Photo Credit: Kate Gagnon Osborn
We were eager to meet and get to know Kate and Courtney of Kelbourne Woolens because of our shared values around sustainability in additional to our shared joy of quality woolens. After being acquainted with their gorgeous yarns, it is a pleasure to become more acquainted with Kate and Courtney as well.
1. Are there eco-friendly practices built into your business?
Kate: Over the years we have tried to incorporate eco-friendly practices wherever possible. We purchase our shipping boxes from American Box Co (https://www.amboxco.com/), a company that wholesales once-used or new boxes that are misprinted or incorrect sizing. If anyone has received an order from us in a box, you probably noticed it was marked with anything from the Tasty-Cakes logo to an obscure face cream! Additionally, we buy biodegradable and/or recycled and recyclable plastic bags for smaller orders. Whenever possible, we have our orders from mills shipped to us via boat – it is a much longer process, but it is also much kinder to the environment! Our white whale is non-plastic packaging tape that doesn’t require water or multiple additional steps. As you can imagine, we tape up a lot of boxes, and nothing we have sampled has been effective and cost effective.
Our warehouse is GOTS certified (https://global-standard.org), meaning our business follows a clear and high standard for manufacturing, production, and social practices. We only use ecologically certified cleaning products, recycled paper, and treat our employees fairly following the strict GOTS guidelines. Our impetus for obtaining the certification was the distribution of BC Garn, a line that focuses on organic and GOTS certified yarns. We’re proud to be able to offer them to the U.S. market and provide crafters with an affordable product that is ecologically and socially responsible.
2. What does a typical workday look like for you?
Kate: Oh boy, nothing is ever typical! For the last year, we’ve mainly worked from home, so I begin most of my days checking and tagging email, answering pattern help questions, and replying to anything I can that isn’t order related. I mainly deal with the marketing end of things, so some days are filled with zoom meetings with one of our mills, color or yarn development plans with Courtney, or new pattern layout. Other days, I’ll make color cards, design yarn labels, create a shop or consumer newsletter, photograph new colors, update the website, create social media posts, email with sample or test knitters, or plan a photoshoot.
Courtney deals with all of the “invisible” aspects of the job – the accounting, bookkeeping, paying for orders, and working directly with Mike, our “Warehouse Dude”, who does all of our packing and shipping. Thankfully, she’s been able to work remotely on this aspect of the job, which made staying safe during the pandemic so much easier.
Photo Credit: Meghan Kelly
We both have children – and Courtney’s family continues to grow! – so we make a point to “turn off” when the work day is done. We don’t check email after 5pm during the week or on weekends, and limit our time on social media during those hours as well. I joke that the business was my first baby, and its success is vitally important to us, but we have made it a point from the beginning to have a very clear and healthy life/work balance.
3. What is your favorite album to listen to while you work?
Kate: I pretty much exclusively listen to podcasts when I work. I am obsessed with what my father-in-law calls Oh, No! History – think failed Arctic expeditions, obscure shipwrecks, strange medical mysteries, etc. – but also listen to science, news, and series that focus on social issues or commentary. It really runs the gamut! My favorite podcasts right now are Bananas (comedy) https://www.exactlyrightmedia.com/bananas, Ear Hustle (life in and outside prison) https://www.earhustlesq.com/, Ologies (science) https://www.alieward.com/ologies, and This Podcast Will Kill You (epidemics and medical mysteries) https://thispodcastwillkillyou.com/. If I’m doing something that requires additional brainpower, I’ll listen to music. Kurt Vile Speed, Sound, Lonely KV, John Prine John Prine, and M.I.A. Kala have all received a lot of play lately.
Courtney prefers to work in silence, which I think is completely bonkers. Thank goodness for headphones!
4. What supply issues have you faced since Covid?
Kate: Ack. What supply issues haven’t we faced? The day we received word that our kids’ schools and daycare would be closed in March of 2020, we also heard two of our three primary mills would also be closing. With yarn shops closing, we also saw a huge decrease in orders over the first few months of the pandemic, which required that we really limit our spending and pause some of our future plans. We expected to receive three yarn re-orders in March/April of 2020, but they were all (understandably) delayed, which meant we were out of stock on some yarns for months. Additionally, since all orders were pushed out by weeks-months, we had to delay the release of our newest yarn, Camper, which was originally intended for a Fall 2020 debut.
We usually have a few contract employees and at least one intern per season, but our ability to safely and effectively manage additional employees has been greatly limited as well. This means items such as color cards, yarn windings, kits, and other samples are now done by me, which has added to my work load and slowed a lot of other things down. Our mantra for the last 15 months has been “one thing at a time”.
Photo Credit: Linette Kielinski / Team Kielinski
Amazingly, all of our mills are back and everyone we know stayed safe and healthy, for which we are so grateful. After 10+ years of solid hustle, and then 2 really stressful – and fulfilling! – years following huge changes to the brand and what we sold and products we developed, slowing down due to Covid did allow us to assess what matters to us most in terms of the brand, our products, and our brand philosophy as a whole. It was something we desperately needed to do in order to not to completely burn out, and probably something we wouldn’t have done without being “forced” to do so.