The 25 years old Oleana story reads much like a fairy tale come true. The founders’ dream was to prove that producing clothing in Norway was possible. Today, the fashion knit-ware producer Oleana is one of Norway’s premier textile companies, exporting to over 14 export markets, including Japan and USA.
Oleana was founded in 1992, when most textile factories in Norway were closing due to labor costs up to 100 times more than in developing countries. Hildegunn Møster, Kolbjørn Valestrand and Signe Arhus, the factory’s designer for 23 years, decided to design and produce some of the most beautiful knitwear in the world.
The name is inspired from the violin virtuoso Ole Bull from Bergen, who bought 25,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania to start his own settlement, Oleana, for poor Norwegian immigrants.
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Glorious colors and complicated unusual knitted patterns have been the company’s trade mark for 25 years now. For 25 years Oleana has produced award winning sweaters and knitwear. ”Made in Norway by machines and human hands”, is the statement written on all the garments sent out from the factory. Oleana wants to produce goods in Norway and at the same time take care of an industry so rich in traditions.
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Today Oleana is showing Norway off to the rest of the world. Designer Signe Aarhus has signed most of the collections during these years. Daily Scandinavian has asked her about her assignment.
Being the only designer for so many years – doesn’t that make the business vulnerable?
“Maybe, but that’s something we’ve chosen to live with. There are also many advantages by giving me as a designer the opportunity to characterize the visual expression. It becomes visually recognizable, I get a lot of experience and I can cooperate very closely with the management- and production team.”
Do you have any apprentices – or do others come up with suggestions for colors and themes?
“Yes, we are constantly working to ensure our best for the future. We are in an industry where news and changes characterize the way we work and are part of everyday life. That’s what makes it so exciting and challenging.
We now have a women’s and an interior collection. Our children’s collection is new of the year. A new designer and I have been involved in the preparation of this line.”
Do the machines knit a path in which the different pattern parts are placed and adjusted?
“No. The machines go back and forth with wire guides over a bed with knitting needles.”
What do you do with the remaining bits and pieces?
“Our items are knitted in what we call “full fashion”, which means in shape. Nothing but the throat is cut. That’s why there are minimal surplus remaining. Sustainability and minimal unnecessary consumption are very important to us.
Can a machine knit more than one part at a time?
“No, not usually. The exception is a machine with two sleds, which can knit two smaller parts, for example shawls.”
Do you need to change the pattern for each size?
“Yes, it’s called grading. We spend a lot of time on this because we want the pattern to fit and see to that our garments have the right dimensions to sizes, ranging from XS to XXL.”
Do defects during the knitting process occur often? If so, is that due to the thread?
“There are many sources to defects, but fortunately it does not happen very often in our knitting.”
How often do the designs change?
“It is entirely dependent on needs, and I have no good answer.”
Is design customized for specific export markets?
“No. However we know quite a lot about the different countries’ demand, for example in connection with choices of color. Our collections are made with domestic as well as international markets in mind.”
The 25-year anniversary was celebrated with a grand performance in the Grieg Concert Hall in Bergen on the featuring speeches, music and dance. The grand Finale was a touching performance by Fargespill on 12th October last year. The group consisting of 100 children from Bergen, wearing folk costumes from their 35 native countries, showed a sincere and obvious joy in performing.
All photos: Tor Kjolberg (except Fargespill)
Glorious Colors from Norway for 25 Years, written by Tor Kjolberg