Last June, Jackie Nelson and Evan Streusand headed to west Texas from their Austin home for some much-needed R&R. The place where they stayed provided colorful, comfy robes in the rooms for guests. As the couple likes to tell it, they donned the robes and pretty much never took them off again until they hit the road for home a few days later.
"I was never a robe person, so this was a new experience for me," says Streusand. "We were even out in the desert under the stars wearing them."
As the weeks passed, Nelson, an admitted life-long robe "lounger," found it hard to let go of the experience. "I kept thinking, man, I could be in that robe right now."
Then one day while driving to Houston, Nelson and Streusand found themselves talking once again about the robes. This time, a lightbulb went off. The couple decided the only thing to do was begin making robes themselves, but not just any robes. They’d be colorful, whimsical and sustainable, reflecting the couple’s ethical values and free-spirited approach to taking it easy.
Soon after, they launched Highway Robery, offering fun, ethically produced kimono-style cotton robes that Nelson likes to call "a new twist on an old standard."
Nelson had worked in the fashion industry and now does interior design work, so she initially decided to try her hand at sewing the robes herself. But it was slow-going. That’s when Streusand, founder of two sustainable shoe brands, remembered an old friend with a sewing house in Los Angeles. He got in touch, and she immediately agreed to lend a hand.
Highway Robery’s socially responsible creations are made in a Los Angeles sewing house that employs mostly female workers who are paid above-average wages. The company uses preexisting fabrics and generates almost no waste. (Photo: Evan Streusand)
What the couple most liked was her commitment to ethical fashion principals, including paying the sewing staff above-average wages. It was in line with Streusand’s own business philosophy. His shoe brands (Fortress of Inca and Huma Blanco) are handmade in Peru by workers who receive health benefits and a living wage.
The couple dove in, selecting fabrics that appealed to them and fit the offbeat image they were striving for. "I wanted our robes to be really soft and comfy but also really fun and super whimsical," says Nelson.
They also put the finishing touches on their sustainability plan, aiming to eliminate as much production waste as possible.
"We decided to use only preexisting fabrics made for another purpose but never used instead of creating new fabric," Streusand says. "We also agreed to take whatever fabric was left over after the robes were cut to make mini robes that work as beer koozies."
Highway Robery sells most of its robes (and koozies) online. Nelson and Streusand try to choose fabrics that go together but aren’t identical for couples who want to loaf together but not be too "matchy-matchy."
Down the line, the company may expand its line to include kids’ robes and even dog robes. For now, the goal is to continue having fun making high-quality, low-impact loungewear. The couple even plans to have robes on hand at their upcoming wedding for guests to wear if they choose.
"I think everyone who puts one on is suddenly kind of in a good mood," says Streusand. "We like that aspect — we’re just trying to spread happiness and comfort."