AS SEEN IN THE DECEMBER 2011 ISSUE OF FREESKIER. WORDS AND PHOTO BY NATE ABBOTT.
I’m walking through a tiny house in Aspen with Katrina B. Bobier. The house is Suzie’s, a consignment shop wall to wall with the leftover fashions of this small ski town unlike any in North America. The garments range from bad Land’s End sweaters to mind-blowing red leather pants (probably purchased under the influence of some sort of Rosé sparkling wine). Yet somehow Tinka, as she’s known in homage to Zoolander, picks up piece after piece that show subtle taste and handsome craft. Tinka grabs a shirt and looks at the label. “Varvatos,” she reads aloud.
Tinka was once a privileged intern, working in men’s knitwear, at the eponymous John Varvatos label while studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, going to Misshapes parties and showing up on fashion blogs. Today, even though she is fluently shifting through the racks at Suzie’s and folding great piles of clothes over her arm, she lives a quieter life. She is the woman behind the knitwear label Bob Knits, where she produces hats and other knits for purchase through her website and for brands such as Empire Attire and Red Bull and athletes from Simon Dumont to John Jackson. She’s also engaged to ski industry legend Riley Poor, the global video production manager in Nike’s action sports division.
Why does this fashion story matter to a skier? Maybe because Bob Knits is a product of Tinka’s relationship with skiing and skiers. Maybe because that relationship with our sport means she knows more about the subtleties of freeskiing than most skiers. Or maybe because when you go skiing you want to be warm and stylish and when you do that you want to support a company driven by a desire to produce unique pieces that are handmade in America in a sustainable manner.
Bob Knits’ designs—deconstructed pieces that are luxurious and design driven—come from an unlikely combination of mountain men and the fashion world’s center. In December 2006, Tinka decided to visit Riley in Squamish, BC where he was sharing a small condo with Sarah Burke and Rory Bushfield in the same neighborhood as Mark Abma. “I bought a snowboard bag and I packed up my loom and filled the bag with yarn.”
The loom ended up in the condo’s hallway and her obsession with it eventually led to a six-month stint of physical therapy because she knit too much. “They would go out to ski and I would stay and knit. I was so excited and inspired by Riley’s style. And Abma’s style. And Sarah’s style. And Rory’s style. I had not seen any products that were slouchy and had drape and actually character that wasn’t just a cut and sew beanie. So I made this giant fucking hat for Abma and he was so excited about it. And one of the things about fashion designers, why we have a lot in common with chefs and architects, is it’s all about creating a product and getting it out there and getting a reaction.”
But Bob Knits also reflects larger issues than those personal interactions. Tinka grew up in Flint, MI and reacts to the economic situation there in the manner she runs the company. “Seeing the plants and GM fully shut down an entire town, it makes me super passionate about doing production in the States and utilizing the resources that we have,” she explains. “There’s no way we don’t have wool and alpaca in the States. There’s no possible way I have to get it in New Zealand because it’s a few cents cheaper.”
There is something indefinable about Tinka, much like the shapes of her hats, as we walk through the streets of Aspen. The diminutive knitress changes from fierce champion of a business philosophy to aloof fashionista, back to impassioned advocate. As we sit for late lunch at the Sky Hotel, she explains three non-profit causes that match the importance of Bob Knits in our discussion. First, not directly related to her knitwear, is Universal Green Design, a non-profit Tinka is starting with Riley and Joseph Cincotta and Julie Lineberger of LineSync Architecture. The organization will put on humanitarian, especially medical, design competitions and spur the creation and refinement of products used by people who have disabilities, from arthritis to Carpal Tunnel all the way to MS or Riley’s quadriplegia.
With Bob Knits, Tinka directly supports two further causes: 1% for the Planet and Heal with a Meal. 1% for the Planet, founded by Yvon Chouinard and Craig Mathews, has around 1,200 member companies that pledge to contribute one percent of their sales to environmental causes. Heal with a Meal is Tinka’s own program. For every item sold, Bob Knits donates a lunch to a child in danger of going hungry. Ultimately, Tinka would like to fund a program to provide local and sustainable lunches, but for now the donation is monetary.
While the causes are an important part of the Bob Knits style, the interaction with action sports is what keeps Tinka engaged. “I really tried to seek out the athletes and work with them individually. It’s mutually beneficial. They want to have an actual say in their style. That’s how you identify them on the hill: two people can be wearing the same Nike outfit but their hat and their style of how they rock it is how you identify them.”
Her eyes shine bright under dark hair as she talks of remaining intimate and sustainable. “It’s my ideal clothing company that I could have imagined. Even though it’s super small, it’s great because I work with my friends and I can be as creative and off the wall as I want to be. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone. The only opinion that affects me on a daily basis is Riley’s and he’s so stoked when he sees that I’ve knit something new.”
For more, visit bobknits.com