What started as one woman’s entrepreneur-minded side hustle of selling Turkish handloom towels and olive oil soaps to other states over the Internet is now a passion project-turned-retail store at North Bethesda’s modern mall Pike & Rose. Named after its two very first products, Olive & Loom is a Mediterranean lifestyle brand featuring a curated selection of home and gift items.
Turkey native and brand owner Ferzan Jaeger had a full-time project management job at NASA when she first created the concept, and kept herself occupied in both worlds until she eventually made the decision to commit fully to growing Olive & Loom. As the store approaches its second anniversary in March, Jaeger talks us through the business struggles of Covid, Olive & Loom’s bright spots, and how this brand has become a full-circle moment of women helping women.
Olive & Loom started as a small endeavor that fulfilled Jaeger’s internal entrepreneurial side, and she worked to get it off the ground from 2016 until the birth of her second child in May 2018. Her maternity leave became a decision-making opportunity for her future.
“I had this growing dissatisfaction with how half-assed I was doing everything,” she says candidly. “Ultimately, the thought of giving up my company was very daunting. So I said, ‘That’s the decision then.’ I can envision myself quitting NASA, but not my company.”
The Pike & Rose store came along in 2019, so the wholesale and retail side came hand in hand as Jaeger wanted to supplement her products with other like-minded brands that prioritized small women-owned businesses.
“It’s a gift/home/lifestyle type of a store with an emphasis on the Mediterranean lifestyle,” she explains. “I’m from Turkey, and we love vibrant colors and the togetherness of big families coming together for dinner. That’s how our products are portrayed and how our business is.”
All the loom products are designed by Jaeger and her team, working with small artisans and factories in Turkey to make items such as towels. They put a whole collection together every season for a cohesive feel and color palette.
“It’s a cycle of wholesalers selling our products to other retailers, but we also buy from other brands to sell at our retail stores,” she says.
In addition to Turkish towels, luxurious feeling robes, lotions and soaps as some of the store’s staple items, Jaeger hopes to launch a fashionable loungewear set next month in the same soft, four-layer gauze fabric as the bathrobes for a “nicer-than-sweatpants situation.” However, it’s the home textile products that are dear to Jaeger’s heart.
“We design it, we get it made. It’s our brand with our name on it – good quality products made in my home country. We spend a lot of time and effort on what colors go with what [and] the concept we want this year all so we can make people feel comfortable and stylish, like their home is a luxurious sanctuary.”
She even had a customer leave a heartwarming review for an Olive & Loom blanket, which was so “amazing,” soft and warm that it allowed her the ability to hold her premature baby outside the incubator in the ICU.
“We put our love and passion into it, so people giving us the feedback and emotional stories make this very special for us,” Jaeger says.
And while Olive & Loom’s products are geared toward a female customer base that can afford such quality goods, there’s a key contribution that makes Jaeger’s store stand out: the Kin & Care candle line. On the Kin & Care site, it reads, “Empower women one candle at a time.”
“Because I’m from Turkey, I have a passion for the refugee crisis in the Middle East,” Jaeger explains. “At first, I thought hiring women to work for the store [would be] tough because of language barriers and them not [being] comfortable front-facing with customers. So [I thought], what if we create a candle brand where all our candles are made by refugee women settled in the DMV? This was my fulfillment of wanting to do something for a good cause that helps the community.”
This idea was sparked by a casual conversation between Jaeger and a customer who mentioned the refugee volunteer work she does with her friends. Jaeger notes that a lot of these women don’t have work history because of traditional and conservative cultural backgrounds, but they’re exceptional crafters because they spend ample time taking care of their homes.
“I was introduced to some of the refugee women and I was like, ‘Do you know anyone who’s not allowed to work?’ These women who are expected to stay at home could come in and make candles in my basement, and we’re actually growing out of it very quickly. It’s all women, and they’re all very comfortable.”
In-between pouring candles and labeling the jars, Jaeger and her staff get to enjoy each other’s company and learn from each other in a safe space.
“I love it. To be able to provide them something like economic independence is everything. We have a lot of similarities in our cultures. It’s almost like being at home for me.”
Kin & Care provides enough work for multiple people to make candles at least three to four times a week, though space is rapidly becoming a limiting factor. Jaeger is on the hunt for a studio or warehouse setup so that “they can still feel safe and transportation would be easy.”
When Covid closures hit the U.S. right around the time Olive & Loom was about to celebrate its store anniversary, Jaeger and her team had to pivot and come up with ideas to keep everyone employed.
“The first few days were like, ‘Now what?’ I’m not going to let go of my very small team. That was my red line. We had to figure out a way to pay them.”
From the store’s sponsor-a-nurse gift box program with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to creating their own spray-style hand sanitizers thanks to a grant from Montgomery County, Olive & Loom found a way to stay afloat for some months during the pandemic. Sales slowly started picking up with customers and other retailers when people turned their attention to home goods and products, including the Kin & Care line.
“One of the biggest highs we had [during the pandemic was when] we partnered with local artist Violet Red Studio. She does woman icons, paintings and prints. [I thought], ‘Why don’t we make these labels on our candles? Why don’t we make Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Kamala Harris candles?’ The icon woman collection concept has done really well for us and put us on the map with some big retailers since then.”
Olive & Loom has carried Violet Red Studio’s prints at the store since it opened. One day, it just dawned on Jaeger to ask her friend and local artist if she can use her art for candle labels.
“Obviously, she’s getting royalties for it and all of that. It’s a full-circle woman moment. She’s an immigrant woman from Nicaragua. I’m an immigrant woman with my own company. The women we’re putting on our candles are significant women in history, and the women making the candles are refugee women. It’s an all-around women-focused project and that’s significant for me, too.”
As one of few small businesses in the Pike & Rose location, Olive & Loom continues to connect with locals and their repeat customers. However, Jaeger hopes to see more independent retailers in the neighborhood.
“[As] a woman-owned small business owner, I’d love more neighbors like me,” she says. “We’re supporting each other in that whole field. I’m looking forward to extending the small businesses in our neighborhood.”
Olive & Loom: 11815 Grand Park Ave. North Bethesda, MD; www.oliveandloom.com
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