Meet the Maker: Soele

Meet Soele — An Austin-based sweater company supporting artisan communities in the Andean highlands. Oh yeah, and another edition to the Fall FELIZ line-up! We're excited about their mission, commitment to fair wages and sustainable production practices, and reverence for responsible community collaboration. Read on to learn how the company was founded and what we can expect to see at the sale.

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We are excited to have Soele at the sale this year.! For those that may not be familiar with Soele, can you share a bit about what you’ll be bringing to the sale.

I'll be bringing the first three sweaters designed and produced by Soele. Two of which are made from 100% alpaca and the third is raglan-style pima cotton sweater. It's getting cold out and I'm confident that these provisions will help :).

Can you guide us through how you came to own your clothing line.

When I was 14, I lived in Germany for a year as an exchange student and went back about every year through college. Speaking German and having the freedom to explore the country via train has taken me to Berlin about a half-dozen times. Berlin is a crazy place because the post-war world was characterized by Soviet vs. Western tension and the city served as a kind of stage showcasing each side's resilience/ stubbornness. This meant that Berlin was never really ideal for big business, but was still the region's cultural epicenter, which underwent a kind of renaissance after the fall of the Wall in 1990. The city's culture embraced its newfound freedom with a sort of lawlessness in its fashion, party scene and ambience. When you spend enough time in a place like that, it's impossible to be satisfied with a "normal" job, so I started thinking of ways I could surround myself with more creative free-thinkers and leverage my background in traditional business to do some unique and impactful work that inherently deals with how people express themselves as individuals.

We’d love to know more about your mission for beautiful clothing with a global impact. How has this informed your approach to the design and the production of your garments?

November 2016 happened and I was pissed just like (what I had previously thought was) everyone else, but I spent too much time warring on social media and recognized that I needed to do something, so I tried to make a shoe in my kitchen. Seriously. My intent was to create a blueprint for how I could work with the disenfranchised and open a shoe manufacturing plant in Austin...once again, seriously. Obviously, this didn't pan out, so I went back to the drawing board. I heard about Fashion Revolution ATX- an event put on by Jen Lewis, founder of Purse and Clutch, to increase attention on how the fashion community must reorient itself in order to correct its dangerous history of wage abuse, environmental negligence, etc. There I met Jacquie Ring, founder of Moesel, and she took me to Peru and provided me with many of the resourced I needed and introduced me to the people I needed to know to get started. After this, I started doing serious research into sustainability practices and learned about how deeply entrenched alpacas are in the culture of many regions of Peru, which encouraged me to start working with alpaca fiber. Part of my research led me to Mike Safely, Alpaca Jedi and founder of the Quechua Benefit, a non-profit that has various initiatives (sustainable alpaca raising practices, a school in the Andes, and medical programs to help keep these kids stay healthy enough to remain in school and get their degree) to loop in the largely-forgotten people of the Andes. It's still a work in progress and right now a portion of the proceeds are going back to support the Quechua Benefit, but the plan is to include this organization more closely in the manufacturing and resource appropriation processes starting next year.

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How has owning your own clothing line impacted your personal style and/or your shopping philosophies?

I've always expressed myself through my sweaters and have categorized the rest of my clothes as just necessity....I'm from Minnesota, so only the 5th outermost layer is ever seen. Since I try and wear Soele sweaters as much as possible now, I suppose I really don't buy many clothes anymore. In all seriousness, before involving myself in this process I was pretty certain that factories meant that clothes were made by machines. After learning more and meeting the people who would be working alongside me to make something special, it alerted me to how frighteningly negligent and short-sighted the industry can be. Everyone deserves respect and if this notion means something to you, it is crucial to look deeper into your buying decisions and how you interface with people, irrespective of context and personal comfortability.

What’s in the future for Soele?

I'm working with a designer, Erin, who has tons of experience designing and creating samples for some big-name New York brands. We're on the same page with respect to the ethics of the brand, but the key difference is that she actually knows what she's doing in terms of producing clothes ;). I'm excited to see where this partnership takes Soele. I received some funding to throw a launch party, which will be in December. Wane (manager of some really amazing local artists, such as "the Teeta"), Adrian (founder of Brown State of Mind), and Joaq.n (creator of Nu Wave and, in my opinion, the best damn DJ in Austin) are helping me put this together.

And to get to know you a bit better...

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Where is home for you? Austin, MN. Home of Spam and can be reached by taking I-35 all the way northward from Austin.

Astrological sign: Libra

Last great travel destination? Mexico City with Abby/ @notaxontampons. I'm very surprised more people don't go there more often. Relatively inexpensive to get to, awesome people, great food!

What podcasts or books do you return to as a business owner? or just as a creative?

Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher. Check this one out if you haven't. It's an excellent exposition on how we have a responsibility to care about how we use and appropriate finite, natural resources.

Altruism by Matthieu Ricard (known for being the happiest man in the world)- I finished reading the first 1/20th of the book and decided to go vegetarian. As it turned out, the "go vegetarian for these reasons" part wasn't until much later in the book.

What was the last big risk you took?

My mom still harasses me about not going to med school (to be fair, she's never seen my college transcripts, which would undoubtedly dispel this wish), but I think it's important that everyone make their own decision about what they want from life. The only proviso I'd add to that is that I think that this decision should be made after considering how it affects the greater society. Soele has been a series of risks varying in size, but to be honest, the biggest and most recent was what put me in contact with Mike Safley (founder of Quechua Benefit). I didn’t know him, but read his book and cold-called him to see if he wanted to work with me on this project and he was far more open to the idea than I would have ever thought.

You can shop Soele’s first collection of sweaters at the sale on December 9th. Until then, learn more about Soele’s mission and browse the collection here.