A Boulder business that spun out of the back-to-the-earth movement in the late 1960s is celebrating its 50th anniversary on Friday.
Schacht Spindle Co., Inc. grew out of a craft resurgence of the era, particularly the passion to create things by hand, and became the largest maker of quality tools for hand spinners and weavers in North America, said Barry Schacht, founder and president of the company. Schacht Spindle Co. makes looms, spindles and spinning wheels. The company’s products, most of them made of hard maple wood, are sold through 500 craft retail stores across the United States. About 8% products are exported to Europe, Japan and Taiwan, Schacht said.
“I didn’t expect to do it for so long,” he said, trying to explain his longevity in the business. “I really wanted to travel the world.”
He and his brother, Dan Schacht, who came to study at the University of Colorado Boulder, founded the business in 1969, and built the company from the ground up with community support.
“We started with nothing. We’ve never been unprofitable,” Barry Schacht said.
As part of Fab 50 Celebration on Friday, the company will offer tours, textile arts and products demos, kids shuttle-making fand several other events, including Cranbrook Loom demonstration and a spinning contest. The company at 5:30 p.m. also will honor many individuals who have helped educate people about spinning and weaving.
The company requests potential visitors register in advance to help with planning.
“Dan’s girlfriend wanted to learn about spinning and weaving,” recalled Barry Schacht, who came to Boulder from Seattle with $5 in his pocket, and for the first three months lived in his van.
The trio found Louise Green, an East Coast transplant who raised sheep and taught spinning and weaving, at Greentree Ranch on the outskirts of Loveland. After a quick lesson, she asked if the brothers could make spindles for her, Schacht said. There was no looking back from there.”
“My father had a woodworking shop in the basement of our home. He also owned a retail store selling men’s and boys’ clothing in Monticello, N.Y.
“Dan built a frame loom for his girlfriend from a painter’s canvas stretch frame, following instructions in ‘Step by Step Weaving’ by Nell Znamierowski,” notes the glossy brochure recounting the history of the company. The brochure, which was published in the spring to mark the company’s 50th anniversary, further mentions that watching Dan Schacht’s girlfriend weave inspired Barry Schacht to improve the loom’s design for easier weaving.
Barry Schacht used a woodworking shop at CU Boulder without being a student to design his first tapestry loom, a version of which the company still makes, he said. “I told him I was an an art student and wanted to make a loom for a project,” he said.
The Schacht brothers taught weaving at community free schools in Denver and Boulder in the early ’70s, and commissioned a few local woodworkers to make their looms. Later, the duo set up shop in a garage, moved through many factory spaces, and eventually found a 3-acre site in Boulder to make their products.
Today, Schacht Spindle Co.’s 35,000-square-foot facility is spread across three buildings and employs 50 people to make its products that cater primarily to millennials and those in their middle age. Both demographic groups prefer smaller looms, Barry Schacht said.
The company’s looms range from $100 to $13,000. The majority of high volume sales are in the $200 to $2,000 category, he said. The company does not do direct sales, but sells through retail stores that become communities for those interested in learning about spinning and weaving, he said.
“People learn from each other,” Barry Schacht said.
Schacht’s Cricket Loom, first introduced in 2008, is a popular product. It’s a portable unit that sells for $175, and it comes in a kit with yarn to help users get started, he said. The company’s foldable Sidekick spinning wheel, another popular item, was designed in 2010 to fit into a small carrying bag, and introduced in the market a year later. It sells for $770.
Schacht’s design team seeks input from knowledgeable practitioners.
Maggie Casey is one such expert. The co-owner of Shuttles, Spindles & Skeins in Table Mesa Shopping Center has been a customer of Schacht Spindle Co. since the early ’70s. The equipment it makes is durable, reliable and efficient, she said.
“We have been able to try new products as they were developed,” said Casey, who described herself as a spinning teacher. Schacht’s spinning wheels are “beautiful and useful,” she said.
Casey owns 10 spinning wheels made by Schacht. Her favorite is the first one the company ever made in 1987. “I still spin on it every day,” she said.
Recognizing master teachers
Casey and her business partner, Judy Steinkoenig, are among those being honored by Schacht during its 50th anniversary celebrations.
“It’s a great honor,” Casey said.
The owners of Shuttles, Spindles & Skeins are being recognized for teaching thousands of weavers and spinners for more than 30 years, said Jane Patrick, Schacht’s creative director and wife of Barry Schacht.
The company’s success is owed to a lot to people who have shared their passion and knowledge of weaving and spinning with others as educators and authors, she said.
Patrick also teaches classes on weaving throughout the country. She said it affords her an opportunity to find out how people are using Schacht equipment.
“It gives me ideas about designing new products that are needed,” she said.
In the 1970s, a lot of women were into weaving and spinning because they chose not to be in the workforce, she said, adding it was a creative outlet. When a large number of women in the ’80s rejoined the workforce, there was a slump in the market.
“We responded to that by introducing new products, broadening our product line and by expanding the dealer network. Barry offered 40% discounts to stores to help them reach more customers.” Patrick said.
It was an important business decision, she said.
Schacht’s success is rooted in the company’s strong relationships with its dealers, suppliers and employees, said Barry Schacht. Many of the company’s production and assembly managers, production workers and office staff are women. They come from Ecuador, Laos, Mexico, Taiwan, Thailand and Canada and from different parts of America.
“We try to match employees talents and skills with the jobs that draw the best out them,” Barry Schacht said.
If you go
What: Schacht Spindle Co. Fab 50 Celebration
When: Starting at 10 a.m. Friday
Among the events will be:
Free public tours from 10 a.m to 2 p.m.
Textile arts and products demos from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Kids shuttle making from 1 to 4 p.m.
Where: 6101 Ben Place
More info/full schedule: schachtspindle.com/50years
Registration: Requested at bit.ly/2lUIj9V