Alexandra Gibson first heard of the Pussyhat Project when she caught a radio interview on Park City’s NPR affiliate, KPCW, last January. She immediately whipped up a handful of pink, cat-eared beanies and reached out to Farasha Boutique to market and sell her hats. “My plan was to sell 100 of the $65 hats and donate the proceeds to the Park City Women’s March on Main,” Gibson says. Thanks to a Facebook ad, she quickly sold out the first few Pussyhats she made and, in a matter of days, had another 200 orders to fill. In a three-day whirlwind Gibson dropped off pink wool, retrieved 120 finished hats from her needle-wielding senior center and knitting group recruits and filled the remaining 80-hat shortage herself. “I lost 10 pounds because all I was doing was knitting,” she recalls. “It was incredibly stressful, but I’m so glad I did it.”
That Gibson chose to take part in the now-famous Pussyhat Project is not surprising. The premise behind those symbolic pink chapeaus—celebrating a craft that’s been passed down through generations of women—is at the heart of how and why she founded her fair-trade hand-knit-clothing and home-accessory company, Sien + Co.
In 2015, Gibson was living in Los Gatos, California, working as an event planner when she found herself on the receiving end of a tirade over a cheese platter. “It was time to step back and reassess,” she says. “And I decided I wanted to go from the richest place in the world, where people were miserable, to the poorest place in the world where I’d heard people were happiest.” And so, with the blessing of her husband, Gibson, who is a hobbyist photographer, set off for Nepal with her camera and her then four-year-old daughter, Page, to document people’s stories in the wake of the 2015 earthquake.
When they arrived in Kathmandu, while waiting for lost bags to turn up (which took six days), she and her daughter wandered the city, eventually stumbling on a cooperative of fiber artisans. Having learned to
knit from her grandmother when she was a child, Gibson felt immediately at home and hunkered down with the Nepali women, getting to know them through translators as they knit side by side. Recalling the conversations, Gibson, who is “not a crier,” still tears up. “I went to this place where this horrible thing had happened,” she says, “and instead of being upset over it, they were thankful for what they still had.”
Gibson returned to the US with a rekindled love for knitting and a “maybe I can make this work” spark of entrepreneurship. At the same time, she and her husband decided to leave Silicon Valley in favor of Park City’s more manageable pace of life (the couple had actually met in Utah in 2008 while Gibson was working for the Sundance Institute). Gibson wrote a business plan for Sien + Co and began developing relationships with alpaca farmers, weavers, and dyers in Argentina and Peru. (Sadly, the economics of a Nepal-based collaboration didn’t work.)
Sien + Co’s über-hip designer collection of one-of-a-kind hand-knit goods ranges from $210 cropped Peruvian knit sweaters to hand-woven rugs starting at $900. The price tags reflect not only the quality of her products but the fair-trade cost of producing them: a third of the purchase price goes to the producer (knitter or weaver), a third goes to shipping and packaging, and a third goes back into the business.
Serena Martin, Gibson’s point person in Cordoba, Argentina, travels anywhere from 400 to 1,000 kilometers to meet with the weavers she works with to supply designers and buyers throughout the world, including Sien + Co. “Alexandra and I share the same desire: to preserve the traditional techniques of weaving and dyeing,” she says. “We both strive to make the ancient art of weaving a real source of work for people who have always had looms in their homes.”
Consumers have clearly fallen for Sien + Co’s handmade products. Since the company’s first sale to a Tokyo buyer last August, the brand has been picked up by boutiques worldwide and touted in the pages of Vogue, Better Homes and Gardens, Architectural Digest, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop.com. Gibson is currently in talks with several potential partners hankering for access to her sustainable, ethical, and very fashion-forward brand. As if that weren’t enough, Gibson is also in the process of launching a children’s line. “Finding the perfect mix of organic and function is not easy and Alex nailed it,” says Melissa Berry, who carries Sien + Co home décor pieces in her Main Street home décor boutique, Root’d.
Wearing the many hats of a small-business entrepreneur, Gibson handles every aspect of Sien + Co operations, from researching fashion shows and filling online orders to managing social media and, when duty calls, knitting Pussyhats. She dreams of owning her own shop on Park City’s Main Street one day. In the meantime, she stays motivated by celebrating each high-five moment as her business evolves, tradeshow by tradeshow. She does manage to escape the grind for the Park City living she and her husband happily returned to last year: skiing; cycling; walking with Bindi, the family’s Australian shepherd; and playing and creating crafts with her daughters, Page and Sienna (yes, the company’s namesake). “I don’t sleep very much,” she says. “I love it. It’s hard … but I would drive myself crazy if I wasn’t doing this.”
Sien + Co apparel and home goods are available locally at Farasha Boutique (605 Main St) and Root’d (596 Main St) and online at sienandco.com.