Marketplace: Sien + Co brings South American wool to Park City
Alexandra Gibson traces the roots of her business to one moment. Working as an event planner in California, she was criticized for purchasing the wrong brand of cheese for hors d’oeuvres at a party. The expererience was so frustrating she left her job, went to Nepal with her daughter and changed the course of her life.
That trip led her to come up with the idea for the knit wear and home décor business Sien + Co, which now has a location inside Park City Mercantile on Main Street.
Gibson, along with her husband and daughters, had been living in Silicon Valley for about six years when she decided that she needed a change. As an event planner, she constantly worked with individuals who had a lot of money but not a lot of happiness. Finally, she grew tired of it and wanted an escape.
“I’d always heard that Nepal, being one of the poorest places in the world, also had the happiest people in the world,” she said.
With that information, Gibson planned a month-long adventure for her and her 4-year-old daughter to tour the country. But when they arrived in Kathmandu, they were stuck for six days as they waited for their lost luggage to arrive. During that time, Gibson stumbled upon a co-op of women who knitted hats, gloves and toys. They spent the rest of their days in Kathmandu with the women.
During those days, Gibson rediscovered her love for knitting, which she had learned in her youth from her grandmother.
“I hadn’t knit in a long time but it just kind of came back,” she said.
She decided that knitting was what she wanted to do for work.
Gibson’s original plan was to design and knit hats with the women in Nepal, but due to logistical obstacles, working with the Nepalese women was not feasible. Gibson instead found both the material and women who could knit in Peru, and, in 2016, Sien + Co began.
Gibson and her team started with hats and scarves then moved onto sweaters. At her first fashion trade show, she was shocked to sell her products to 30 boutiques.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “I was just going through the motions.”
She stepped into the home décor scene because she wanted to make floor cushions for her children. She found a woman in Argentina who helped Gibson make them and decided to put together a collection to bring to a home décor show. Vogue magazine caught wind of the floor cushions, wrote a feature about them and everything exploded.
“From that, it snowballed,” she said. “It just got crazy.”
Now, Gibson and her team of women in Peru and Argentina come up with new designs every six months. She moved back to Park City in 2016 and was recently able to secure a space on Main Street, thanks to local support from Park City Mercantile owner Casey Crawford.
Gibson said that working with the women and designing products is work that she can be proud of. But, the women working for Gibson are also happy to claim Sien + Co as their own when they see it featured in major publications.
“I can’t tell you how proud they are,” she said.
Gibson said that some of the women she employs used to work for about 18 hours in factories for low wages. One woman, who is 72-years-old, worked since she was 13 in factories and grew to hate knitting because of the long hours. She left the factory to work for the co-op and recently told Gibson that she loves knitting again.
Gibson is also proud of her products because the materials used are natural. The wool comes from sheep and alpacas in small South American villages. The dyes come from plants, minerals and other living organisms.
Selling natural, handmade products that come from fair trade labor is what more people are requesting, Gibson said. And Park City has been an ideal location for her, since several second-home owners and interior designers are looking for products with those characteristics.
Gibson said that she hopes to continue to expand her home décor line and start producing weather-proof products that can go outdoors as well. While still a little in shock about all of the success she has had, she is hopeful the business will continue to thrive.
“I think it has a lot to do with hard work and if you believe in yourself,” she said. “You just keep going, keep going, keep going to make it happen. I did not know I had this in me.”
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