downtown Biz, has also recently opened a unique storefront called the Downtown Urban Lab. Olek and his crew will be at the Portage Avenue shop until September, holding public events (like a recent live painting pop-up with local sensation Kal Barteski, herself an RRC grad) and of course, selling clothes.
Beyond that, Olek’s short-term goals for Friday Knights include tightening up the manufacturing process and growing online sales – simple “housekeeping stuff,” as he calls it.
“I want to make sure that I’m running a tight ship, and continuing to learn about the industry and how to be very efficient in my work.”
Olek admits his long-term plan “changes every day,” but it’s safe to say trunk sales are a thing of the past for this RRC alum.
“I want Friday Knights to be one of those names like the ones that I parodied – that everybody looks at and knows.”
Profile by Lindsey Ward (Creative Communications, 2004)