Meet Olivia Winck, the creative talent behind RANGER KNITS, a sustainable and handmade knitwear brand. Over quarantine, Olivia accidentally transformed her hobby into a business when her friends began to ask her for custom cardigans. From there, demand skyrocketed. She redefines what it means to be a knitter, and her youthful designs sell out in mere minutes. After seeing Olivia's dreamy, vibrant, balloon sleeved sweaters, you will be inspired to pick up a pair of knitting needles yourself! Madeleine Murr, January 2021
Tell me a bit about yourself!
My name is Olivia Winck. My little brand is called Ranger Knits after my nickname "Park Ranger Liv." I'm currently at home in Oak Park, a small town north of Los Angeles. I'm a junior at UC Berkeley studying environmental sustainability and global studies.
How did you get introduced to knitting?
It was random; when I was young, my grandma started to show me, but it was mostly during my junior year of high school when I dated a guy whose mom was a big knitter. For Valentine's day, she gave me my very first knitting basket, and at all of his lacrosse games, she would teach me a new little thing. When I went off to college, I took a little break because I didn't have her to show me, but ultimately I stuck with it and continued to knit because I thought it was cool! I'm so thankful for that relationship because of his mom. Knitting is the coolest hobby ever!
It makes me sad when people say "it's a granny thing" or "it's so boring" - give it a try because it is so cool to be making your own clothes.
How did Ranger Knits get started?
Do you know how everyone made a food Instagram at the beginning of quarantine? It was kind of like that - I'd always been knitting a little bit, but it would take me two months to make a beanie just because I would only pick it up every so often. I had been knitting during freshman and sophomore year of college. Still, during quarantine, I had so much time and thought to myself, "I'm going to be sad if I don't throw myself into a hobby and keep myself busy," so I made my knitting Instagram page and started sharing things.
The first sweater I made took three to four weeks, but I got faster and faster and figured out little things that I could do to speed it up.
Then I started knitting for my friends. I sold my first sweater in July, mostly just so I could sustain my yarn buying, as it costs quite a bit of money to get enough yarn to make a more significant piece like a sweater. So I made sweaters for a few close friends, and it grew from there. It's crazy how it all happened so fast. I made one Tik Tok, and it went a little too crazy, and I had to delete the app because the pressure was too much.
Your patterns are original - what inspires you and your designs?
I've followed patterns in the past since I've been knitting for such a long time, I have developed an intuition to execute my ideas. For example, I wanted really big bubbly sleeves, and I thought, "Wait, I know how to do that!" It's cool trying lots of patterns and taking little bits and pieces from everything to make it your own. I credit so many different knitters for inspiring me in different ways, but it's rewarding coming up with my little styles now. When it comes to colors, going back to the idea of granny knitting, there are so many accounts out there that are just typical grandma, even the colors are very muted, but @elderstatesman is an inspiring knitting account that I look at a lot. Their knits are insane - the colors are so bright, and it's all sustainable. @good_night_day is another good one. Whenever someone is a new knitter, I recommend them because their patterns are straightforward and easy to learn. Those are the two big ones.
Were you always interested in sustainable fashion/design, or did your coursework spark the interest?
I was inspired by my coursework, especially studying at UC Berkeley, where sustainability is such a core focus of how you live your life. I'm really happy to be at a school that thinks about sustainability so much and that it's a part of the conversation all the time. I have learned a lot about fast fashion since being at school - I've been aware of it for a while and have always been into thrift shopping, which is a normal activity in Berkeley and not as much where I grew up in southern California. In Berkeley, it's so fun to go vintage shopping with your friends, it just feels better, and it's a fun outing.
I've always loved sustainable fashion, and it's not that hard to make knitting more sustainable, as it's already slow fashion because it's all handmade.
As an owner of a sustainable business, how do you source your materials, and what are some other eco-friendly measures you take?
When it comes to buying yarn, I try to buy from small businesses in the Bay Area, and I am constantly looking for sustainable options because buying cheap acrylic yarn just isn't that nice, and I don't enjoy working with it. On the other hand, "100% extra fine" amazing wool can be around forty dollars per skein, and I need six skeins to make a sweater, so that isn't feasible. I go to Etsy a lot, which I recommend. There are many really cool people who sell yarn on Etsy that are more affordable than the big name brands. I like repurposing little yarn scraps, it isn't hard, and it makes the knits look so much brighter and adds extra detail. Knitting can be zero waste, which I think is so cool; not a lot of hobbies are that way! I also collect boxes from my friends and recycle them when I ship out orders. I am always looking for ways to be more sustainable!
Tell me about balancing life as a full-time student and maker/owner of a small business.
I have to remind myself that this is a hobby. It can be tough to find balance. I could knit all day with my friends or sitting outside, but sometimes I'm knitting during lectures and going back and forth between knitting and taking notes. I swear my professors are like, "What is that girl doing with her hands? What is going on!" - I'm just making sweaters under the camera! I'm studying sustainable hospitality and tourism, and I am passionate about that.
