“The way I remember it, there was this huge loft in the oldest part of Philadelphia. It was filled with the most splendid shimmering fabrics hanging everywhere . . . from the ceiling drying, against the walls being painted, even from the fire escape. That was in 1997 and it was my first day of work at Kevin O’Brien Studio”, says Angela Romano-Vosburgh, now the Studio Manager and lead designer.
Since those early days KOBS has outgrown that dank loft and has recently renovated an old movie theatre on Broad Street in South Philadelphia. It is beautiful and light filled and spacious and if you come there you will still see freshly dyed fabrics hanging just about everywhere. The commitment to making fine things by hand in Philadelphia has not changed but just about everything else has. There is not as much homemade equipment (although there is still plenty of that as the methods they use are mostly invented by them, so the equipment must be as well) and there is lots of space to invent new techniques.
“I was lured to Kevin’s Studio in 2000 by a scarf I’d seen for sale in a museum gift shop,” says Lee Crane, who now manages all of the company’s product, fabric, and dyeing production. “When I started with the company, they were making mostly fabrics for fashion designers, and their own line of scarves and clothing that was selling at Saks, Neimans, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” KOBS is now primarily a home furnishings company, producing pillows, quilts, duvets, rugs, and a variety of other items all made from start to finish in Philadelphia.
John Loughney, the KOBS Dye Specialist, recalls the beginning of his career at the studio. “I was surprised that right after I was hired in 2003, Kevin took off for Nepal to set up his own workshop in Kathmandu.” Nepal is the one other place that Kevin works. There are some embroidery and hand weaving techniques that can’t be done anywhere else so he makes a few products there – plus Kevin has a soft spot for the people of that wonderful nation.
This is the way Kevin remembers it – “I was just a kid when I started this (even though I had already turned 30) and it was just me, a paintbrush, and a lot of energy, with not a lick of knowledge of the textile business. The energy got me through the first ten years, at the end of which I knew something about textiles but nothing about the home furnishings business. It’s been another ten years and now I know what I am doing in business too. Keep watching our company to see what’s next, as the energetic spirit I started this company with hasn’t faltered, and our employees have the same innovative, creative drive. I still don’t know what I don’t know and cannot wait to find out in ten years.”