I can’t exactly pinpoint the exact date and time when I met Freddie Fernandez, but I have definitely known him for quite some years now. I wanna say it was around the middle 2000s but we’ve both always been around the same group of people that it would be impossible to remember when we actually met. The ‘Autofashion USA’ namesake first came into my radar around the time when Freddie first started-up his business with friends Elroy Paule and Kevin Peverill. I was at a car show somewhere in Southern California and noticed this Scion xA build that immediately captured my eye. Never have I ever been a huge fan of the Scion brand but I found myself just staring at this car, completely taken back by its quality of work. That and it was parked in a booth that was pretty nice so both the car and display came together great to help introduce ‘Autofashion USA’ to the world…
When I was living in San Diego, California, I would attend car shows with my friend Kevin Dimdiman who had purchased a full Junction Produce Lexus LS400. It was the first complete JP LS400 in the U.S. and was built by another guy who I would eventually become good friends with, John Liwanag of VIPStylecars.com. John was THE Junction Produce guy of that time period and was instrumental in helping bring that brand over to the U.S., which ultimately helped in popularizing Japanese VIP culture here. The other guy responsible for the explosion of Japanese VIP car culture in North America was Freddie Fernandez. I’ll tell you more about that later but let me get back on track…
Okay, so in the mid-2000s, both drifting and VIP (or Bippu for true car nerds) had started to become pretty popular stateside. So popular, that there were shows dedicated to those particular genres. Ken Miyoshi of Import Showoff-fame starting doing ‘Drift Showoff’ and ‘VIP Showoff’ with the help of then title-sponsor, Falken Tire. I don’t know who exactly was responsible for doing all the invites, but they would ask my boy Kevin to come display the Junction Produce LS in the Falken booth at these events. At that time, Falken had dived right into the growing popularity of U.S. VIP style and would have their motorsports rig set-up at car show, but there would be a fleet of black Junction Produce builds on display. It was really something to see if you had to opportunity at the time to be there. It was a big deal to be in this display and Falken did a great job of taking care of people who would represent for them. Whenever Kevin would go to a show for Falken, I tagged along. The guys from Falken would feed you, give you all kinds of free shit, and you can just hang out by the rig out of the sun. It made you feel kind of important, you know? Being that all of us were from San Diego, Kevin and I would caravan to car shows with Freddie and the guys from Autofashion USA. Freddie was playing around with a Junction Produce LS430 at the time and the car was incredibly impressive. We always wondered how Freddie was able to get a hold of some of the parts he had because we had never seen that shit before. We would attend Hot Import Nights, Import Showoff, etc. together. If there was a local show, we would probably be there. I didn’t know what the connection was at the time, but there were always a lot of Honda guys around as well, cruising to shows and would all park together. I was building my CB Accord then too and I eventually even brought my car out and would sometimes park with Autofashion. It was like this close network of car guys from San Diego that would just stick together and go to car shows. Definitely some of my favorite times being in this community. As it turns out, Freddie started out as a Honda enthusiast as well and still maintains his love for the brand. Honestly, I would feel out of place sometimes because I had this fucking Accord while everyone had VIP builds and what not, or just even better cars in general than what I had, which was easy, but I never felt like I wasn’t welcomed. Over the years, we just stayed friends. He made things easier for me and I would do what I could to show my support for Autofashion. We never asked each other for anything specific, we just supported one another. Those are like the best types of friendships really. It just works…
The thing about Freddie is that he doesn’t always appear to be the most approachable guy. He’s deeply rooted in San Diego and didn’t necessarily grow-up in the most ideal of situations. As such, he carries himself with a certain demeanor that most would say could be perceived as intimidating. Admittedly, I couldn’t get a very good read on the guy when I first met him but he’s actually one of the nicest people you’d ever meet. Many won’t see it, only his small circle of friends ever really get to, but trust me when I say that Freddie is a solid human being. He has high expectations for people because I think he lives to a pretty high standard himself. He’s 100 through and through. I decided to give you guys an opportunity to get to know Freddie Fernandez better because people never get to see the personal side of him. He stays pretty guarded and all his years in the industry have really wired his brain to stay that way. On the business-side of things, the import tuning industry is kind of an ugly place. It can make you very jaded and often times kill this hobby for a lot of people. Freddie has seen pretty much everything and has continued to be successful, and that speaks to his character. I honestly didn’t think he’d be down to really talk about himself since he generally hates doing it but I believe he only agreed to it because we’re good friends and he’s trying to be supportive. That and I ambushed him by pretending to come to San Diego to have lunch with him, all the while totally having the intentions of making him do this. He uncomfortably obliged.
