Co-owners Nikki Gertsch + Melanie Pederson.
FREE REIGN was founded in November 2016 by Melanie Pederson. Nikki Gertsch joined the team in June 2018.
MELANIE PEDERSON, Founder
FREE REIGN didn't start because of any one thing, but it all came together after a multitude of perfect storms.
Hi - I'm Melanie, the Founder + Designer of FREE REIGN. I have been battling widespread chronic pain syndrome from several injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident in 2014. It just so happened to have occurred 9 days following the birth of my son. The journey that followed both physically and emotionally had at times taken me to some dark, lonely + harrowing places.
In the early days, the pain I experienced was like my body was burning, sometimes dull nagging pains + other times there were stabbing like pains in addition to so many more symptoms. I found great discomfort from a lot of the clothes I wore as the fabrics would irritate the pain I felt despite the fact it was happening under my skin. I eventually went on a search for the softest fabrics I could find so that I could feel some comfort.
And as the pain went on, so did my experience with profuse sweating. When my body felt pain, which was nearly all the time, I'd start sweating. I remember nights when I'd wake up from the little sleep I managed to get, just absolutely drenched in sweat. Drenched to the point where I had to change my clothes, the sheets + my hair could've been mistaken for being freshly washed...except it wasn't fresh... I started to research + see if there were any fabrics out there that were great for things like sweating - I discovered bamboo + all of its properties. I found out that it naturally whisked away moisture, was antibacterial + antimicrobial which would help to keep me drier + wouldn't harbour any odour. Plus it was an eco-friendly fabric. That find was a huge win for me!
As this experience persisted, I started to suffer from pain induced depression + anxiety. I was subjected to numerous stigmas associated with "invisible illnesses" that had also led to feelings of inadequacy as a Mom + Wife. Often feeling undeserving of my Son + Husband. I also struggled with not returning to work. Prior to my accident I had an amazing career in real estate. I've always worked + enjoyed having a career. Being unable to return made me struggle mentally. During some of my lowest points, my Husband would leave me some of the simplest but encouraging notes in all different places of our house. Whenever I found them, they inspired me + nourished my soul; those notes helped to keep me going. I remember wishing that I could carry his words with me everywhere on all the things I used daily.
One night, I had a dream. While parts of it were foggy in my memory by the time I woke, what I did remember was that I founded a company that was similar to The Cancer Society - but it was for people who suffered from chronic pain. And its name? FREE REIGN. Yes. I dreamed that the name of the organization was FREE REIGN. And in my dream, we used a lot of the simple messages that my Husband had left me + I thought "if they could help me, they could help other people, right?" It was so real to me. So much so that when I woke, I thought I actually had to go to work.
Some time later, when going back to work was still not a practical option for my injuries, I began investigating a new line of work that I could get into that I would be equally as passionate about as I was with real estate. At this very same time, I heard about the statistic of how 1 in 5 people suffer from some form of chronic pain. I was astonished. Astonished that I could feel so alone on this journey when there were so many people out there like me. So I began trying to live out my dream + FREE REIGN came to fruition.
I started to design thoughtful articles of clothing. I designed everything with my experiences + struggles in mind. I began with choosing fabrics. I knew that I had to use something luxuriously soft + after all that I had been through, bamboo was just a no brainer. Then I decided to design some oversized yet flattering elevated basics for various body types that would be forgiving should you be losing or gaining weight like a lot of people with invisible illnesses experience. (I gained 52 lbs in a short period of time due to my medications + inability to exercise.) I quickly dubbed my pieces as "true to size with a little bit of grace". I also designed them to be versatile enough so that you could lounge around in them or dress them up. I remember having some horrible flare up days where I laid in bed wearing some of my pieces + then had to go out so I threw a leather jacket on or fur vest + looked put together.
So, in November 2016, FREE REIGN was officially born.
I decided then that FREE REIGN was going to be a company that made you FEEL GOOD, LOOK GOOD + DO GOOD. Everything we do + design has to make you feel good on the inside + out, it has to make you look good aesthetically but our messages have to make you look good personally too + doing good comes from the messages you spread, the fact that our pieces are all eco-friendly, socially conscious + from always giving back. So not only are we doing good for the world + our environment, but for our community of people, too. If any of our ideas doesn't encompass all 3 of these objectives, we simply won't do it.
