APRÈS SKI: Testimony to the gig economy, a former bank executive’s quest to find cashmere-like sweaters that wouldn’t irritate her sensitive skin led Christine Griffin to launch knitwear made of cotton and natural fibers.
With a home in the ski town of Beaver Creek, Colo., Griffin set out to design sweaters inspired by the Vail lifestyle — cozy oversize styles. While she and her husband have been skiing out west for more than 20 years, her father-in-law has known the lay of land since Beaver Creek first opened in the early Eighties. “He actually had the opportunity to buy a place in Vail for $10,000, but it was just too much at the time so he didn’t do it. We laugh about it now, but it’s not that funny. It’s really sad. It probably would be worth $10 million now. It kills us,” she said. “My husband is a professional ski instructor for fun. He’s a banker by trade, but his dream is to get out there and just be in the snow everyday in the winter instead of in a bank.”
While the mountain life agrees with Griffin, the preferred look — comfortable, big, chunky cashmere or wool sweaters cause her to itch and make her skin turn red. In her time in Colorado, or through Internet searches, she wasn’t able to find anything comparable in cotton. During a trip to Beaver Creek a few years ago, an entrepreneurial friend Kim Johnson, Curb Allure’s founder, suggested Griffin to develop her own. After “Googling around” for a while, she found that her searches kept leading to Maker’s Row and subsequently Fabric to Finish.
This fall she will launch a nine-piece collection retailing from $40 arm warmers to a $700 poncho made of six pounds of yarn. With no fashion experience she is counting on Jamie Koff’s team at Fabric to Finish for production and 30-year industry veteran Voula Solonos, who once designed Tommy Hilfiger knitwear, for design. The collection will be sold direct to consumers through the company’s site with wholesale to be added. “It’s not lost on me that cotton sometimes has a negative connotation. People don’t think of it as a luxury item,” Griffin said.
A former Citicorp executive, who went on to work in pension fund management at Scudder, Stevens & Clark (and “hated every minute of it”), she said her original plan after getting married was to be a stay-at-home mom for a few years and then return to the workforce. “Then 24 years flew by — I was very involved with my kids and volunteered for a lot of things,” she explained.
With first-year sales pegged to be $500,000, Christine Griffin knitwear is produced in China and Queens. “It was my strongest effort to keep everything made in America. But not knowing how fashion and manufacturing works, the struggle was real. I was told from the beginning China is where it’s at when it comes to making a beautiful knit sweater. I had such a closed mind that we spent a good deal of time working with factories here in the U.S. and it was not working out. Ultimately, I succumbed to the pressure and said, ‘OK, just show me a sample from China,’” she said. “It was so expensive to make them here and quality-wise, it just wasn’t working out as I had planned.”