- NAME: Freddie Fernandez
- KNOWN ALIAS (Social Media or Otherwise): AutofashionFred
- CURRENT OCCUPATION: Business Owner
- WHAT YOU ARE KNOWN FOR: Autofashion USA
- HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN THE “CAR COMMUNITY”: 29 years
- AGE: 40
- HOMETOWN/CURRENT LOCATION: San Diego, CA
When we finally had a chance to sit down and chat about his life, he looked a bit nervous. I guess it is difficult to let that guard down, I relate to him in this regard because it took me awhile to allow people into my world. I started by just asking him a little bit about his life and how he got into cars. Even something as simple as that has largely been unknown to the general automotive car community since Autofashion USA opened its doors 14 years ago. “I grew up in the southeastern part of San Diego.” Freddie recalls. “I wasn’t from a rich family or anything. If you lived in San Diego and knew that particular area, you’d know that it wasn’t the best neighborhood to grow-up in. Cars have always been my passion, for as long as I can remember. It has been the one constant in my life throughout. My first automotive business venture came in the late ’90s when I teamed up with this shop called Excentrix Auto Innovations (EAI). It closed in 2001 when it got difficult to do business after the 9/11 attacks.”
By age 12, Freddie already had work experience in the automotive industry by helping out at a local shop in National City, CA called ‘Reds’. It was more of a business devoted to the popular Lowrider scene in Southern California but he didn’t care, he just loved working on cars. Once he was old enough to get his driver’s license, he got really into the import drag racing community and that is where he started tinkering with Hondas. He found himself building an DA Integra drag car and later an award-winning DA Integra show car.
After EAI closed its doors, he paid the bills by working at Best Buy, but he knew he wanted to set off on his own to create something.
“Kevin (Peverill) and Elroy convinced me to open-up a shop a couple years later and that is how Autofashion USA came about. I didn’t want to open a shop that was like what was typically out there, that catered to every import genre like motorsports, drifting, or say, Hondas. I wanted something that was more of a dress-up shop like what you saw in Japan. Japanese VIP style is what we wanted to introduce to California so we created a shop specifically devoted to that. I won’t sit here and claim that we were the first to bring Japanese VIP style to the U.S. or anything, but I think Elroy and I definitely helped popularize it in the states. Over the years, a ton of other VIP shops opened and we had to adjust to the changing scenery of the industry. The VIP market got big for a while but then it slowed down and became a very niche market again. In our later years we decided to start offering everything instead of just VIP brands due to the lack of growth in the VIP scene.”
It’s difficult to be a business owner in this industry. As the car community has developed, so has the saturation of the market, filled often with junk and ‘affordable’ knock-off car parts. True car guys like Freddie have always stood by quality and refuse to sell copy-cat garbage to people, but it is a tough sell when that is all people seem to want to spend money on. Freddie says, “No one is educating these people about what parts are good and bad, which are high-quality, and which are dangerous to have because of their lack of quality. Some of these people just think that it is easier to buy cheap stuff because they don’t think it matters. The Internet is a blessing and a curse in that regard, because people can just so easily have access to cheap parts, but as a small mom-and-pop style of shop, it doesn’t make business any easier for us. We stand by quality and more often than not, it hurts us.”
Opening-up to a broader market has been beneficial to Autofashion USA though. They’ve come to be a highly-respected shop over their 10+ years and have built multiple magazine-featured builds, garnered a ton of awards at events all over, and they’ve been involved with building vehicles for the highly-regarded SEMA Show almost every year.
One of the questions that I always wanted to ask him was if he’d had any regrets after doing this for so many years. I would imagine he’d must have dealt with some pretty interesting people in this industry and could have possibly dived into some projects he’d wish he hadn’t but Freddie was surprisingly upbeat about his experiences;
“I couldn’t say that I have very many regrets. I just take my mistakes and learn from them. They add to the experience, you know? That’s life. The mistakes were stepping stones that lead me to where I am today.”
That lead me to ask him if he’d have anything to say to his younger self if he had the chance to meet him. With little hesitation, he told me, laughingly, “I would probably tell him to finish high school”.
At present, Autofashion USA is doing quite well. The current plans that are in the works is opening a second location up in Orange County, California. This second location will be nothing like the dress-up shop down in San Diego, however. The focus for the new locale is the development and fabrication of parts to automotive enthusiasts. Their clientele often asks for a myriad of custom parts so Freddie decided that an entire new space to create is suitable for their long-term growth.
With all this growth and these new business ventures, I kinda worry that Freddie will stop doing what he’s truly good at, and that’s building cars. As long as I’ve known Freddie he’s had some cool builds. I even somehow came across his old DA Integra from a car show that I was taking shitty photos of back in like, 1999 or 2000. The guy just has a knack for creating cool shit and it is an aspect of his ‘car guy’ personality that I truly enjoy. He tends to have these crazy plans sometimes that I just think are a little too far ahead of their time but he’s found ways to make it work. I wondered if there were any cars in particular that he liked the most and if there was that one car that he had wish he would have completed, to which he responded “I couldn’t really say that I had a favorite out of all of them because I loved them all. There was a blue (DC) Integra that I had big plans for a couple years ago but I had to sell it to put that money back into the business. I have this vision for a VIP build that I’ve always wanted to turn into a reality but who knows if I’ll ever have the time or money to do it.”
