Fred Foster is the 31-year-old creative director behind chart-topping rapper Future's Freebandz clothing line. More recently he spearheaded the creation of the "Future Hive" pop-up in New York City, a collaborative project between himself and curated retail community Fancy.com. Situated on Wooster Street, the completely shoppable space featured specially commissioned art pieces with a percentage of sales donated to Future's charity, as well as collaborations with John Varvatos, Moreca, GLD and more.
Pieces from Cease and Desist, Foster's personal brand which started as a passion project and turned into a full-time commitment, were also on offer. Despite Future having appeared in the brand many times over the for years, and Foster's reputation for customizing clothing for artists ranging from Mike WiLL Made-It to Miley Cyrus, he still operates largely under the radar. We caught up with the designer at the Future Hive pop-up to chat about anonymity in the age of social media, and what it takes to build a personal brand while overseeing someone else's.
Did you start out in fashion? If not, what's your background?
I was working a corporate job for years and it always felt restrictive, it felt like I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing. I was at work but my soul wasn’t there, my body was there but I wasn’t connecting to what I was doing. Eventually I decided to get out of there and do something I believe in. When I left I was given a severance package of around $10,000, so I decided to use the money to start a business. I was designing T-shirts at the time so I just kept designing and selling them. I pretty much had to live off of $10,000 for a year while I tried to put everything together. It was a real struggle to work for myself, but even though I wasn’t making a lot of money I was enjoying what I was doing.
Even when I was just designing T-shirts people really gravitated to them. At the time they were graphic tees, straight streetwear stuff. I didn’t go to school for fashion, I didn’t have anybody to teach me anything about fashion - that’s all I knew how to do, graphic design. Since I was making T-shirts and people liked them I figured, why not try more stuff?
After that I started designing and getting into cutting and sewing, I also started learning how to do patterns and tech packs. From there I transitioned from challenging myself to make T-shirts to starting to make custom pieces for celebrities. I also started doing custom jackets for artists and then that transitioned into starting a brand and that transitioned into partnering with people like Future. It was all just me challenging myself and finding my calling without really knowing I was searching for it.
How did you learn the design process with no fashion background?
I'm based in Atlanta so there weren't a lot of people to talk to about fashion because no one was really doing it on the scale that I wanted to do it. I had to do a lot of research on my own. I also booked trips to China and went to fabric and textile factories. I was on some Frank Lucas shit, like, "I’m just going to go out there [China] and meet the plug." So I did that and also went to tradeshows to find resources.
Starting out is very difficult if you don’t have a clientele. If you don’t have customers to sell to, you can’t commit to anything with textile factories or manufacturing factories because you don’t know if you’ll be able to sell the quantities they’re asking you to fill.
Is that why you chose to start on a custom scale?
Exactly. I started out doing everything on a custom scale and when that started paying the bills I started making more pieces. I also worked with a couple of stylists before I started working with Future. From there we [Future and him] built a bond and I started making stuff for Future's tours. I’ve been working with him since Pluto 3D, even before I started really pushing Cease and Desist.
Was Future your first big celebrity client?
Future was definitely one of the first. I also did stuff for Mike WiLL Made-It and Miley [Cyrus]. I started working with Mike WiLL first and then Mike WiLL had me do stuff for Miley when they were doing Bangerz.
I think I realized we might have something special when Beyonce wore one of my pieces. It wasn’t a custom piece it was just one of the pieces in my collection, but still, that was the moment I was like, "wow, we are on to something." Another thing that led me to believe I had something special was how quickly Cease and Desist was grabbed up when I first put out the brand. Somebody once told me if you’re doing what you’re supposed to you don’t have to force it. I've never forced anything with Cease.
Your brand is pretty well known but not a lot of people know you're behind it. Do you want it to stay that way?
I want to be recognized but I don’t seek it out. I believe that if you work hard enough and do things the right way recognition will come. That’s why a lot of people still don’t know who I am, because I'm still working. I think even though people haven’t heard of me I’ve still been able to have some kind of influence in my own way. The first piece I made for Cease and Desist was a bandana shirt called the “Extendo Shirt." We basically took a T-shirt, extended it with a bandana, put zippers on the side and added our logo.
It was our first piece and it was mostly just a test to see if people would like it. My partner and I decided to send it out to a few stores, and a few of them picked it up and sold it. We really only sold on a pre-sale basis too, so if they picked it up that's when we actually made the orders. It started out super small with only like four stores carrying it: Dope in LA was one of the first stores to ever support us, and Wish in ATL, too.
