How two childhood friends became co-founders, learned to hand-weave, and created their first product.
Know those moments that could never be planned but end up shaping your life? If you’ve ever seen the movie, Before Sunrise, you’d know what we mean. For those who haven’t, it’s about two people who meet on a Vienna-bound train, strike up a conversation, create a cosmic bond, and then… go their separate ways. They just go back to their lives, and the movie ends inconclusively. Then something happens. A sequel comes out, they find each other by chance 9-years later, and soon after, chart an entirely new course in life.
If you told the co-founders of Oliver Charles 10 years ago… 5 years ago… or even last summer, that they’d spend the majority of 2020 hunched over a 50-year-old loom weaving late into the night, they would have laughed at the idea… but never say never.
Long story short, co-founders Slater and Jack met in the 3rd grade and eventually found themselves as roommates and coworkers in the Bay Area. As the duo puts it, “the idea for our brand, Oliver Charles, came from a series of conversations about the impact of clothes on how we felt throughout the day. We both strongly believe that everyone should feel comfortable and confident while working, which is why we started searching for, and eventually discovered, a natural material that could serve this purpose called khullu (‘coo-loo”).”.
Khullu is the high-performing underbelly fiber that insulates yak from −40° F winters.
The fiber has a small community of enthusiasts who rave about its breathability, warmth, and sustainability.
- 40% warmer than sheep’s wool, and 15% warmer than merino wool. (Shokay)
- 60% more breathable than cashmere. (Shokay)
- Better for the planet than cashmere. (NPR)
To test the online hype, Slater and Jack found a way to work closely with khullu and see which benefits were fact vs. fiction. What started as a joke, turned to the two co-founders agreeing to learn the art of hand-weaving. As Jack remembers, “maybe we got too lucky because within a week of researching khullu, we were signed up to weave with an instructor in the Bay Area. Her name is Lou. Lou is an entrepreneur and master weaver who started SFFiber. Soon after learning about SFFiber, we joined Lou at her home for an 8-hour Saturday where we went through the many steps of weaving a fabric.”. To get an idea of what the day looked like, see some photos from the weaving class below.
Lou was instrumental in starting Oliver Charles because she introduced the co-founders to Diane. Diane loved Slater and Jack’s fascination with fiber arts and ended up donating a 45″ floor loom to their mission.
Slater and Jack learned that the loom was originally purchased in the 1970s! Unfortunately, Diane can’t weave anymore, but she takes great pride in her loom, and as Jack puts it, “one of our goals is to show Diane that her gifted loom has a legacy.”.
Slater remembers the first months of learning to weave as both exciting and exhausting – “for a while we were coming home around 7 or 8pm from long days at work and sitting behind our loom to weave into the wee hours of the night.”.
After working with khullu over the past several months, Slater and Jack are excited because the natural fiber exceeded expectations – “we created our first products with our hands, gained a new appreciation for textile production, and built a product we’re proud of.”. Slater and Jack conclude that, “without giving ourselves the time and space to fail in creating our first products, we never would’ve understood what goes into making a product of uniquely high quality.”.
Now, the Oliver Charles co-founders are applying what they’ve learned to designing a sweater, a single item for all of life that looks as good as it feels and lasts for years.
PS: Slater and Jack adopted a punny name for their weaving duo, the Loomineers… Side note, they are offering a complimentary weaving lesson to the Lumineers. If anyone knows the Lumineers please send an email at email@example.com.