Meet the Purlettes-Plus-One

Every once in a while I read about a business that thrills me both with its concepts and its success.

Sarah Oliver has a degree in Economics, but when her first child was born left her job to be at home with her.  She started knitting handbags for family and friends, then discovered felted bags and got even more interested.  She began to design her own bags.  Then started her own small business – Sarah Oliver Handbags.  Orders came in too fast for her to keep up.  She was advised to outsourch abroad to keep expenses down, but she decided to find help closer to home.

She turned to a local senior retirement community to find knitters.  Offered to pay per piece.  The result is the Purlettes + 1, a group of women (and one man – who loves being the “plus one”) in their 80s and 90s who do all of the knitting for Sarah’s bags.  Sarah meets with them every week, collects finished work, hands out more yarn, and tells them what’s happening in the company.  The knitters make enough to pay for all sorts of little extras, but say that the knitting and the social aspect are just as important to them.

Once knitting is complete, the bags are felted. The result is a tightly woven wool textile, the “shell” of the handbag. Shells are then finished by hand by another team, with metal hardware, leather bases and straps, magnetic closures encased in leather, fabric interiors, etc.

sarah oliver bag1

Sarah loves her team, and has no intention of changing the way she runs her business.  She features the Purlettes+1 on her website and is very proud of their work.

I love her success, and hope it continues!


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5 Responses to “Meet the Purlettes-Plus-One”

  1. Christine Says:

    I saw you on shark tank tonight and I love the premise of this company. I have to say j was surprised by the huge discrepancy between what the knitters are paid and what the purses cost. Could you please explain that ?

    • eclecticitee Says:

      Hi Christine!

      You would have to contact Sarah Oliver about that at her website I’m just a blogger who, like you, loved the premise of the company and wrote about it. No affiliation. I blog about a lot of things related to knitting – many things that I come across online as well as my own crafting. I guess I should thank Shark Tank for all the visits to my blog today, and you for letting me know! I’ve never seen the show, had to google it to find out what it’s about…

      • Rae Says:

        I too was appalled at the extremely low wage paid to the knitters. She said she pays them $17 for a bag that retails for $330-$500, and they make about 3 a week! That’s $51 a week! Why is no one questioning what appears to be ‘slave wages’? I found this blog hoping to find someone else who wonders about the inequity.

      • eclecticitee Says:

        Hi, Rae. I have no idea what the terms are, I blogged about this 2-1/2 years ago, and I have no vested interest. I guess it would also depend on how many hours they spend knitting. They may find it very taxing to knit for long periods of time. It is certainly not a full-time job for anyone! If it only takes a couple of hours to make a bag then that could be minimum wage, not slave wage. And keep in mind that this is only one stage of many in the making of the bags. The knitting must be felted to create the fabric, which the purlettes don’t do, then an entirely different team takes the fabric and creates the bags with linings, bases, straps and fixtures, etc. We don’t know the costs of any of that. I can see where this might be considered exploitation, although from what I’ve seen as an observer the motives are good, and the people doing the work are thrilled to do it and are kept in the loop all the way. Which would not be the case if she simply outsourced the knitting to people in countries who are definitely receiving slave wages (which would probably be a lot cheaper for her). In short, there are a lot of details we don’t know here.

  2. Jean Says:

    Trust me, it takes more than a couple of hours to knit the bag prior to fulling/felting. That includes the clutch bags.

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