"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.
Since those early days, and after two and a half decades of growth, Kevin O'Brien Studio has outgrown that Old City loft where everything began, and has transformed into a design center for fabrics, recognized for the quality and beauty of the fabrics it produces, now made in a brand new studio in the heart of South Philadelphia.
"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 soft goods for home. "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 Met museum. They were printing and painting fabrics right in the loft". After the success of their fashion & accessories line, the company decided to produce home furnishings as well, a transition that came naturally, and many of the same stores bought these products.
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 there, and soon after he got back he was off again to India for another fabric project. He trained me to do the color mixing and told me his fabric dyeing secrets, and said 'Let's see how you do while I'm away'. I guess I did pretty well, because I've been in charge of painting all of the velvets ever since". In spite of the number of things they do with their partners overseas, all of the velvets are still painted right in the studio. This allows them to serve the designer business very effectively, as interior designers often need just the perfect blend of specific colors to please their clients.
"They are such fabric mavens" says Heather Brann. Shortly after she became Sales Manager, they opened their own boutique at ABC Home in New York. "When I started at KOBS, we were well known on the East Coast. But over the past few years we've seen the business expand across the country, and internationally."
The company now sells pillows, bedding, stuffed animals, scarves, throws and more to over 200 stores worldwide. They even have their own collection with Capel Rugs and have expanded into newer realms of textiles, such as digital printing.
"The way I remember it," says Kevin O'Brien, "I had to walk miles through the snow every day just to get to my studio in an old barn, then chop firewood for an hour, before beginning to paint my fabrics. One day a friend showed some of my work to a buyer at Barney's, and the sun came out and has been shining ever since."