The Stories in our Stitches

Article

Knitting kits business Stitch & Story is set to hit £2 million turnover this year. Founder Jennifer Lam tells Knitting how she got here.

A young entrepreneur is trying to reinvent knitting to bring its joys to a new generation of crafters.

Jennifer Lam taught herself to knit 10 years ago, but found that she didn’t like the patterns and yarns she found on offer on the high street.

“I had always been creatively talented since school and this originally sparked my interest in crafting,” she recalls. “My passion for knitting later developed into a desire to make something wearable and so I challenged myself to learn how to read patterns. Knitting particularly appeals to me as being creative because there is a great sense of achievement in having knitted an item yourself, and there is nothing more satisfying than mixing and matching yarn colours in a project combined with rich textures!”

The first step on her journey to making a career out of her hobby came with a “lightbulb moment” in February 2012.

“I discovered the haberdashery scene in the UK was uninspiring and impossible to learn. Knitting was perceived as old-fashioned, with gloomy haberdasheries, overwhelming terminology and textbooks, out-of-date patterns and cheap yarns,” Jennifer remembers.

“That’s when the lightbulb moment happened – I wanted to spread the joys of knitting to more people and that’s when the idea of super-easy and stylish knitting and crochet kits was born.”

She describes Stitch & Story as a “pioneer of crafting made simple, operating as a premium UK craft kits brand”.

Jennifer teamed up with her best friend Jen Hoang to set up the business. She explains: “Jen comes from a design background and I felt with my publishing and business background we could inspire more people to learn to knit. Fast-forward six years and our knitting kits are now stocked in high-end department stores including Liberty, John Lewis and Fenwicks, and Nordstrom in the USA. We’ve collaborated with global brands including Miffy and Sophie la Giraffe as well as stocking in over 25 countries.”

The brand works with in-house and external designers to create its knitting and crochet kits, which include designs for absolute beginners up to intermediate level and have a strong focus on accessories, homeware and gifts, particularly for babies.

All kits are in 100% sustainable Merino wool, certified non-mulesed and sourced from Italy. Jennifer says: “The result is super-soft chunky wool that our customers compliment a lot.”

Jennifer and Jen started off by holding a series of workshops in London. But, realising they couldn’t reach enough people face to face, they decided to try and create a workshop in a bag.

Jennifer says: “We started our business with a sole mission to reinvent the traditional concept of knitting to inspire a new generation of hobbyists.

“Being born as a Millennial, I noticed that this beautiful craft was being lost in our generation since it’s no longer being taught in schools or passed down by parents or grandparents. Yet for me, I found knitting brought an array of health and wellbeing benefits that I wanted to share.

“The lightbulb moment was when we decided to bring this time-honoured craft to a new, tech-savvy audience. And it was the perfect timing – with the boom in social media, crafters are super-social – they want to tell their own stories and celebrate each other’s creativity. The high you get from saying, ‘I made that.’ It’s a great feeling and whatever you’ve created will far outweigh anything you could buy.

“We believe in the power to create, personalise and achieve something meaningful by bringing out the artisan in everyone and this has always been at the core of Stitch & Story’s ethos.”

She adds: “Through our kits, we can help more people experience that wonderful sense of accomplishment you get from learning something new – the pleasure of taking time for yourself and discovering your own unique creativity.

“Stitch & Story is all about crafting made simple that extends beyond the traditional crafters. Our wide range of sales distribution is a testament to this, from fashion to baby, to health and wellbeing, our channels include department stores, museums, bookstores, baby boutiques, coffee chains, pharmacies, airports and spas – all set to converting Millennials into a new generation of hobbyists.”

So how do you sell knitting kits to non-knitters?

“Our mission is to make crafting simple and that’s the core of what we do. Our aim is always to empower our knitters with active and meaningful projects – be it a scarf, hat, throw or sweater.

“The meaning behind our name, Stitch & Story, comes from the richness of stories created with every stitch, which builds a personal story. We want every craft project to be meaningful, whether it’s for gifting or for yourself. Aimed at giving novice crafters a stress-free experience in learning to knit or crochet, our kits contain everything you need to get started and learn the basic techniques so that you can go from zero to hobbyist in no time, easy as pie!”

And Jennifer is finding that newbie knitters are coming back for more once they learn the skill with their first kit. “We have various kit levels so that our beginner knitters can move up in the ranks after they’ve learned a new stitch or project,” she explains. “The beauty with knitting is that there’s so much variation that our customers are always learning. This spring, we brought out an exclusive knitting and crochet range that combines the two crafts in one project – the Woodlands Hat collection introduces basic knitting along with cute, floral crochet adornments that are easy to learn.”

The strategy certainly seems to be hitting home, and the business is on track to hit £2 million turnover this year.

Jennifer says: “We’ve seen our company double its growth year on year and this year will mark an even more significant one as we prepare for crowd-funding in the coming months. Our ambition is to spread knitting globally and this September, we’ve secured the global brand Peanuts to develop an exclusive range of kits. With Snoopy being known across the world we anticipate it to be our most successful range yet!”

She adds: “To be honest, I’m still pinching myself. Last year I was shortlisted at the prestigious NatWest Everywoman Awards and I feel honoured to be among Britain’s leading female entrepreneurs. It particularly means a lot to me because Stitch & Story was born out of my desire to support the UK’s crafts market in offering handmade products that keeps an artisanal ethos. My greatest achievement is growing the business to the level it is now: collaborating with global brands, securing great exposures including filming on BBC4 as well as being the face of UK’s Exporting is Great national government campaign.

“Start-ups are all consuming – I eat, sleep and dream of the business and it required inhuman amounts of energy to get it off the ground and to keep it going. Yet I feel incredibly proud of our small team and our mission of reinventing the traditional concept of knitting to inspire a new generation of hobbyists.”

Jennifer is no stranger to the current hot debate on inclusivity and race in the craft world, and notes that her small team is extremely diverse. “We always strive to include and represent everyone in what we do and that includes recruitment, media presence and workshops,” she says. “We’re now a super multi-cultural team with employees of English, Irish, Dutch, German, Turkish, Vietnamese and Chinese extraction. Our brand reps include people from Turkey, Indonesia, Australia, UK and the USA. We feel privileged to be working with such a diverse group of people in the crafting community.”

One of the key reasons Jennifer wanted to spread the word about knitting was because of its benefits to health and wellbeing.

“There is so much to be gained from knitting, especially the wellbeing side of it,” she says.

“Our company name, Stitch & Story, came about because we know how empowering it is to enable others – to start their own creative projects and tell their own stories. It represents the leap you made to have a go and learn a new skill; a way of taking time for yourself; the thrill of creating something from scratch and sharing it with family and friends.”

And although she is always extremely busy with her business, Jennifer does still knit for fun. “I was gifted the softest silk yarn, Shibui Silk Cloud in grey, for my birthday last year, so I’m working on a spring cardigan,” she says.

Originally published in Knitting 195, July 2019

 

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  • Date 20th June 2019
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