When St. Thomas student Sawyer Hannay lived in Salzburg, Austria to play hockey, he had a lot of time on his hands. The 19-year-old pro hockey player was getting paid to do what he loved most. But when his gray Bauer ice skates came off, his mind would wonder back home.
His mind wandered across the ocean, thousands of miles, to a small community called Main River just outside of Rexton, New Brunswick. A narrow river, speckled with boats and surrounded by cottages and houses was where he grew up. It’s a summer town – a place where they play guitar and circle smoky bonfires every weekend.
His idea was simple: to put his home on a t-shirt. Hannay wanted to make a physical object in which he could represent where he came from – a place he loved more than anything.
He held on to his idea for a year until August 2013. After playing hockey for a few months in Quebec, Sawyer mentioned his t-shirt idea to his cousin and best friend, Tye Hannay.
“We grew up on the same street, we shared the same passion and we both loved Rexton. Right away, he was on board. We were on the exact same page.”
In the spring of 2014, the two began to sketch out a logo. They collaborated with a designer from Dieppe and came up with a slogan: Country Free.
The saying, according to Hannay, is about the free way of life in the country.
“It’s the independence, the privacy, the freedom from society and the freedom to make mistakes.”
In May 2014, the first Country Free shirts were made. They loved the product, the only questions was, would everyone else?
The motto, Country Free, is in the center of the shirt, surrounded by the outline of a guitar pick with their county, Kent County, placed near the bottom. There’s a small bonfire image right under the motto.
“Until then, there was nothing that really represented our way of life. It seems liked everything was just really city oriented,” said Hannay.
The boys ordered the tee’s in two styles: crew neck and sleeveless. They’re available in neon-pink and yellow, blues, black, red and charcoal grey both in men and women’s sizes. Right now, the shirts are available to the public through word-of-mouth only. He said the best part about the whole thing is when he see’s someone wearing a Country Free t-shirt.
“It’s rewarding, especially when it’s someone you don’t even know. We’re sharing a connection with people, being proud of where you’re from and living in the country.“
The Kent County boys plan to sell their t-shirts in a store in Rexton called Surfs Up, by winter. They’ve recently created an Instagram account, @countryfreekc, where they upload pictures of Kent County and talk about country living. In the meantime, they are working on developing new apparel.
“We’re going to try to stay true to the brand. All of our products are going to be country oriented whether it be a long sleeve shirt or a hat. We’re not going to be selling high heels,” Hannay said, laughing.
As for the price, he said they will be sold for between $20 to $30.
“For Tye and I, it has absolutely nothing to do with making money. It’s a self reward, it’s a hobby and we’re taking it day by day.”