“We both went to high school in Bordeaux, which means we could have met 15 years ago,” says Margaux Rousseau, one half of WOOLN, “but we only met in New York a year and a half ago.”
It may be a relatively recent friendship, but it certainly was a quick meeting of minds.
“After two lunches together, we knew we had brainstormed a great concept, that we had such a strong connection and instant trust, and just wanted to get things started and not waste a minute,” says Faustine Bardrichani, WOOLN’s other half.
Being French transplants in a new city, Faustine and Margaux’s brainchild was influenced by their difference in culture.
“We felt seniors could play a bigger role in the community and be more valued than they were in New York City. As Europeans, honouring elders is a big part of our way of living.”
What emerged was a company that hires NYC grandmothers to hand-knit a line of luxury cashmere, alpaca and merino accessories. “There is a way to make clothes that feel good for everyone – the maker and the consumer,” says Faustine. “WOOLN is all about community. On one side, we have this community of senior knitters, who have an amazing talent, and on the other side, we have a community of consumers who care a lot about what they wear and who understand that anything they buy makes a difference in some way. And then we blend the two.”
And all the patterns are designed in-house. “Margaux is a knitting wizard,” confirms Faustine, “and I am an artist. It’s been very natural for us so far to design our hats and snoods. We’ve also worked with our knitters to evaluate and refine each of our designs. We want to keep our designs simple and versatile and unisex.”
This cross-generational collaboration welcomes retirees back into the active workforce and gives their craftsmanship the recognition it deserves. All pieces are labelled with the knitter’s name and each grandmother has a biography on the WOOLN website so that customers can put a face to their meticulously knitted piece.
“We found our knitters by going where they are: senior centres!” Margaux says, laughing. The duo trekked through all 40 senior centres in New York last year, putting up flyers and talking to the women they came across.
“The way we start working with them is very organic. We meet them, talk about our project, try to understand why they are interested in being part of our community, and understand if they share the same values as we do. We then get them started on just one pattern, and see how it goes. We let them decide how much they would like to knit. We don’t have deadlines; everyone knits at their own pace.”
WOOLN’s products are undoubtedly luxurious. “Our business model is based on using a talented and experienced local workforce that doesn’t use anything but their hands (and needles). In that regards, it already places our products on a very premium stance.
“We’ve also curated our yarn with that same care: we work with an ethical yarn provider that sources alpaca and merino in Peru and Bolivia, working closely with artisans,” says Faustine. “Our yarn is amazingly soft and well-sourced, making our beanies amazing objects of quality and luxury.”
At its heart, WOOLN is so much more than just well-made woollen goods – Faustine and Margaux want customers to have a more personal shopping experience.
“People tend to feel as if the grandmother has made it for especially for them. And for our knitters, having something they’ve made with so much care, be sold and marketed in a thoughtful way gives a new perspective to what they have been doing for so long.”