Anyway, when we shipped the shirts out they were sold out in the stores almost immediately, we couldn't believe it. After that we started getting emails from stores and customers who wanted the shirt, we ended up selling thousands of them. The shirts even ended up being bootlegged by other brands that sold in like Macy's, Footaction, and random places literally all over the world.
To this day if you Google, "Cease and Desist," that shirt comes up and most of them are fake. It was weird because we kind of set a trend without meaning to. People were walking around with extended T-shirts and calling them "extendo" because we called it that but no one knew where it originated. Chris Brown was on the BET Awards that year and all his dancers wore those shirts, Justin Bieber wore one too, everybody was wearing it but nobody really knew who made it. To this day when I meet people they think Cease and Desist is a foreign brand.
How did you go from working on custom pieces for Future to being trusted to create a space like the Future Hive pop up?
The thing that’s great about Future is that he’s not what people think he is. He’s a really laid-back, down-to-earth guy. So when we first started working together he was interested in getting to know who I was as a person. Even though I made clothes for him he always wanted me to hang out; he does that with everybody. So we hung out a lot, I traveled with him to a lot of different places, and he would pick my brain and ask me a lot of questions.
I think the creative director position came about because I never asked him for anything. Even though he knew I was always doing my own thing with Cease and Desist, I still came when he called, you know? He needed something and I’d make it. At the same time I never was like, "you need to shout me out on Instagram or you need to do this." I just worked on my own and built my brand, eventually he saw more people wearing it and he saw my work paying off.
One day he was just like, "yo you never talk to me about all the stuff you have going on." So yeah, he saw my work ethic before anything else and he also liked my designs. The thing is you can be a great designer but you can also be lazy or not understand the other person’s preferences or be more concerned about being a star than being good at what you do. So I think he just understood I wasn’t that kind of person.
Eventually he just told me, "I know you have a vision so I’ll trust you with this." It’s a unique situation because I am given the creative control but at the same time I’m cognizant of the fact that he’s [Future] is very picky. We have a good relationship so that really helps me to know what he does and doesn’t like. I never lose sight of the fact that when I’m doing a project like Future Hive it’s about him, not me. Everything I do needs to match his brand as opposed to when I do Cease and Desist.
A number of high-end collaborations are part of the pop up. With the exception of Justin Bieber's Fear of God tour merch, we haven’t seen a lot of luxury reaching merch concepts. What made you want to go in that direction?
The good thing about working with Future is that he's malleable in a fashion sense. He’s high fashion but then he’s wearing BAPE and all of the popular streetwear. He embodies both sides of things, so doing a pop-up shop like Future Hive I wanted to get the high-end part of it and the streetwear part of it. I wanted to encompass all of that because all of that is him.
For a brand like John Varvatos, working with us is branching out a little because they don’t normally work with an artist like Future. Yet because Future is kind of seen as a fashion rapper he can pull off those looks and suddenly it's not a stretch to have Varvatos in his pop-up shop. I also wanted to make sure we had brands that complemented his style but were still unique enough to reflect who Future is.
You also design for Freebandz, Future’s line. How is that different than working on Cease and Desist?
Cease and Desist is luxury streetwear. I really don’t want to call it streetwear anymore but I also don’t want to lose that mentality because I want to represent the culture. I want to represent the street, not in a negative sense, but in the sense that when I was growing up, that’s what I grew up on. I wasn’t able to afford high-end brands or any of that, so I grew up on streetwear.
So it’s luxury streetwear but I try to push the envelope on what the so-called “urban aesthetic” is. I want to take it a little bit further with Cease and Desist so I’m a little more experimental with my collections. Even still, I always try to reinvent classic pieces or silhouettes by adding a little twist that makes it unique to us.
Freebandz, on the other hand, is a representation of Future, so we want to give Future’s fans pieces they feel he would wear. We want them to feel like they don’t have to be the guy who’s adventurous with fashion to wear the pieces; it’s for the guy who wants to be comfortable. So we have a lot of sweatpants and hoodies because that’s what Future wears on his off days when he’s chilling.
He also loves bomber jackets and leather jackets, so we wanted to make stuff like that to reflect his style. At the same time, we want it to live on its own so we wanted to make sure the quality and design were good enough to stand on their own.
What do you think this new, more fashion conscious approach to tour merch means for artists and consumers?
I think it could go either way. It really depends on the artist and whether they are respecting the customer rather than just abusing their fanbase. With us, I wanted to give people an experience. I wanted them to get their money’s worth. I don’t just want to put a price tag on pieces because I can. I don’t want put a price tag on pieces that are unreasonable either. Just because people might buy it doesn’t mean you won’t alienate fans eventually.