School comes first always, but I'm at a weird point where I don't know if I should keep this going on the side, so... *laughs* I'll get back to you on that one!
What do you get up to when you aren't knitting?
It's weird to think that there was ever a time when I wasn't knitting, but this all happened in April of 2020, so I didn't always do this so intensely. I like going on bike rides and spending time with my friends, but it's quite different now during the pandemic. I have a lot of extra time to knit because I am trying to be extra careful.
What has been your biggest challenge so far in terms of knitting?
There was this one time when I tried to steam a sweater so that the inside wouldn't roll up as much. I was so excited, and I thought it would be great for all of the new knits. I ended up spilling hot water all over the cardigan, and I just sat on the floor and cried. It was just one of those learning curves; don't steam your sweaters. You don't know how to use a steamer! I'm lucky that things like that haven't happened that often where I have to start over. My biggest challenge is that I wish I had eight arms or a bunch of little minions. I wish I could make more because I feel guilty when orders fill up so fast. Of course, I'm so grateful, and I wish I could knit for everyone all the time, but I'm just one lady and it takes a while. The pressure is higher now. I was scared when I started making them because I wanted everything to be perfect. After all, it was for someone else, but there has to be a balance between making it perfect and having fun. Knitting is supposed to be a relaxing hobby!
What advice do you have for anyone wanting to knit their first sweater?
Just start! I picked it up and put it down for months. I remember coasters were my first project - I made a little square with a huge hole in the middle and thought, this is stupid. I'm never going to use a coaster. But it just takes time.
Be forgiving of yourself - you'll get it, just like a sport, not that knitting is a sport, but you just get it with practice.
DM me if you have a question! People do that a lot, and it's nice to talk to someone rather than jumping between Youtube videos. That's one of my favorite things about having a knitting Instagram with followers that I don't know; strangers will ask me for help, and it makes me feel so good. Start with an easier project like a scarf or a beanie and use bulky yarn. I encourage anyone to give it a try!
How would you describe your style?
I dress funky, I like bright colors, and I think it's fun to mix patterns. You can see it in my knitting, even though I only have one sweater that I've knit for myself that I wear over and over. I love layers and colors - it's fun to dress a little differently! In Berkeley, people aren't afraid to express themselves, so it's fun living there and dressing funky even if I'm going to pick up a scone or something.
What outfit do you feel the most comfortable wearing?
There is something about an all-white outfit that makes me feel powerful. As for comfort, I go for loose jeans (I hate sweatpants, it's a weird thing, I don't know why and a big knit.
What is your favorite sweater that you have made?
One of the first customs I ever made was for my friend Bella. It was a cream cardigan with big balloony sleeves and earth-toned rainbow scraps throughout it. I was inspired by a designer from Copenhagen, @laerkebagger, who ties her scraps into her knitting. She has a free pattern, so I did it for Bella's sweater with my grandma's yarn scraps. I was happy to use those scraps, and it was so pretty with the pops of color. Now tying in scraps has been requested by people, so it was a nice little discovery of a way to repurpose yarn.
For who would you most like to knit a sweater?
Of course, I could say Harry Styles or Timothée Chalamet, but that would be too basic! So my answer is AOC. She is young, has that energy, would wear bright colors, and rock the balloon sleeves. I could embroider some words on the back or something. She's with it. I feel like she would wear it well.
Do you have any exciting upcoming projects or plans for the Spring semester?
I have a brand partnership offer that I just found out about this morning. I'm hopping into it because making sustainable yarn more affordable is cool, so I'm going with it. I have all of these scrap balls of yarn from doing custom orders, so I'm about to do a beanie drop on the website. I made a bunch of cool striped beanies that are unisex. I feel bad because I have many boys following me, and I've knit a few boy's sweaters, but I don't feel as comfortable with it yet, so beanies are a good segue. I want to do more customs and website drops, but sometimes the customs get overwhelming because I want to make everyone something, but I only have two arms!
What is your ideal knitting set up? What music do you listen to while knitting?
I got a new bike which I'm very excited about that. I have a little basket on the back for my knitting and, I like to go on campus to the Campanile or the Glade and knit for a couple of hours outside. Recently being home, I've been obsessed with Survivor. I've been watching all of the old seasons, and it is simply the best. I love it so much, and I recommend it to everyone. I want to be on it so bad! I could knit fishing nets and catch everyone's food, and they would all love me and not vote me out. I'm convinced that I could win Survivor.
As for music, lately, I've been listening to South London British rap, which helps me knit really fast. It's a mix, I'm either really proud of the music I listen to, or I'm listening to chill London rap. I also listen to a lot of bossa nova music.
How does one get a Ranger Knits sweater?
Write me a love letter and put dark chocolate in it. I should start taking bribes (I'm just kidding). I try to do custom drops every month. I think I'll do one at the end of January. I have no organization, but it's so fun because I can do whatever I feel like doing. When I feel down, I'll do a custom drop because everyone gets excited, and it boosts my mood.
Ranger Knits Custom playlist for Withitgirl
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