Speaking of VIP builds, he actually was very candid about his thoughts on the current state of the VIP car community in both the U.S. and Japan. Who better to speak on the current state of VIP car styling than one of the pivotal influencers to bring it stateside?…
“When VIP first started in Japan, things were much simpler. All you really needed was a unique body kit, fitted wheels, and really low ride height. That’s how all the cars that inspired us looked. Take a look at any of the original Junction Produce demo cars in Japan, even our’s, they weren’t crazy-looking and just had this sense of elegance that only VIP cars could have. It was a new take on style that the world hadn’t really seen before. Many of us older car guys kinda grew out of the sport compact scene and wanted something new that was more age-appropriate, I guess you can say. Something that was just more suitable for us as we grew-up. VIP-style fit our lifestyle perfectly.”
“We still loved Hondas and the cars that we grew-up having fun with, VIP was just the next step.”
“As the years went on, things just started going in another direction. Maybe VIP guys just got bored. Simplicity and elegance just disappeared. Everything changed and the cars just became really over-the-top. Cars started getting wider and crazier. In my personal opinion, I think the Japanese just grew tired of the scene and wanted to shake things up. The answer to that was going to extreme lengths to make the cars wider, incorporating as much negative camber as possible, and other mods that they’d never do before. Take (Black Pearl Complete) for example, they made the VIP scene more or less come alive again because of what they were doing. Aggressive, huge body kits are more popular than ever in Japan. That’s what the scene is trending towards now. It’s not so much about simplicity and elegance any more. That touch of class is now lost. It’s now taking a VIP platform and incorporating tuner/compact car themes into them. Of course we still have those people who stick to the traditional sense of styling but I’d say it is like a 40/60 ratio now in terms of traditionalists and guys who are into that extreme style. I don’t think the influx of USDM car culture in Japan has any influence on their VIP scene either. They may have taken some cues from us but I still think they are doing things overseas that few of us could ever really do in the U.S.”
“To tell you the truth, I really think that the VIP scene out here is dying because there is just no real direction. Like, what are people really building towards? Is there an end goal, a vision? I feel similarly about Japan as well, unfortunately. I just feel like everyone has sort of lost the vision of what ‘VIP’ is supposed to be.”
I can’t say I disagree with Freddie. Sometimes you just need to hear it from someone else to sort of confirm your beliefs. VIP car culture may still be a very niche market, but it has followed suit with how the car community in general has unfolded over the last few years. Cheap parts, the search for instant gratitude, and the lack of understanding has really created this weird sense of instability in the community. It almost feels like we are trapped in this sort of weird limbo. People have replaced building regular cars and turning them into something spectacular with purchasing exotic cars because they require minimal effort to make ‘cool’. Cars that would be classified as “VIP” platforms are now getting much cheaper and as such, the younger demographic is able to afford them and leap into what they think is VIP styling and really just getting it all wrong. “Wrong” is in the eye of the beholder of course, because you can really create anything you want, but you can’t compare them to the traditional VIP cars of old. Things are definitely different. The craziest thing about this is that we are knee-deep in the ‘information age’, where there is so much you can do simply by doing research and trying to learn, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is trying anymore. It is this crazy paradoxical situation now where you have all the information in the world but no one is learning anything.
People like Freddie will continue to do what they do though. He’s been in this hobby for almost three decades now, and while he has had to be flexible to accommodate shifting trends to maintain his business, he continues to stay true to himself. Autofashion USA currently has multiple builds on the queue, just waiting to be finished. You can’t skimp on quality and workmanship. Those things take time. Freddie and the guys from Autofashion USA continue to move forward and I’m happy to be around to continue to support whatever they do. One of Freddie’s favorite motto’s is ‘support those that support you’. You get back what you give in this life. To your friends, family, business acquaintances, etc.
- Special Thanks: “There isn’t one person in particular that I can give credit to because there are a lot of people. I would like to give credit to Nick at Falken Tire for helping us out a lot through the years. I would like to also thank all of our supporters because without them we wouldn’t be here. Thanks to my Autofashion USA fam for always being there through the good and bad times. I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell my story for as much as I could, hahaha. People that inspire me are the ones that are out there doing it and trying to make good things happen for this industry not because of money but the passion and love of the cars.”
PHOTO CREDIT: StickyDilJoe and Tiffanie.Marie