So that's my story. It's my hope that you not only love FREE REIGN's pieces, but what we stand for, too.
If you're struggling right now, please remember that this is just a chapter or two in your story. Don't let your hardship define you, let it inspire you.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming along on this ride -- your support means the world to me!
Peace, Love + Kind Vibes,
NIKKI GERTSCH, Co-Owner
Hey! I’m Nikki, also known as @confessionsofanautismmommy on Instagram.
My whole life I’ve always lived by the motto “Positive Thoughts Always”. Life can get stressful + in those situations, I’ve always asked myself “does this really matter in the big picture?”. Repeating these words to myself has always helped me get through countless tough moments.
When I first discovered FREE REIGN, the powerful stories + messages behind the designs quickly grabbed my attention. Between the amazingly soft bamboo + organic cotton fabrics, this was a brand I quickly became supportive of.
Everyone has a story + here’s mine:
Growing up I had always believed that terrible things only happened in the news or in movies, never to my family or myself. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I experienced a great loss for the first time. My older brother, by only 21 months, was taken from us. He was my only sibling + best friend. My brother was the life of the party – the one everyone was friends with + was always my biggest supporter. On the tragic day I lost him, he was on his way to a sound competition for his truck when he was hit head on by a semi-truck + didn’t make it. It was a day I never want to relive again + a day that will forever be heartbreaking for me + many others. Losing my brother triggered terrible anxiety + nasty panic attacks that at first, I didn’t know how to handle. It was a feeling I wasn’t used to + I constantly feared it.
Rather than going the medication route, I decided to take it into my own hands + asked for help. I spoke with a counsellor + practiced meditation + yoga. Anxiety is such a crippling feeling + is essentially invisible to those around you, but very visible on the inside of yourself. I still work through the anxiety, but it has much improved over the years + I still use the tools that I had learned prior to help heal.
In the past, I have had many different titles that range from Make-Up Artist, Hair Artist, Model, Actor, Executive Assistant, Pet Boutique Owner, + the list goes on. I never really felt like I found my calling until I received the greatest title of all, Mom.
When my beautiful son, Aiden Zen, was born, it felt like things were finally coming together -- then another scary moment came my way. I was told that AZ (Aiden Zen) wasn’t 100% healthy + they diagnosed him with Autism. As you could imagine, when I first heard the word “Autism”, I was terrified. The last thing any parents wants to hear is that something is wrong with your child. I started researching everything I could do to help heal my boy + give him the best quality of life possible.
Autism definitely has its ups + downs + it can be very challenging at times. AZ is the sweetest, most affectionate little boy that loves his Mommy + everyone close to him so much. Aiden will be 5 years old this year + is partially non-verbal, but I believe he will have a full vocabulary in the near future. I know that one day I will be able to hear AZ tell me how much he loves me.
I’m now a Mom of 3 boys + let me tell you, they sure know how to keep me on my toes. The special moments filled with love + laughter are what makes this title the best one yet. I loved being a stay-at-home Mom but after time passed, I realized that I needed something for myself again. So, I put it out to the universe that I wanted something more, something for me. Mama needed a little self-love time + as the saying goes “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”. The universe + my angel above quickly led me in the direction of FREE REIGN.
Mel + I had originally met in the market scene; me shopping + Mel selling her amazing brand. I have always loved supporting Canadian small shops, especially ones owned by Women + Moms (no offence to the dudes). I knew at some point, I would be a part of this community + I’m so honoured to have partnered with such an incredible brand. And to think, it all started over a glass of wine on a Moms Date Night out together!
This brand represents the way I want to live my life + the life I want to give to my children. It represents stories of everyone’s struggles + what we’ve all been through. We all have different lives + I am so excited to meet all of our loyal customers + build relationship with each of you along the way. It’s time to take this #bossbabe business to the next level!
It’s time for the next chapter in my story.