Who We Are: A hands-on approach
March 4, 2012
Forget knit one, pearl two – Erik Hansen isn’t counting stitches anymore.
His hands move fast, moving the crochet needles in what looks like completely memorized movements. Without hardly looking, he measures and cuts different colored yarn and his hands go to work again, incorporating the new color into the Colorado beanie that’s becoming his trademark and business staple. All this while chatting intimately about his business to two strangers.
The young entrepreneur has been crocheting for about a decade, and recently turned that talent – which was originally a way to cope with his attention-deficit hyperactive disorder – into a business: Firehouse headwear.
He tells of the time, while attending the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, that he sat in his kitchen, contemplating the Colorado flag and how he might turn it into a handmade hat.
“I stared at it for six hours and figured out how to free-form crochet it into a hat,” Hansen said. “I watched the sun go by and figured out how to do it. … It took awhile to perfect it.”
Of course, he was crocheting the entire time.
Moving needles in a repetitive pattern is a way for Hansen to disconnect mind from body, he said. It has a calming effect on what’s otherwise a hyperactive mind, and subsequently, a body that always needs to be in motion.
“I can be productive, too,” Hansen said, explaining that he’s forever motivated to create and grow his ideas, particularly since he finished school with a business entrepreneurship and management degree.
One might think Hansen learned to crochet from his grandmother, who has been enlisted from Wisconsin to produce Firehouse’s “Grandma Quality” line of hats that use a thinner yarn with more intricate stitches.
But he didn’t.
“A friend out here taught me,” he said, though he didn’t deny that his grandmother has amazing talent.
“Raising four kids in the Depression in Wisconsin, she had to learn to make face masks and stuff to keep her kids warm,” Hansen said. “She pulls in patterns she used back in the day.”
Arvada-based Jessica Bailey and Lakewood-based Alex McFarland round out the crochet crew.
The business is complemented by friend and business partner Ian Winters, who connected Hansen to a myriad of people in the ski industry. Winters continues to be a partner on the ground, chatting with potential buyers. Tim Bremer heads up marketing while Steve Cummings, new to the high school trio, is the creative designer.
Based in his residence, the old firehouse next to Dillon Valley Elementary, Hansen produces the Firehouse line. He’s been in business since 2008, though he thought of the brand and drew up a logo eight years ago, it only just received its copyright in December.
His mother bought the place when it went up for sale when Hansen was 10. He split his time between Denver and the mountains, getting “the best of both worlds,” he said.
Now, Hansen is moving in as the main tenant along with his girlfriend and Mr. Fritz, the dog.
As Hansen settled into his perch on the worn love seat, surrounded by red, blue, yellow and white yarn and old suitcases of materials and finished hats, Mr. Fritz also settled into his spot: the bit of floor in the center of it all. Resting on his haunches, Mr. Fritz watched attentively as Hansen’s hands moved, human ignoring dog as he chatted.
“We relax together,” Hansen said, not missing a stitch as his attention shifted from interviewer to pup.
Hansen can go for hours with the crochet needles and all the while, his mind cranks out ideas. In August, for instance, Firehouse is extending its line into outerwear, which includes four pieces that pull the best features the team has identified into technical but stylish pieces for snowboarding. For instance, they are longer, yet slimmer jackets to help insulate the bum when sitting.
In the past year, Hansen estimates he’s made 340 hats. As a guess, he said he’s made roughly 1,000 hats since he learned the skill. And he doesn’t plan to stop, even if he grows the business to where he doesn’t need to be hands-on.
“I do stretches for my carpels,” he said. “Old women can do it; it’s still fun. … I’ll try, but I can’t supply the whole world with beanies.”