Inspired by herexperience with chronic pain syndrome, a Langley mother has created a clothing line that caters to women of all shapes and sizes.
Melanie Pederson is the founder of Free Reign, a web-based fashion retail store that sells ethical, Canadian-made clothing that she calls “true to size with a little bit of grace.”
Pederson will be a featured speaker and vendor at the 18th annual West Coast Women’s Show at the TRADEX Centre in Abbotsford that runs from Oct. 12 to Oct. 14.
This will be Pederson’s first time speaking in public about Free Reign and her battle with chronic pain.
Pederson started the company after she sustained multiple injuries in a 2014 car crash that led to widespread chronic pain syndrome and fibromyalgia.
Free Reign officially launched in 2016, but Pederson’s idea for her own business began two years earlier, when she was unable to return to her previous career in real estate because of her injuries.
“Even though my body wasn’t acting as successful as it used to be, my mind was essentially going stir-crazy. I was trying to find something to get into, and I came up with the idea of some form of online boutique. I wanted to be able to work from my bed when I was bedridden and also when I had bad insomnia from the pain.”
Pederson describes her line of clothing as, “thoughtful.”
“(I am) creating pieces that are about everyday women because we’re always changing. One day suddenly our pants don’t fit right, so I was really encompassing the fluctuations that the everyday woman struggles from as well as my own personal struggles with pain and how uncomfortable I was with my own wardrobe.”
Since her car accident, Pederson’s pain has surfaced with a variety of symptoms, including uncontrollable sweating, migraines and vertigo.
During her time off work, Pederson discovered bamboo fabric which she said is extremely soft and sweat-wicking, so she uses it in her current line.
She also rapidly gained weight due to medications she was taking and her inability to exercise. This inspired her to create styles that can still be worn despite body changes.
According to Pederson, all Free Reign clothing is eco-friendly, socially conscious and made in Canada. Pederson calls her styles “flattering” and “forgiving.”
“The different shapes and curves — or lack of — I wanted to come up with pieces to embrace all body types and create pieces that flatter a whole range of body types,” said Pederson.
Pederson said people with invisible illnesses such as chronic pain often face stigma.
She recalled going out for sushi and having to eat with her hands because it was too painful to use chopsticks.
“I could feel people all around me watching in disgust. I was definitely exposed with the stigmas of people who suffer invisible illnesses. I’ve had to use the grocery carry-out service. I’ve had cruel things said to me because I look ‘fine.’ I’ve had difficulty being able to push doors open.”
Pederson said early on she was embarrassed about displaying her pain in public.
“Part of me wanted to be apologetic, part of me wanted to scream out and give them my life story. It was something I was still trying to figure out and I was embarrassed. It’s something I’m definitely not apologetic or shy about anymore.”
Motivational mottos like ‘Kind people only,’ ‘You are worthy,’ and ‘Respect one another’ are written across many Free Reign shirts and sweaters.
Today, Pederson said she is better than before, but still experiences pain.
“I’ve definitely improved . . . I’m definitely nowhere near where I want to be or used to be, but I’m better than before. Part of it is knowing my triggers and what brings on flares.”
While her clothing line grows, Pederson’s three principles will stay the same: Look good, feel good, do good.
Pederson’s one-woman start-up has also grown. Langley’s Nikki Gertsch joined Pederson as a co-owner last June and Paige Lietzmann, also from Langley, has helped Pederson since the early days.
Pederson’s latest fall collection will be launched at the West Coast Women’s show.
Free Reign clothing is available online and in-store at The Local Space at 20226 Fraser Highway.