Change is lame. I avoid it a pretty much all costs. But every now and again the stars align in just the right way, and I am talked into trying out a new product. While I was out at the Maryland Wool and Fiber festival, one of my friends raved about Allure Fiber Wash. It’s made by the same people that make Bijou Basin yarn, so that’s a pretty big count in it’s favor as far as I’m concerned. But I already had a wool wash that I liked, and like I said, change is lame. What convinced me to try it was being told about the unscented wash.
It’s not just “no scent added,” but legitimately scent free, and that’s a HUGE perk for yarn dyers. So I went against my nature and picked up a bottle in each of the three scents. I blocked a huge pile of socks with them and used the unscented in the place of my previous wash for a few pounds of yarn. It was love at first smell. I had to know more about how it was made so I reached out to the mad scientist behind the wash, Eileen Koop, and was lucky enough to be able to chat with her about how Allure came to be.
Before we get into the knitty-gritty of Allure, I would love to share some about your background, Eileen. My career began in science and shifted to yarn, and I love nothing more than spending time with other people that love chemistry and fibers as much as I do. Can you tell us a little bit about where your career started and how you wound up raising (and of course, washing) yaks?
I joke that I’ve done product development for air fresheners to zit creams and everything in between except paint. I kind of lucked out with a first job in chemistry for the Airwick Company. I knew I found my calling developing consumer products and did it my entire career. From Airwick I went to Givuadan which is a fragrance company. I thought I might want to be a perfumer but quickly decided that product was much more fun so Brut became all the ancillary products for men, not the actual fragrance (thick after shave lotions and such). From there I joined Colgate Palmolive and did toothpaste gels and laundry detergents. Moved to Colorado for Carl’s company and actually worked doing food spice blends and deep fry cooking bases.
Hated working in foods, they have no sense of humor!
Joined Scott’s Liquid Gold and did air fresheners again and household cleaners. It was a small company and the founder was still there and he asked me to do a cosmetic concept. We came up with ‘Alpha Hydrox” that created the whole anti-aging skin care category. On to Orange Glo where we did OxiClean and other household products. Was an exec. at this point and semi-retired when we sold the company in 2006. Always wanted a ranch, so we bought one and came upon yaks as we were looking for something agricultural to do. Pure coincidence, no plan!
Didn’t want to raise meat and we heard about this nice down that the yaks have so we said, let’s give it a try. Took some raw fiber to the Taos Wool Festival in 2006 and asked vendors and visitors what they thought of the fiber. We got wow reviews and said, OK, let’s give this a serious try. We had no idea about fiber or the industry or craft at all. Found and worked with some great folks to get us going (Buffalo Gold Co., WildFibers mag., etc) and developed a yarn line via our fiber, my textile contacts from cleaners and Carl’s marketing creativity. Finally decided to put my product experience to work with the Allure wash when I realized that the products out there were either fairly standard old laundry chemistry or designed to deposit lanolin onto your hand knitted project. Well, that just wouldn’t do for Yak and I know a thing or two about detergent!
Allure is a brand of no-rinse wool wash. This is a must for delicate fibers that shouldn’t be stressed out with agitation or running water. Please tell us more about the science behind a no-rinse wash, and how it gets the dirt out without a traditional wash cycle?
A no rinse wash must be fully and quickly biodegradable. It’s got to lift soil and make the soil more attractive to staying in the water rather than re-depositing on the fibers. Allure does all of this with a unique and proprietary formula. I’d become aware of some of these materials over the course of my career, but they are not typically used by big companies because they cost too much, don’t provide enough benefit for a ‘normal’ wash and rinse detergent, or any number of reasons. But they work exceptionally well in our more narrowly focused product.
The Allure Wash that really floats my boat is the unscented wash. While the scent combinations you chose for the other “flavors” are inspired, and have made my socks smell magical, the really impressive thing to me is that you have created an unscented wash that isn’t just “no scent added” but truly scent free. I smelled it. A lot. I was convinced if I smelled it long enough I would find that trace of detergent-smell. I didn’t though. Can you tell us about the process of creating a truly scent-free wash, and how it is that the same mind responsible for Brute cologne made it happen?
The unscented, truly odor free nature of the product is a direct result of very high quality naturally based ingredients. Most time base odor comes from petroleum derived materials that are heavily synthesized. Ours does not utilize these types of ingredients and so has no odor. Again more expensive but worth the cost for the consumer benefit. Also, from my time at the fragrance house Givaudan, I never again liked heavily scented products, they give me headaches! I learned how to make odor free and also beautiful but lightly scented product using naturals and high quality materials.
Ok, slightly off topic question. Bijou Basin specializes in yak yarn, which is a wonderful treat, and a very unusual fiber choice in main-stream American yarn making circles. Since we share a love of making left-of center fiber choices I pose the following scenario to you: If you had your choice of making yarn from the hair of a polar bear or a platypus which would you choose? We’ll just assume for the sake of the question that these are very happy bears and platypuses (…platypie?) that would like nothing more than to be shorn. Please show your work.
I’d go with the polar bear because I’ve learned so much about warm luxury fibers that I now have a basis for marketing such a product. On the other hand, I happily go for the platypie because, who knows where this could lead. I am by nature an explorer and am just about ready for a whole new thing!
I could talk to you all day, but sock-knitting waits for no man, I know you have to get back to blinding us with science. Is there anything else you want to share with us before you go?
We could never have gotten as far as we have without the help of so many wonderful people in this crazy yarn industry. From graphics to designers to production workers to mill masters, they, the great unseen, are our secret to success. So, to you as well, we say thank you!
Eileen, thanks so much for taking the time to hang out with us, and for sharing more about the process behind Allure!
If you get a chance to try out the washes I really recommend them. It’s my new standard. :D