It’s that time of year again when I look forward to wearing a cozy knit hat and sweater around the house, sipping tea with a blanket over my legs. Somehow this is much more comforting than cranking the heat in the house and pretending the cold season is not upon us.
As a vegan I am apprehensive about wool products, but also believe that humans can have symbiotic relationships with animals and that ethical wool is not an oxymoron, but a reality for a small portion of wool produced. I’ve been thinking more and more about the overall impact of goods (the entire lifespan) from production to waste, and how those goods which may be less harmful to animals in the production phase, like micro-fleece clothing, are harmful at the ecosystem level and also negatively impact the lives of many animals, mostly insects (which I count as no less valuable than other animals). At the end of their useful life these products live on forever as landfill. So I’ve had to seriously reconsider opting for animals fibres more often for the greater sustainability of these fibres (wool is biodegradable). Luckily there are more and more companies sourcing ethical wool and making beautiful things with it. Enter Margaux and Faustine…
From France to New York (and many places in between), Faustine and Margaux are two mothers who share a passion for knitting and social responsibility. They recently launched a small knits shop, WOOLN, with an innovative twist. I absolutely love what they are doing and hope their model, that is, doing business with the aim of benefitting society at large, will be adopted by other businesses.
Margaux, Faustine, please, tell me a little bit about yourself. What is your background? How has it influenced your creative pursuits?
Margaux: I was raised in the French countryside and have always wanted to move around the world…which I did many times in my adulthood: I studied in the UK and France, then lived in Italy, New Zealand, Australia and back to Paris. I now live in Brooklyn and I’m thrilled! I believe that starting from zero again so many times makes oneself creative, even not intentionally.
I quit my serious job 5 years ago to dedicate myself to my passion: knitting. My life is all about yarn, needles, wool, patterns and softness since then! (And I confess, sometimes I dream of going back to the countryside!)
Faustine: Sometimes, I feel I have had many lives already, and that I will probably keep going on having “circles of life.” When I finished my Business School in Paris, I went into working in finance in London. And felt so “creatively” frustrated that I gave up after only a few years and settled myself as a full time artist in New York (mostly painting until I started sculpting a year or two ago). This also correlates with when I had my first child. After being a full-time-artist-and-mum for almost 4 years, I met Margaux and we launched WOOLN, and since then, it has been providing me with the perfect balance between creativity (we do everything ourselves, the patterns, our website design and I am the one who makes all the illustrations, the packaging bags, etc…), and business (strategy, sourcing, IT, etc…).
What part of the world do you live in?
M: Brooklyn, NY. Did I already tell you I love it here ?
F: Manhattan, NY. I have lived in 10 different places, and it is by far my favourite place to live in the entire world! Having said that, now that I have a family of my own, I feel I could pretty much live anywhere and be happy, as long as I have my children and my husband with me.
How many children do you have and how would you describe them?
M: I have 2 beautiful girls Cosima and Sidonie aged 3 and 1 and a half. They are both very cheeky!
F: I have one girl who is 4 and one boy who is 2. They are obviously both equally cute but I can’t decide who gives me more work! And I also have 2 stepchildren from my husband’s first marriage; they are 15 and 9, they are very cute too and don’t give me any work! (They do not live with us). When we travel, we use an entire row of the plane! They all get along so well, it’s the cutest thing to see.
What is your favourite thing to do as a family?
M: A picnic or an exhibit in a big museum where we can run. Also we love spending long holidays in our family home in the south of France.
F: We love travelling, and now that Joseph is over 18 months, it is getting more fun every time. We are just back from a trip on the US West Coast, which was amazing!
What are you passionate about?
M: Knitting (and cheese too!)
F: Knitting (and cheese too!)
What inspires you?
M: French indie movies, my husband and many of my NZ friends. Kiwis have something special.
F: Reading, travelling, going to museums, watching documentaries, and… Pinterest!
Can you tell me a bit about Wooln? What do you design and how do you source your materials?
WOOLN is a line of hand-knit accessories, knit by grandmothers and retirees in New York with socially responsible yarn.
M: It took us a very long time to find the perfect yarn; we wanted something local, 100% natural, soft and socially conscious. We finally sourced two types of yarn:
- One is a 100% American wool – spun and dyed in a family owned spinning mill in Nebraska, with sheep grown up here in the USA
- The other one is an extremely soft Royal Alpaca yarn. The company works responsibly with artisans in Bolivia and Peru.
I love your term ‘wool agency,’ can you explain what this means to you?
F: Wool Agency was actually the first name we had found for the company. We changed it to Wooln, because we felt Agency was not really what we were doing, like a nanny agency or web agency was not necessarily what we wanted to be associated too. We picked WOOLN because we liked the vowel drop, which reminded us of other “sharing businesses” like tumblr and flickr, and it felt more 2.0, which is the DNA of our company: we only sell online, we communicate with our knitters via emails, we found a few of them via Craigslist, we raise money via crowdfunding on Kickstarter, our PR is only through bloggers, etc…
By creating WOOLN, we try to match 2 things that matter equally to both of us: having an amazing product, be fashionable, and cool and great looking, as well as doing something good for society, which for us means working in a socially responsible manner, and promoting a new way of buying. We hope we will be able to fulfill those two goals, and not just be this socially responsible company, or this fashionable brand, but a cool mix of both.
You have an innovative and socially responsible business model, can you tell me more about it?
F: Our model is very innovative as it has not been widely done in the fashion industry; however, it is anchored in the sharing economy trend. We are using talents that are otherwise barely taken advantage of to create a cool product and give consumers a new way of buying. With WOOLN, the act of buying is very personal: buyers know who made their hat, they can know more about them and really have this connection, which is something completely different from what they get by going to one of those big fast fashion brands. Our mission is to create connections between people, and to make buying a question of people, not just of material things. [Danielle: every WOOLN item comes with the name and information about the knitter and you can read more about each knitter on the WOOLN website.]
I love that you share mini biographies of your knitters and the illustrations are such a special touch. Who does your illustration work?
M: Faustine! She is the best illustrator! When I saw her illustrations, drawings and paintings in her studio for the first time I was very impressed. It came naturally that she would draw WOOLN faces for our packaging and branding we didn’t know yet that she would also sketch our knitters.
F: I have always loved drawing, and drawing for WOOLN allows me to really feel complete and fulfilled with this whole experience! Business with an artistic twist.
One of our Kickstarter rewards is a sketch from me, and so far it has been the most bought reward! It is going to take me a month worth of drawing, but I won’t complain, I just love it!
What has made you the most proud of yourself and your business?
M: Finally getting this project that I’ve had in my head for so long REAL! Being able to forget about fear and judgment, and more practically, visiting a huge number of senior centres in New York to find our great knitters! And of course raising these 2 adorable little girls.
F: Even though we are only in the first year of WOOLN, it is the biggest achievement for me. I feel like I have been waiting for so long to have this fulfilling experience, and everything now comes together, providing me with everything I need to be balanced: doing something for the benefit of society, doing business (I am definitely business minded), being creative and artistic! What else could I ask for? (maybe more time for my family but I do not want to push it…)
What are your dreams for your business and motherhood?
F: Our strategy is really to take one collection at a time, and keep making headway. We have already learnt so much and the season has barely started! On a longer term basis, we hope to add a cotton collection for the warmer months (even though we both enjoy spending our summers in France with our parents and children rather than working in sweaty New York…) And probably extend our locations, maybe start having senior knitters on the West Coast would make sense!
As a mother, I do not have any dreams or goals: I am just trying to do my best and enjoy every little moment with them. Before having kids, I did not really understand why people would say “enjoy every minute of it, it goes by so fast.” Now I do. It does go by way too fast! And I want to make the best of every minute.
Merci Margaux et Faustine // Thank you Margaux and Faustine!
Readers: you can find WOOLN’s online shop here and on Instagram @wooln_ny.
Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:
Have you subscribed to the Global Guardian Project yet? They are monthly learning capsules for children and families to learn about global stewardship. Each month features a different country’s wild life, landscape and challenges, and includes art projects, activities, meditation, recipes and more! Use my discount code: HIPPIEINDISGUISE for 10% off , you can read more about it here