When Kelsey Adair was a competitive snowboarder, she spent a lot of time in buses: Whistler, Seattle, Kelowna. To pass the time, she and her fellow boarders would crochet toques to sport on the slopes. “Looking back , they were pretty ugly, bright hats.”
Having studied fashion at John Casablancas, Adair was delighted to get a job as an accessory buyer for Sitka Surfboards. “I was buying leather bags, jewelry. I was interacting with all of these artisans and got inspired by them. I started thinking about what I could do on the side.”
With her past success in selling some of those ugly bright hats for ten dollars – and a history of knitting with her Nana at the family cabin – Adair decided to launch Bare Knitwear in 2012. When she started, Adair did her own knitting with sheep wool and sold her wares at Sitka.
Adair gave her company the ‘bare’ name as it was important for her to convey her values around natural, eco-friendly, organic production. ‘Bare’ also reinforced her desire to keep the style simple and elegant.
Having always wanted to graduate to luxury fibers, Adair started researching handcrafted alpaca. She landed on South America. “We produce everything with an artisan group in Peru. There are 150 artisans. Everything is handcrafted and from the ranch. At the moment, I’m doing four scarf styles and one hat.” Adair will expand into lightweight throw blankets and more hats and gloves.
Kelsey designs the signature line in Vancouver, then works actively with the Ayacucho artisans to create items that function well, look good and work from a business perspective. In visiting Peru, Adair has been impressed by the knitters, most of whom live in a community on the outskirts in which there is a great deal of domestic abuse. The collective offers steady work and an educational daycare for the knitters’ children.
The Ayacucho artisans are so in demand, Kelsey had to sit patiently on a waitlist until they brought in more knitters and expanded their services. “They are so talented. It was awesome. When I started working with them, I noticed how many amazing ideas they had on stitching and how to improve my original samples” These days, Adair and the Ayacucho team will go back and forth, building on each other’s ideas until they come back with an effective, stylish and cozy product.
Adair looks for stores who share her sustainable philosophies. Right now, she sells to boutiques in Whistler – 3 Singing Birds, Vancouver – Lynn Steven, 1910, Deep Cove – Room 6 and Portland – Beam and Anchor. “We’ve also done pop-up shops. We did one at West Elm on South Granville and collaborated with seven other artisans in a pop-up shop at thisopenspace in Chinatown.
Adair enjoys being part of the close-knit community of artisans in Vancouver. “There are so many people going out on their own, being creative. I do get inspired by people all the time.” She also looks up to designers who are established in their businesses, such as New York knitwear and jewelry designer Lauren Manoogian. “She has really developed her own aesthetic and brand for herself.”
Locally, Kelsey is inspired by Nicole Bridger and her Eco-Fashion. “She owns her own factory in Vancouver and produces almost everything here.” According to Bridger’s website, they employ ‘20 sewers, 3 cutters and a staff of 7-10 in finishing, depending on how busy the season.’
Looking ahead, Adair wants to do more special collaborations with retailers, as she has with 3 Singing Birds, and more projects with her fellow creators. “My scarf with the leather buckle was a collaboration with Love Jules Leather. They do these amazing leather shoes – high tops.”
“ I also want to expand in the East Coast where it’s cold: Montreal, Toronto.” And one day, Adair is quick to add, “it would be great to have a small storefront studio.”
Written by Elizabeth Newton
Photos courtesy of Kelsey Adair