New York City grandmothers can go back to work by knitting hats for Wooln, a startup founded by two French transplants living in the U.S. In its third year, the company led by Margaux Rousseau and Faustine Badrichani is growing steadily in terms of sales and grandmas.
Nine retired women knit regularly for the brand. The “grandmas,” as they are fondly called, stop by the Wooln studio in Greenwich Village a few times a month to pick up yarn. When they return with the finished product a week or so later, they are paid about 50 percent the wholesale price of the hat — roughly 30 dollars in 2015 according to New York daily Metro.
Faustine organizes knitting groups at her apartment to meet the rising demand during the colder months of the year and the holiday season, but the grandmas do most of the knitting in their own time. “They all do it differently,” says Faustine. “One of them has ten projects going on at the same time while another will pick it up whenever she remembers.” Each grandma chooses how much, how often and what she wants to knit. Some don’t want to knit black because it’s harder to see.
Bringing Isolated Seniors to the Spotlight
Wooln began when a newly immigrated Margaux met Faustine, who had moved to New York five years prior. Both French natives, they felt that the presence of elderly people was not as noticeable in New York as it was in their homeland. “You see a lot more older people in Paris, where they seem to be more a part of everyday life,” Faustine mused. Although she grew up in the countryside near Avignon, she moved to Paris to attend business school. “I feel like French seniors are not as lonely as American seniors. In France, people often have lunch or dinner with their aging parents or grandparents but it’s not necessarily the case here.”
A knitting enthusiast, Margaux recognized that older women, who learned to knit in their childhood, had a valuable skill that could be used to make near-perfect products. She and Faustine began visiting senior homes in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, putting up flyers to recruit elders who had knitting experience. Margaux came up with patterns and Faustine, an artist, drew cartoons and images for the brand.
Each grandma has a biography page on the Wooln website that features a portrait drawn by Faustine so that buyers can put a face to their hat’s maker. All Wooln products also come with a tag signed by the woman who knitted it. By doing so, Margaux and Faustine hope to foster a cross-generational connection between their knitters, retirees in their 70s and 80s, and their younger, socially conscious, eco-friendly consumers. “It’s not for the crowd who buys from Zara or Century 21,” Faustine explains. “Our hats are luxury items intended for those who want quality yarn and care about who made it and where it came from.”
Alpaca, Merino, Mohair and Cashmere
The brand released in September its third collection, featuring ten hats and a headband sold between 65 and 165 dollars. Most of the yarn comes from Peruvian alpacas, but the grandmas also knit with merino, mohair and cashmere. All the hats are available online and ship worldwide, but Wooln is also represented in four shops in New York and is working on expanding its presence to the West Coast. Margaux relocated to Los Angeles last year to recruit new knitters.
Many of the grandmas are very active. They do yoga, ride Citi Bikes, work in Manhattan community gardens, or volunteer to feed the chickens on Governors Island. But Wooln is a way they can turn their hobby into something more. “It is the only chance these women have to make money and do something that’s going to sell,” Faustine points out. “Some of them haven’t earned in twenty years! We give them a sense of belonging and being useful.”