See how the Charleston-based company is expanding
The fall collection includes 50 pieces, such as a men’s fleece vest.
This fall, Free Fly Apparel customers around the country are slipping into new bamboo fleece joggers. They’re walking dogs, grabbing coffee, and working from home, blissfully unaware that the laidback basic was far from a breeze to bring to market.
It took two years to develop the bamboo fleece blend alone, “and pants in general are hard to perfect,” notes Tanner Sutton, who owns the local activewear company with his sister and brother-in-law, Jenna and Austin Elliot. “Our product team went through at least a dozen prototypes of the joggers to achieve the right balance between comfort, stretch, and versatility.”
Each of Free Fly’s styles evolve from a similarly intense design process led by Jenna and Austin, Nike marketing department veterans, and senior product developer Whitney Goltz, formerly of The North Face. This season’s headliners include a fleece vest for men and cardigan for women, as well as waffle-knit hoodies and brand staples such as the “Nomad Pants” and “Midweight Long Sleeve” in fresh hues.
(Left) The activewear company launched with a shirt designed for fishing; (Right) The Charleston-based company was founded by Austin and Jenna Elliot and Jenna’s brother, Tanner Sutton (right).
The lineup of 50-some pieces is a far cry from the single performance shirt Free Fly debuted in 2011. Sutton initially set out to create the kind of garment he wished for during his days as a fishing guide out West. Advised by Jenna and Austin, he’d settled on bamboo for its quick-drying, lightweight, odor-resistant, and moisture-wicking attributes. Most of the company’s fabric blends are still made primarily from the sustainable material; Free Fly sources it from Asia, where their goods are manufactured, too.
The line has been a hit, both at freeflyapparel.com and in 450 specialty retailers around the country. By the end of this year, Free Fly hopes to complete an expansion now underway on its Meeting Street office building to better accommodate its team of 22 and growing.
“We’re working on showing that we’re more than a coastal, sitting on-the-front-of-a-skiff brand.” —Tanner Sutton
What else is next? “We’re working on showing that we’re more than a coastal, sitting-on-the-front-of-a-skiff brand,” notes Sutton. Ambassadors—outdoor guides, chefs, photographers, and entrepreneurs living from South Carolina to Texas to Alaska—help spread that message via social media, giving followers a look into their adventures along the way. “We do a lot of business nationwide, and we want our imaging to reflect that,” Sutton explains. “But our home will always be in Charleston.”
By the Numbers - How Free Fly Apparel is expanding: