Who doesn’t love a good coffee & culture brand collaboration? From the same rising trend that brought you Espresso Parts x Betabrand and Coffee Supreme x I Love Ugly comes an origin-inspired American-made blanket from Cafe Imports and Faribault Woolen Mills. Both brands are Minneapolis born and bred, although Faribault has Cafe Imports beat on the longevity front: they’ve been making scarves, blankets, and accessories at the company’s mill in Faribault, Minnesota since 1865.
The blanket is modeled on classic tri-color blanket designs common in Colombia, where Cafe Imports works with origin partners like Arnulfo Leguizamo, a storied producer whose coffees helped Pete Licata win the 2013 World Barista Championship. Just 175 of the blankets have been made, and they’re available via direct sale from Cafe Imports, with 100% of the proceeds being donated to Coffee Kids, an international aid organization that supports coffee-producing communities.
You can watch the blankets being produced in this video from Cafe Imports:
To learn more about the collaboration, we sat down with Bruce Bildsten of Faribault and Noah Namowicz of Cafe Imports.
How did this collaboration with Cafe Imports come about? How does a green coffee importing company and a woolen mills brand get hooked up?
Bruce Bildsten: Well, the truth is that Ted Irvine who is one of our sales managers was a good, old friend of Noah’s business partner at Café Imports. (Doesn’t everything start with friendship?) Ted felt that there was a real affinity between the brands: Craftsmanship, quality, passion… both are just cool brands that bring joy to people’s lives. So it was a natural fit.
Talk to me about the design of this particular blanket. Where’s the pattern from? What are the primary inspirations?
Bruce Bildsten: The inspiration came from Noah and the team at Café Imports. He thought it would be really cool to create a blanket/throw that had the look of the iconic burlap bags used to ship Colombian coffee beans. He sent the bag to us, our designer mocked up something Noah loved on his computer, and then our head of development created a weave that had the look of the texture of burlap, but with the luxurious feel of fine merino wool.
Coffee + fashion is something we’re watching quite closely right now. This collabo with Faribault isn’t exactly fashion, but it approaches some of the same vectors–collaborating with established brands outside of coffee to make something really beautiful. But why Faribault? Why a blanket? Why now?
Noah Namowicz: Café Imports is fortunate to be in one of the major hotspots for the American Made Heritage movement. We have brands like Faribault Woolen Mills, Red Wing Shoes, Duluth Pack, Leatherworks MN, and many more in our backyard here in Minneapolis. Something about Midwestern culture and Midwestern values really translates to heritage products beautifully. We find that they are not so much of a shout out or nod to the past, but rather practical well-made goods for our present reality in Minnesota.
Faribault and its legacy in Minnesota are the epitome of that Midwestern culture that draws so many people to this part of the country. At Café Imports we do our best to honor the hardworking men and women that produce the world’s best coffees, so collaborating with a brand that has a story and a genuine legacy similar (but in completely different ways) to those coffee producers just seems to make a lot of sense to us. Bottom line, we like people that care about what they do, and we like the products produced when someone gives a damn about them.
Talking about “Heritage” is interesting because, in the wrong hands, that’s become a deeply overused buzzword in today’s landscape of design and marketing (and especially with products designed for men). But for Faribault, “heritage” seems fair; your brand has been around since the 1860s, which is a long time for any company, and a very long time for an American company.
This is a long way of saying, talk to us about what the heritage of your brand means to you, and how it’s reflected in your products.
Bruce Bildsten: Believe me, I’ve seen my share of made up heritage brands! That said, I salute the return to American craftsmanship, even if a company opened last week. But Faribault Woolen Mills is the real deal. We opened the year Lincoln died and the Civil War ended. Our “new” mill was built in 1892 and we have equipment dating back to 1905. (They just don’t make it like they used to.) We have employees with 30, 40 and 60 years of experience. They’re craftspeople, every one. And the products we make today are almost identical to ones we made over 100 years ago. Our rich 149-year-old archives have inspired virtually everything in our line. We update colors and details, but they’re utterly timeless. What it means to me personally? I’m so damn proud of this place and everyone who works here. It’s an honor.
Who is this product for? Who is the intended user?
Noah Namowicz: This particular collaboration has 100% of the proceeds benefiting the organization Coffee Kids. We suspect the audience for this product will likely be people that want to support some pretty impressive coffee initiatives at origin. Ultimately though, this throw is intended for anyone that appreciates a quality hand-made product that will be passed down for generations.
For you Noah, Cafe Imports is involved in a lot of travel for coffee sourcing. What travel stuff helped inspired this blanket? And have you seen blankets like it in the coffeelands?
Noah Namowicz: This throw was inspired by the traditional 3-striped Colombian burlap coffee bag. This sounds super cheesy I know, but allow me to take you on a little journey to understand how this idea came up…
Last year when I was in San Agustín Colombia, we rode horses with the producers of Los Naranjos. It was a truly remarkable ride into the mountains. I noticed at that time when we visited Arnulfo Leguizamo’s farm that they used burlap bags on their porch chairs as a sort of blanket to sit on. After likely years of use, those bags had a ton of character. That stuck in my mind because it just felt so normal and of course looked so classically Colombian. Ted Irvine of Faribault Woolen Mills grew up with our owner, Andrew Miller, and it was actually Ted that reached out to Andrew saying, ”You know…we could totally make a wool pattern that looks like burlap. We should do a project together.” We merged the two ideas together, and voilà!
How many blankets will be produced? How will folks be able to purchase them? What will they retail for?
If you could collaborate with any other brand, who would it be and why?
Noah Namowicz: Without a doubt, no question, I would do something with Red Wing Shoes. Most of the staff here wear Red Wings in the office and while discovering coffees in producing countries. We have even done some marketing with a nod to Red Wing. Red Wing embodies hard work and craftsmanship to us, and again, that brand, like Faribault, is symbolic of the hard work and beautiful coffees of our producer partners at origin.
Photos & video by Andy Reiland for Cafe Imports, used with permission.