Sarah Oliver Handbags, a company that has seniors making their products, entered the Shark Tank on December 4th. Heavy interviewed Oliver on her inspirational company whose team goes by the name, ‘Purlettes.’ Here is what she told us about…
The Idea to Hire Seniors
I decided to hire seniors when I could not keep up with demand for my handbags. I knew I did not want to go overseas for production. Since I learned to knit from my mom, grandmother and great aunt, it seemed like an obvious choice to approach a retirement home where I could possibly find a similar demographic. Plus I have a soft spot for seniors. I could not ask for a more dedicated workforce.
Some of Her Talented Employees
Gordon, 92, is one of my newest knitters to join our group. He learned to knit on his 90th birthday from his granddaughter. I also recently saw Gordon jamming on a harmonica in a rock band. He is not afraid to learn new tricks! There is no way to keep up with Daphne, our oldest knitter at 94 years old. She follows every baseball stat, which she keeps in a binder next to her big chair – where she also knits. The binder is so heavy from just one season’s stats that she uses both hands to lift it up. Of course, she loves the San Francisco Giants! Daphne can quote the price of gold or let you know how the stock market is doing at any given moment. Mostly, she is the knitting guru of the group and makes herself available for any questions about knitting and is happy to fix mistakes! She keeps us all on our toes!
Who Designs the Bags
I have always designed all the bags except for the bridal bags, which Daphne helped me design. Of course I get loads of feedback from customers, my team and our sales rep about what is working well and suggestions for changes. I’m always mindful of what I think the Purlettes can handle and reproduce at the quality standard we have set for ourselves.
Her Serendipitous Entry Onto the ‘Tank’
It is with great sadness that I share the passing of Gertrud Stockton (January 25, 1920 to August 22, 2015). Gertrud was a loyal member of the Purlettes+1 and we will miss her wit and bright smile. She once told me that knitting saved her during her many sleepless nights. She would pick up her knitting to pass the time until morning.
It came about after I was contacted by one of the Shark Tank producers. I had never imagined being on the show, but the timing of the email was serendipitous. I had spent the year prior to being contacted by the producer trying to run my business and care for my aging parents from afar. It was an extremely challenging time. Family is my number-one priority and I did not hesitate traveling back and forth from California to the East Coast to help my parents as much as I could. My business really suffered during that time, but my team and the Purlettes hung in there because they believed in our product and loved our business model. Sadly, my father passed away from Lewy’s Body Dementia the end of May. I felt incredibly sad about my father’s death. The concern about getting the company back on its feet was also in the back of my mind but I felt I could not abandon all that I had created. I was on the flight home to California after my father passed away when the email from the Shark Tank producer came into my inbox. Just unbelievable! I like to imagine my dad had something to do with my Shark Tank journey! I know he is rooting for me somewhere.
How the Name ‘Purlettes’ Came to Be
The name ‘Purlette’ came about from a contest we had. We ask for suggestions for names for the group and then the knitters had a vote and picked, the ‘Purlettes.’ When Hector later joined the group, he declared that he wanted to be a ‘+1’ since he was not keen on being called a Purlette at the time – thus the group became called the ‘Purlettes +1.’ Since Gordon joined the group, we may have to switch the name to ‘Purlettes +2.’