New company produces wool jerseys in Portland

(Photo: Wabi Woolens)

Harth Huffman first fell in love with wool bike jerseys in the early 1990s.

Now, the 42 year-old middle school teacher from Southeast Portland has turned that love into a new business. A few weeks ago, he launched Wabi Woolens.

Huffman says the company sprung from his dissatisfaction with existing wool jerseys on the market. “Around the mid-to-late ’90s, all the companies switched to a super-soft, machine washable wool,” he said “I didn’t like it because it was thin, it pilled too easily, and it just didn’t feel substantial enough to me.”

So, in true entrepreneurial spirit, Huffman decided to do it himself.

Harth Huffman in one of his
Wabi Woolens jerseys.
(Photo: Wabi Woolens)

“I had way more to learn than I anticipated,” he says, thinking back. But after five years of experimentation, testing, and fabric research, he finally has a finished product to share; and it’s produced almost entirely in Portland.

The wool for his jerseys comes from New Zealand (where else?), and is made into fabric in New York, but the rest of the process — which includes designing, knitting, packaging, and selling — happens here in Portland.

Huffman says Portland’s proximity to large apparel makers like Nike and Adidas has been key. “That’s the beauty of doing this in Portland. These big companies do a lot of small batch, local production for some of their high-end clients…things like Olympic Team uniforms and other special projects.”

“These are designed as a piece of equipment, not as something you have to baby.”
–Harth Huffman, founder of Wabi Woolens.

As for “Wabi”, Huffman told me it’s from a Japanese term that describes things that are natural, simple, rustic. “A good example of wabi” he says, “Would be like deciduous trees in winter. They may have no leaves or flowers, but there’s still something inherently beautiful about them.”

What’s so beautiful about a Wabi Woolens jersey? A lot, according to a few folks who have raved about them to me.

Huffman says a few highlights are; reinforced stitching, elastic reinforcements at the shoulders, rear pockets that are designed to not sag when filled, and an interlocking knit that prevents runs if the fabric gets cut.

Huffman says the jerseys (which sell for around $140) will be sold direct through his website as much as possible but they’re currently available at Sellwood Cycle Repair (7639 SE Milwaukie) and at The Vanilla Workshop (the retail space inside Vanilla Bicycles, 717 SE 35th).

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