KODIAK — Kodiak’s own Alaska Rug Company will be in Washington D.C. today to participate in the third annual Made in America Product Showcase at the White House.
Alaska Rug Company, which is owned and operated by Anita and Robert Shane, produces knotted and handcrafted nautical house-ware products made from recycled Alaska fishing line and rope. The couple create and sell durable doormats, rope rugs, curtain tie backs, trivets, bowls, signs, coasters and more.
“The invitation took us completely by surprise,” Anita said in an email to the Kodiak Daily Mirror. “We are proud to play (a) small part in driving awareness of the importance of making American products. We are thrilled to have our efforts highlighted in this way and honored to represent the great state of Alaska.”
Businesses from each of the 50 states have been invited to display products made and produced in America. During the event, the Alaska Rug Company is displaying its “eco-friendly, authentic Alaskan fishing line and rope items,” a news release states.
“We are excited to once again host businesses from all 50 states at the White House to highlight and celebrate American-made products,” a White House official wrote in a statement. “In today’s booming economy, President Trump and his Administration are proud to tout businesses that create jobs and support our local communities.”
Alaska Rug Company is operated solely by the Shanes, who work at the Port Bailey Cannery, a 100-year-old decommissioned seafood processor that they own and in which they live year-round.
According to Anita, the couple met in California in 2002, the weekend before she was planning to move back to her home state of Pennsylvania.
“He had just sold his trucking company and was living on a boat on the Sacramento River looking to do something extraordinary while being semi-retired,” Anita Shane wrote. “I owned two small businesses that specialized in advertising, as well as a small spray tanning company. We dated off and on for some time traveling between coasts until February of 2003 when he called me and told me he purchased a cannery in Alaska. I moved to be with him in December 2004.”
Robert purchased Port Bailey Cannery with the hope of revive it into a processing plant. Anita wrote that when it didn’t go as he had planned Robert simply chose to stay –– “and I followed my heart here to be with him.”
The Shanes started the Alaska Rug Company in the winter of 2010, when they both decided to quit smoking. In lieu of strangling one another while grappling with nicotine cravings, they came up with a way to keep their hands busy and started playing with rope, learning designs and knots, and making rugs.
Prior to that winter, Anita had no experience weaving rope.
“I never considered myself crafty or an artist. I am learning as I go,” she wrote. “Robert had done lots of woodworking so that is how our custom sign collection started but other than that neither of us spent time crafting. I personally did not even know how to tie a proper knot to secure (a) boat to a mooring when I moved here.”
But what started as a distracting hobby quickly became a business opportunity. Anita wrote that when she listed her first item online, it sold “almost immediately,” and for a sum of money that she had never thought possible. As such, her mind “shifted into business mode.”
“We were also at a critical point in what was next for us, as we had to figure out a way to make money to continue to live on-site year round since the plant was not going to be a processing plant again,” she wrote.
The idea to repurpose and upcycle old rope and line came about for a number of reasons. Anita wrote that she was originally using old sheets found in the former laundry room of the cannery, ripping them into long one inch strands and weaving them into rag-rugs –– but the sheer abundance of old fishing gear created an obvious impetus.
“It seemed to make sense since we had so much of the raw materials here taking up space and of no use to fisherman,” Anita wrote. “We have for more rope/line/gear on this island that needs a place to go when it retires from fishing so it seemed to be a perfect fit to make functional items from it.”
When she first began, Anita looked up various knots and experimented with different homemade rugs. She taught herself to make “climbing rope rugs” and found different ways to market the products online.
“It seemed that buyers were really excited about recycled/re-purposed/upcycled items,” she wrote. “I have always been intrigued by people who re-purpose an old item into something useful and new. It becomes necessary when you live remote at times to have that skill so this fit our lifestyle perfectly.”
But recycling old materials isn’t just a marketable quirk –– for the Shane’s it’s also an economic move. Anita said that when she discovered the cost of disposing of old gear at the landfill, she started spreading the word among the fishing community and on social media.
“The older the better is how we like the line,” she wrote. “I figured out the other day that we have so far used a little over 4,000,000 feet of old rope that would have otherwise been disposed of.”
In order to keep up with orders, the couple both work full time. The Alaska Rug Company products are sold online, as well as at gift shops throughout Alaska and at the Alaska State Fair every year. Anita said that she and her husband both spend about 30 hours per week making products and another 10 each on “cleaning and coiling the line to use, packing and postage, online sales and communications and good ole’ paperwork.”
“An average day here always depends on the weather but normally starts by checking emails for orders, writing orders up to which one of us makes that particular product, gathering supplies from below warehouses where the rope is stored and then making the product,” Shane wrote. “We are fortunate enough to be on the Essential Mail Service route with Island Air and receive the mail plane twice a week in the summer so part of the day is used to package and prep orders for postage which I do all online.”
With regard to picking the Alaska Rug Company as one of the 50 companies for the Made in America Product Showcase, a representative from the Whitehouse wrote: “We had our research team do extensive research on companies from every state. Then, White House senior staff looked at the options and picked their favorites! We are thrilled to host the Alaska Rug Company!”