Michelle Obama gives Oleana a boost

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Norwegian clothing firm Oleana is enjoying a boost in demand for its sweaters and other apparel, after word got out that US First Lady Michelle Obama took no less than four Oleana sweaters home with her after being in Oslo to see her husband win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Michelle Obama has become a fashion trend-setter, and officials at Arna-based Oleana on the west coast near Bergen are thrilled that she bought four cardigans during her short Oslo visit.

“It’s a big deal when the world’s First Lady, who’s also a fashion icon, buys some items from a little textile factory outside of Bergen,” its general manger Kolbjørn Valestrand told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) .

The four sweaters Obama chose were designed by Solveig Hisdal, two of them in Obama’s favored color, gold.

“Now we’re just waiting for some photos of her wearing our sweaters,” Valestrand said. “That would be a lot of fun.”

No direct promotion

Oleana itself had nothing to do with Obama’s purchase. Arrangers of the Nobel program reportedly had simply chosen various Norwegian products themselves, apparently to show off Norwegian design, and took samples of them to the Obamas’ room at Oslo’s Grand Hotel.

Among them was an Oleana sweater.

Michelle Obama apparently seized on it and asked to see more. She ended up buying four and taking them home to the White House.

Oleana, founded in 1992, has won several awards for its innovation, entrepreneurship and design. It aims to show that local production is still possible in a high-cost country like Norway, and it adheres to fair trade and environmentally friendly philosophies.

Around half of its production is exported to other European countries and the US. Its name derives from an idealistic colony set up for poor Norwegian immigrants in the US by Norwegian violinist Ole Bull in the 1800s.

The company has 60 employees and has operated profitably every year since its founding, with revenues this year expected to hit nearly NOK 40 million.