This is the third in a series of interviews with the fabulous sponsors of the 2015 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.
As someone who has attended Rhinebeck for the last few years, I was familiar with Bijou Basin Ranch, but didn’t really know much about them until they started posting on Indie Untangled. What I have learned about owners Carl and Eileen Koop since, and what they have posted — from their Outlandish colorways, inspired by the Outlander book series and the Starz TV show, to their collaborations with Miss Babs — has definitely impressed me. That’s not to mention how incredibly soft their yarns are. I can’t wait to knit with the Himalayan Trail, a 75/25 yak/Merino blend, that I picked up at Rhinebeck last year.
Their company has a fascinating origin story. Both Carl and Eileen are East Coast transplants to rural Colorado, and Eileen worked for many years in consumer product development for several big companies — you may have even used some of the products she invented and worked on, including Binaca breath spray, Colgate gel toothpaste and OxiClean. These days, aside from running their yak ranch, the Koops have also come out with their own wool and fabric wash, called Allure (and if you’re lucky enough to score a goodie bag at the trunk show, you’ll be able to snag a sample).
And now, I’ll let Carl take it from here:
Tell me the story of how Bijou Basin Ranch came to be.
One of the reasons that Eileen and I moved from New Jersey — yep, we were born and raised 5 miles from NYC — was to get to a somewhat more rural setting. So, after living in Colorado for a while, I decided that we needed to be truly out in the country and away from town as much as was reasonable. I had quit my job and was back in school working on an animal science degree, and found a really nice ranch outside the town of Elbert, which is about 65 miles southeast of Denver as the crow flies.
To keep our agricultural tax status, we needed an agricultural based business that utilized the ranch, so the idea of becoming ranchers is how Bijou Basin Ranch started and we started looking into fiber animals. FYI, the name is from the fact that West Bijou Creek runs through our property, which is in the Bijou Basin, a small valley on the Colorado plains.
Why did you decide to raise yaks for fiber?
After I received my degree, I became a licensed veterinary technician and was working for an equine dentist. On a ranch call one day, while attending to a client’s horses, two small six-month-old yaks walked out of the barn. I asked the owner what they were (I didn’t sleep through that many classes and I knew my text books had all the latest animals in them) and she said “Tibetan yaks.” As an aside, her husband would keep treats in his back pocket, which to the yaks meant all men did, so all day while I was there I kept getting nibbled at on my back pockets as they looked for treats.
Eileen was in China at the time on business (she was the head of R&D for the company that made OxiClean) and called to see how I was doing, so I told her that I knew what we would do for our tax status — we would raise yaks. She responded with, “I’m sorry we must have a bad connection since I would swear I just heard the word ‘yaks.’ ” I assured her the connection was fine and that since yaks come from China she should stop at the duty free shop and pick a few up. I thought that they should do just fine in an overhead compartment.
Actually, before that phone call, I had looked into Tibetan yaks and saw that while there was a breed stock and meat market for them, it appeared to no one was doing anything bigger than a true mom and pop fiber business and had decided that we should give it a try.
Do you and Eileen knit?
No, neither of us knit or crochet, we just raise the Tibetan yaks for their fiber and then design the yarns we sell. Eileen was taught how to as a child, but it never really stuck. I have just started to do some weaving, but at this point I have so little time I can’t even tell if I am good or bad at it. Should we do a WAL this winter — I think so!
How did the idea for the Outlandish colors come about? Are you Outlander fans?
The idea was MarlyBird‘s — she is our creative director and a rabid Outlander fan. Eileen had read the books and was also a big fan, so once Marly brought the idea up it just really took off. It has been a lot of fun watching how many knitters are Outlander fans and discussing the books and TV show with them. I think we also brought a lot of new fans to the books who had never heard of them before.
The colorways you’ve created with Miss Babs are gorgeous! How did that collaboration come about?
We have been huge Miss Babs fans for years and over the years on the fiber show tours have gotten to know them very well and have become good friends withe everyone on “Team Babs.” They are a great group of people! Anyway, when we decided to try having indie dyers work with our yarns for us, Babs was far and away at the top of our list and when we asked she agreed, which obviously made us very happy. All of the colors have been developed by Babs and her team with just a wee bit of input from us. We think it would be crazy for us to tell her how to dye yarn so we just let her be creative about it. And I think you must agree that she has done an excellent job so far.
With Eileen’s background in consumer product development, did you always plan on creating a wool wash?
Pretty much, yes. We have used other products, and the big names that everyone recognizes are all great, but Eileen has a different way of looking at them since she is a consumer and a chemist. With Allure, she was able to create a fine fiber and fabric wash that, as she puts it, “has everything a wash needs and nothing it doesn’t,” one that cleans and protects fine fibers but is equally as good for all fibers and fabrics. And, quite frankly, it is not easy to get Eileen out of the lab!
How would you say Allure differs from other wool and fine fabric washes?
Allure contains no lanolin, phosphates, enzymes, dyes and optical brighteners, and is completely natural and biodegradable. It is a true no-residue wash, which means it is a true no-rinse wash. But what we can say about Allure that is most important is regarding the components that Allure is made with. They are top quality, all natural ingredients which, when put together properly, create what we think is by far the best fiber wash available.
What’s next for Bijou Basin? Can you reveal any upcoming plans?
We just released Xanadu, our newest yarn, which is 100% pure Mongolian Cashmere! It is truly unbelievably soft and rich and we think knitters will love it! It is a light fingering weight, 400 yards in 2-ounce skeins and is available in seven different colors, with more on the way.
We also are starting to have more indie dyers work with our yarns and creating some wonderful new colorways for us. These dyers include, but will not be limited to Modeknit, Lost City Knits, Lattes & Llamas, Miss Babs, Neighborhood Fiber Co. and Anzula! It is a wide variety of colors and dying styles and I know people will love them. We will be releasing these colors either late this year or early next year so watch our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for details.
Lastly, we will be putting out an incredible kit for the holiday season. A lot of details are still being finalized, but I guarantee that this kit will knock your socks off! Stay tuned…