Silver and Gold: Seattle Celebrates 25 Years of Bergen’s Oleana and 50 Years of Sister City Friendship
Contributed by Lori Ann Reinhall of Seattle Bergen Sister Cities
The Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association has long had a reputation for its parties and galas, and when the opportunity came up to celebrate the silver jubilee of Bergen and Norway’s premier textile company Oleana together with our own golden jubilee in 2017, it was an opportunity too good to pass up. As president of the association, I reached out to Oleana’s representative in the Pacific Northwest, Laura Almaas of Chalet in the Woods in Gig Harbor, 50-some miles south of Seattle. Not before long, we put plans in place for festivities at Seattle’s prestigious Washington Athletic Club (WAC). On Saturday, November 4, excited attendees poured into the Johnson Lobby Lounge to enjoy a gourmet lunch and experience the new fall collection at “Oleana: Norwegian Fairy-tale Couture.”
The event’s name was without a doubt appropriate: looking back on the past 25 years, the Oleana story reads much like a fairy tale come true. When the company was founded in 1992, most textile factories in Norway were closing, with labor costs up to 100 times more expensive than in developing countries. Nevertheless, the founders had a vision of creating a product of such high quality, so beautiful, and so magical that price would not be an issue and production could remain in Norway. With designs rooted in Norwegian tradition, set free by fantasy and color, the company took off and its products are sold all over the world: a modern-day fairy tale.
The afternoon at the WAC was a feast for the senses, not only in culinary delights but visually and acoustically as well. Northwest Nordic harpist Beth Kollé provided the music, and slideshows ran in the background with highlights from the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association’s 2017 jubilee year, including their trip along the coast of Norway aboard the Hurtigruten cruise line. There was also a short film on the history of Oleana, featuring their colorful creations to the soundtrack of traditional Norwegian folk music.
The clothes themselves, of course, were the main highlight of the day. Shoppers delighted in touching and trying on the exquisite Oleana sweaters and scarves, as they reveled in yet another slideshow displaying the company’s designs against the backdrop of the dramatic Norwegian landscape that in part inspired them. Attendees placed many orders, and some were lucky enough to take home their purchases on the spot or even win one of the raffle prizes offered by the event sponsors.
We are also extremely pleased to be working with Laura Almaas and Chalet in the Woods. Laura arranged for me to visit the factory outside of Bergen last May, where I witnessed the company’s policy of “fair made” in practice.
For the Seattle-Bergen Sister Association, Oleana represents the very best of what Norwegian industry has to offer. It is a story we want to share with others in our community, especially young people who are entering the business world: it is a company with a story worth sharing with all.