The company Sarah Oliver Handbags designed and produced hand-knit handbags. The entrepreneur behind the company, Sarah Oliver of Mill Valley, California, pitched her business on Shark Tank in December 2015. Sarah wasn’t just selling handbags but the story behind the product. The bags were knitted by senior citizens, whom Oliver lovingly referred to as Purlettes+1. (Purl is a knitting stitch term.) She paid the senior citizens by the piece. Oliver provided an example using the Resort handbag which cost a total of $47 to make. The senior citizen was paid $17. It retailed for $225. On Shark Tank, Oliver made a deal with Lori Greiner, Kevin O’Leary, and Robert Herjavec.
After Shark Tank, in April 2017, Sarah Oliver announced that she was selling her inventory and closing shop after the federal Department of Labor paid her a surprise visit. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers must pay an hourly wage. Oliver wrote in December 2017, “The experience was downright stressful, scary and horrific!” She added, “I don’t believe it is the end of my work with older adults but rather a time to look at our broken system and figure out what it will take for companies like mine to survive!” In the video below, “A Sense of Purpose,” some of the Purlettes speak out against the Labor Department’s decision. “We had no voice at all,” says one of the knitters. One knitter, Esther, says her rights aren’t being protected but “abused” by the law.