Exchanging Words with Friday Knights

Exchanging Words is an ongoing series of conversations with the people behind the places in the Exchange District. If you would like to be featured, please email with “Exchanging Words” in the subject line.

Every good idea starts with a bit of inspiration. For Eric Olek, that inspiration came from a love of ‘90s East Coast hip hop and the streetwear movement it helped to create. After a string of pop-up shops and a few treks around the city in his mobile clothing truck (dubbed the Nomad), Olek’s clothing line, Friday Knights, recently set up a permanent shop in the Exchange District at 223 McDermot Avenue.

“It stemmed from a passion of mine, I always liked hip hop,” Olek says. “To start, it was a way to contribute to the hip hop community without actually being a rapper. As it progressed, it was like, ‘I can make a go at this’.”

Olek spent two years attending business school at Red River College, which, in addition to putting him “through the ringer”, taught him about networking, writing business plans, public speaking, marketing, and more.

“I felt it was more of my speed, more practical than going to university,” he says. “I wanted knowledge, I didn’t want a degree.”

Friday Knights 2What followed was three years of, as Olek describes it, “fingers to the bone go go go,” which involved designing hats, shirts, pants, shorts and more. This September, Friday Knights will unveil its Autumn 2017  collection, featuring a collaboration with Tough Duck, a company he calls “the Canadian Carhartt”.

“(The collection is) heavily influenced from East Coast rap in the ‘90s, where streetwear was going through a massive growth period,” Olek says. “Guys like Wu-Tang Clan and Nas started pairing workwear pieces with sportswear pieces, inadvertently creating streetstyle. They’re throwing on Timberland boots and Carhartt jackets with their Starter hats and Champion hoodies, and that’s what created that really rugged East Coast look, that’s the complete inspiration for the next line.”

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That ‘90s look is back in more ways than one, and Friday Knights is also quickly turning into a shop which people can even pick up classic kicks from Nike through consignment. The audience for these shoes seems to be one that missed the boat on most of these styles the first time around.

“I’ve got 14, 15 year old kids in here wearing Champion hoodies,” he says. “There’s more and more thrift accounts I’m seeing on Instagram everyday, they’re selling Starter and Supreme and all these brands that have been around since I was a kid. For me, you stick to the classics and it will always be cool, but there’s some stuff that does experience a revival  every few years or so.”

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That vintage style is one that fits perfectly in the historic Exchange, a neighbourhood Olek says he’s been excited to be a part of since his time at Red River College.

“I got to watch the neighbourhood grow for two years, and back in 2011 it wasn’t as booming as it is right now,” he says. “I gained an appreciation and love for the neighbourhood and started spending more of my leisure time here.”

After checking out a few spaces for a possible summer pop-up shop in the Exchange, Olek had given up hope when all he could find were studios (which aren’t ideal for foot traffic). Thankfully, he received a call from his friend Lennard Taylor, another local designer who was moving out of his space for a larger one down the street.

“He wanted to give this space to someone who could grow here,”says Olek, who signed a two-year lease. “It was scary at first because this limits me to Winnipeg right now, but I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

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