This year I’m thrilled to be bringing you a new series of interviews with inspiring makers and creators from around the world. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you might remember my “Introducing” series from a couple of years ago and I’m excited to be starting it again. I’ve got some fantastic people lined up to interview each month and I hope you’ll enjoy hearing from the wonderful array of people that I’m talking to as much as I do. Shall we begin?!
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the Men in Knitwear calendar that launched last year and I know I’m not the only one. Both the 2014 & the 2015 calendars are a collection of 12 (small) knitting patterns on 12 (larger than life) men released month by month. My curiosity to discover more about who was producing this innovative way of selling knitting patterns led me down the path to the totally gorgeous new Outlaw range of yarns produced by the same two clever women. I fell completely in love with their Vanitas yarn when I used it for my recent cardigan, I’ve stashed some stunning Bohemia and I absolutely can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Deb and Rhiannon are the two women behind the calendar, Outlaw yarn and a funky range of patterns for women, published under the “Stitchseeker” label. They both live in New Zealand and in the space of 18 months they’ve had a roller-coaster ride that has seen them launch not one but three fibre businesses!
When Deb agreed to an interview on their behalf I clapped my hands with glee. Yippee!
May I introduce to you … Stitchseekers!
You seem to have the energy of a team of people, rather than just two! Do you each have specific roles within the business or do you both do a little of everything?
We’re both very driven and determined (ie obsessive!) about our work which means we burn the candle at both ends. My computer goes on usually 5 minutes after I’m up and goes off 5 minutes before I go to bed! I’ve often done an hours work before I finish my first cup of tea in the morning and Rhiannon is the same. The great thing about our partnership is that we have a lot of complimentary skills. We decided early on to work to our strengths and experience.
Rhiannon has a BA Hons in Fashion Design from Central Saint Martins in London (designers like Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney trained there) and has worked as an art and photography teacher. I worked in film and tv as a make-up and spfx artist and I’m a jack of all trades with a retail, customer service and admin background. Rhiannon has the final say in the creative aspects of the company and I spend most of my time working on the marketing and admin side. It is very much a partnership though and we both have input into everything. I’ll often go to message something I’ve been thinking about to her to find that she’s just messaged me about the same thing! This happens so often that my husband refers to her as my ‘soul mate’. We’re lucky to have very supportive families.
It seems that your Men in Knitwear Calendar has really got everyone talking. It certainly turned my head! Where did the idea come from and did you have any inkling of how successful it would be?
Men in Knitwear is a great example of how we work. The entire company began with a 5 minute conversation in the local coffee shop and Men in Knitwear was the same. We’d been working for a few months on Edition One so it was about mid-October and we were chatting about a poncho design that Rhiannon was swatching. She was joking that she would photograph it on her husband and make it look like he was naked underneath. At the time, I’d been playing around with ideas for marketing Edition One and had thought it would make a lovely calendar, so that was sitting in the back of my mind. Instantly those two ideas clicked together and 5 minutes later we had a plan for the Men in Knitwear Calendar Club. Initially we decided that we already had too much to do with Edition One and wouldn’t have the time to pull it together for 2014 but the more we thought about it the more we liked it so in typical fashion we just jumped right in and did it anyway!
I expect the question on everyone’s lips (well mine anyway) is “where are you finding these delicious men?”. It must be so much fun choosing a new man for each month. Are they helpful friends and family or do you spot them on the street?
Our first plan was to go to a model agency but we couldn’t afford the price they wanted to charge us. That nearly killed the whole idea. That’s when our families and friends got roped in! Most of our models have never been in front of the camera before. I’ve actually got a reputation for dragging men off the street but they always come willingly! Some of them are guys we know, friends of friends and workmates. Others we have approached on the street. Mr May knocked on my door collecting for charity, and Rhiannon spotted Mr November in the local shopping mall. I’m so proud of all our models. I think they do a fantastic job in often difficult circumstances. It’s a pretty challenging thing to ask someone to do and they all give it 100%.
Your Outlaw Yarn is simply divine. I’ve used “Vanitas” DK yarn for a cardigan recently and it was delicious to knit with. Your new line “Bohemia” is fabulous too. Did you have any background in yarn production when you decided to launch the Outlaw range or has this been a huge journey for you both?
We’d talked about having our own yarn line “in the future” but we weren’t expecting it to happen so fast! Sometimes opportunities present themselves though and you just have to run with it! Being knitters we obviously know what we like in a yarn and we could see a gap in the market between the indie dyers and large commercial companies. That’s where we fit! We were very fortunate to have expert advice from the team at the mill since we didn’t have any background in yarn production and had to learn a lot very quickly. Like our design collections, our yarn is themed and we’ve worked very hard to get the colours and blends that fit our vision. It’s been so exciting to see our ideas translated from our initial mood boards to actual yarn and I love seeing all the new projects go up on Ravelry. When we first started Stitch Seekers we really wanted to inspire people to push their craft boundaries and it’s wonderful to see what people create with our yarn. We’ve been absolutely thrilled with the response to Vanitas and Bohemia.
Bohemia is a yarn blend which includes possum fur. Here in New Zealand we appreciate that possums are a huge pest, destroying our native bush and spreading disease and the use of possum fur in yarn is seen as a good thing. How is your Bohemia range being received overseas? Are you having to educate people about why it’s ok to use New Zealand possum fur?
Yes, education is very important for people from overseas. As soon as you say ‘possum’ many North Americans think of ‘opossums’ which are totally different! It’s a big job to educate people that we’re not participating in any kind of ‘fur trade’. Possums are a terrible pest here and such a threat to our native ecosystem that they would be culled even if their fur was horrible. We are trying to make the best of a bad situation. The fact of the matter is that creating an industry around possum fur also gives us power as business people to demand that possums are culled as humanely as possible. Some people have been concerned that if all the wild possums were gone that we would then start ‘farming’ them to keep the industry going but I don’t see that ever happening. For a start, it’s going to take a very long time to get rid of the 30-70 million possums already here and secondly, I believe that the people working with possum fur are primarily conservationists. We are working to protect our native species. We wouldn’t then condone the farming of an animal that is such an ecological threat. From our point of view, NZ has some of the best sheep in the world – if the possums were gone we would still be able to produce gorgeous yarn!
You seem to have accomplished so much in just over one year. Do you have any more fabulous plans up your sleeves?
Of course! Men in Knitwear has just started for the second year and we have some fabulous guest designers working with us this year. Production for Edition Three – Atlantiscape is well under way. I’m struggling not to share photos with everyone now. I love this collection and want every piece in it! Probably our worst kept secret at the moment is the addition of Bohemia Worsted to the Outlaw Yarn line up. There are also a couple of projects that are in the very early planning stages and who knows what we’ll think of tomorrow!
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Thank you so much Deb and Rhiannon! I really enjoyed hearing all about your businesses. It sounds like you’ve got another exciting year in front of you – I can’t wait to try your worsted yarn …
If you’d like to take a closer look at the Stitch Seekers patterns or the Men in Knitwear calendar visit the Stitch Seekers website. Outlaw yarn can be purchased directly from the Outlaw Yarn website or from various retailers listed on the website.
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