In the town of Weaverville, just north of Asheville, it’s only fitting that you will find Echoview, a fiber-manufacturing mill that spins yarn, much of which is sourced locally from farmers around North Carolina in addition to other parts of the eastern United States and Peru. Echoview has its own (albeit small) alpaca farm right across the street from the sleek, modern mill. This very juxtaposition embodies the sustainable processes that Echoview is known for. In fact, Echoview was the first manufacturing mill to achieve Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification in 2013.
Echoview’s yarn and textiles are woven into beautiful products, such as the basket weave baby blanket created by Echoview’s Knit Product Director, Allyson Ansusinha. The Made in NC Award-winning blanket started as a simple request by Echoview’s founder, Julie Jensen, who asked for a baby blanket in an in-and-out knitting pattern. Allyson drew inspiration from her background in weaving and textiles and created one of the sweetest, softest blankets we’ve ever gotten our hands on.
Learn more about Allyson in Our State’s interview below, and find out how Echoview’s environmentally conscious practices are making a big impact on small-town Weaverville.
OS: I’d love to hear about your role at Echoview, and your inspiration behind the blanket that won the Made in NC award.
Ansusinha: I started at Echoview in January 2016, but I was first introduced to Echoview through a job with Appalatch Outdoor Apparel Company, which was renting a space inside of Echoview’s mill. They hired me to learn and train on their new knitting machine, and I really took to it naturally because of my background in building fabrics. Appalatch ended up making a transition out of the mill, but they sold the machine to Echoview, so Echoview hired me to be a knit product developer because they had the desire to make machine-knitting yarns. I started basically as a department of one, and I have gotten to build this position around working with the yarns and deciding what to create with them. It’s a really fun job.
The basket-weave baby blanket was a cool project for us because it was really the first design that Echoview and I did together. It started as a really simple request by Julie; she said she wanted a baby blanket, and she wanted it to be this simple in-and-out pattern. My interpretation of in-and-out is this pattern that looks like a basket weave, which I think is true to my own background as a weaver. I find myself designing things that are inspired by woven textiles. We first did the blanket in wool spun by Echoview, and then the product we submitted to the Our State contest was in organic cotton.
OS: You are developing a collection of home goods for Echoview. What does that entail, and what have you developed so far?
Ansusinha: I think of the collection of home goods I’m developing for Echoview as accessories to make a house a home. Right now there are three baby blankets, two throw blankets, two pillow designs, and a couple of accessories, like shawls. I keep in mind “playfully simple” while I’m designing, because I want the products to appeal to a broad range of aesthetics, coordinate and complement other pieces in the collection, and for people to have fun while decorating their homes. Sometimes a design is inspired by the yarn — I get to work with our mill manager, Ken Simpson, and my co-worker, Amalia Fragoso, to design yarns and fiber blends that I’d like to use in our knit products. That’s one of the perks of working vertically. I also bounce ideas and inspiration with Grace Gouin, who designs knit kit patterns for Echoview, to make sure our designs have a common thread and look like they’re coming from the same place. A lot of times, I’m inspired by hand-knitting patterns; I de-code them in a way, drawing loops and laying out how the structure could be built using a computer program our Stoll knitting machine reads. I create the computer program file for each product, and there I can dictate the type of stitch the machine will use, how many colors of yarn will go into the fabric, and the size and shape of each product. Then, I knit a sample and test out finishing techniques. Once the product is approved, it is photographed by local photographer Nicole McConville, and listed on our website and available in our retail store at the mill. I run small batches of production, knitting each product in a just-in-time fashion, so we don’t waste material on overstock. It is very much a community and collaborative effort!
OS: Echoview won the first Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification for a manufacturing mill in 2013. Why was it important to Echoview to gain that certification?
Ansusinha: It was important to our founder, Julie Jensen, to meet standards of Green Building because of her background in ecology and interest in the environment. Some of the benefits of our building are emissions reduction thanks to solar powering, daylighting [the use of natural light to increase energy efficiency], and water heated naturally by the earth through geothermal wells. The groundbreaking for the mill was in 2011, and Echoview received the certification in 2013 by following LEED’s standards. I think it’s amazing and progressive that we are the first manufacturing mill with Gold LEED certification, and this building is truly a pleasure to work inside every day.
OS: Are the materials used in Echoview’s mill sourced from within the area?
Ansusinha: A lot of them are, but we have a mixture of both local and otherwise. One of the main products, which is a really a service that Echoview offers, is fiber processing for farmers. There are a lot of local farmers that process with us, but we buy from farmers at fiber shows around the region as well. That’s something that we’ve been begun to incorporate into machine-knitting yarns, which we just started developing in January of this year. We’ve been able to use a lot of local alpaca and wool for those, but we also supplement with some merino, Rambouillet and fine wool from companies like Kent Wool and Ashland Bay. The Rambouillet wool is a domestic breed, and the yarn is processed and spun in South Carolina. We also use wool from baby alpaca from Peru, which is far away, but they have the highest quality fiber because they’ve been raising alpaca for hundreds of years, and we know that our source is sustainable and we trust them.
OS: Do you have an alpaca farm at Echoview as well?
Ansusinha: Yes, Echoview Farm is pretty much right across the street from the fiber mill. There are maybe only a dozen alpaca there that Julie keeps, so they don’t necessarily produce enough fiber to be made into a scalable product for us, but that is something that Julie is really passionate about: keeping happy animals at Echoview Farm.
OS: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or Echoview?
Ansusinha: We are very intentional when we choose the materials that we use. A lot of our products are made from wool and alpaca fibers, and those are really important to our commitment to sustainability because they are renewable resources. They just grow back on happy, healthy animals every year. We spin a lot of different blends of those fibers, which makes us a really unique manufacturer in the United States. It’s hard to find alpaca and wool blend, so that’s something that we’re trying to expand. They’re naturally temperature regulating and antimicrobial — and also super soft, which we think is really cool.