He gives new meaning to 'pillow talk'

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Kevin O'Brien shows off some fabric in the dye room of his Point Breeze studio.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Kevin O'Brien shows off some fabric in the dye room of his Point Breeze studio.
Posted: December 19, 2013

K EVIN O'BRIEN, 55, of Woodstock, N.Y., is founder and designer of Kevin O'Brien Studio in Point Breeze. O'Brien, who spends two days a week in Philadelphia, designs and manufactures hand-colored pillows, duvet covers, quilts and curtains. The studio also has licensing deals with manufacturers to distribute its rug and bedding lines.

Q: How'd you get into textile design, manufacturing?

A: I was teaching painting and drawing and was painting on fabrics and selling them as scarves. I was offered a job as a [textile-]design critic at Philadelphia University. I had a lab there and developed techniques we use now. We began manufacturing in China, but a lot of customers complained about quality and said they wanted it beautiful and would pay more for it. So we brought everything back here and got it all under one roof.

Q: How'd you find this space [on Broad Street near Reed]?

A: It was vacant and we worked with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. to acquire the building two years ago. It took eight months to build out. PIDC gave us a great loan, but I had to guarantee I'd create a certain number of jobs.

Q: The biz model?

A: We have permanent sales reps in L.A., Dallas and Atlanta that travel and take our lines to [trade] shows. I'd say we get half our business from interior designers and decorators.

Q: The KOB brand?

A: It's more about organic, nature-based designs. We are all about sumptuous and beautiful texture, and we feel we provide extra punch to a room.

Q: How much of your revenues come from products designed and made in Philly?

A: I'd say 85 percent.

Q: What differentiates your brand from others?

A: We start from a design in a sketchbook. That gets turned into a pattern and then we create these iridescent coloring effects which you can only do by hand. I also have a workshop in Kathmandu [Nepal] with 10 employees who do handwoven cashmere and embroidery.

Q: What do products cost?

A: Duvet covers are $1,000, pillows go from $80 to $400 and quilts are $700 to $800.

Q: What are your best-selling products?

A: Velvet decorative pillows are about 60 percent of the business, and duvet covers would be about 25 percent. The rest is licensed goods and stuff in Nepal.

Q: How big a biz is this?

A: $1.8 million revenue.

Q: Employees?

A: Seventeen in Philadelphia.

Q: What's next?

A: I've been experimenting with upholstery fabrics so we can do designs for couches, chairs and drapes. It could double our business.


On Twitter: @MHinkelman

Online: ph.ly/YourBusiness

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