Planning for the Future with Sarah Resnick
Sarah here. I’m coming on today with a solocast, sharing a window into how our business is adapting to this time, what we’re feeling scared about and hopeful about, and how we are planning for the future. I hope that wherever this finds you, wherever you are listening from, you and your loved ones are safe and healthy, in body and in spirit. I’ve been hearing from many of you about how you are coping with and adapting to these times, and am so grateful to receive those messages and to be in touch with you.
In early January, Emma, Christine and I rented a little house by a lake and spent a day dreaming up what 2020 could be for our company. We brainstormed new lines of yarn, talked about releasing pattern collections, and discussed the challenges of doing domestic yarn production at price points that would work for our community. We pored over the numbers, trying to figure out which kinds of patterns and kits you all loved most. We thought about how to grow our team, and when. We built out a launch calendar for the year. We ate a lot of snacks.
The next day, we went back to our studio and started working hard to make those dreams happen.
When I realized in March how dramatically this virus was about to change everything, I felt frozen. What were we supposed to do? Continue with our plans? Stop everything, even though we already had many months invested in yarn development? I wondered if your emails and phone calls and chats and orders and podcast downloads would keep coming in. (That turned out to be a beautiful and resounding yes, and oh, how grateful we are for that.) Then I wondered if we would be able to continue safely shipping your orders. (Also, yes.) Every day felt like a year, and planning not only seemed impossible, it felt selfish. How could I think about business and economics and money in a time of so much loss and fear and grief?
As the weeks have continued, four things have become clear to me as I have continued to adjust and adapt to this new experience we are all living in:
- This uncertainty and fear that this virus brings, sadly, isn’t going away anytime soon. We can hope that the worst of it will pass us by this spring, but we can expect significant changes and uncertainty to continue in the summer and fall and maybe beyond. There will be an end to this, but we as a society will need to learn how to handle this new situation for the time being, maintaining some sort of a new normality.
- The longing to sit at our looms and feel fabric forming under our hands isn’t going anywhere, despite how much else in our world might be changing. Finding the time to do that is even more important now, as a source of much needed comfort and strength. It makes us better able to handle these distressing times, strengthening ourselves so we can also be there for others.I can’t tell you how many people I have heard from who are sharing that time at the loom is just the solace they need and we all need in this time. We’re all still weaving, we’re all still looking for inspiration for new ways to bring beauty into our lives, and to weave love into cloth to gift to our family and friends.
- The crisis around the lack of locally available personal protective equipment has brought into sharp focus the necessity for supporting domestic production. Though weaving yarn feels essential to many of us, of course we know it isn’t essential production the way that is currently defined. But many of the mills who are making craft yarn also have critical government contracts, and/or have shifted to making personal protective equipment. A vibrant and diversified textile manufacturing sector is critical so that we have the flexibility to adapt in times like this, and craft and hobby yarns can play an important component in the economic viability of our industry now and into the future.
- Now, more than ever, we are rallying to support our communities. That might look like stepping out on our balconies every evening to cheer in support of essential workers. It might look like grocery shopping for friends and neighbors who are more vulnerable to the virus. It might look like scrounging up every last scrap of fabric in our homes and sewing them into face masks to give away to anyone who needs them. It might look like buying gift cards to support restaurants and small businesses that are struggling right now. However each of us as individuals are choosing to show our support, I’m hearing from so many of you how important it feels to lead with our hope instead of our fear, and be there for our friends and families and neighbors and small businesses.
As I sat with these four things and thought about the right way to plan for the future of our small business, I felt deep in my bones that like so many of you are teaching me to do, we need to lead with our hope instead of our fear as well.
So, we are continuing with our plans. We will be launching pre-orders for 5 new colors of Mallo, our US grown cotton slub yarn, next week. We’re planning with Liz Gipson to launch our next rigid heddle PlayBox soon, which will highlight luxury fibers made by three North American mills and dyehouses. We’re moving forward with development for a thick cotton yarn, grown by a collective of organic cotton farmers in Texas, and spun and dyed in North Carolina. And we’re also embarking on our biggest project to date – a new line of thin wool tapestry yarn, grown on American ranches, and launching for pre-orders with 70 colors.
Some days I look at those plans filled with excitement and hope, and some days, to be totally honest, I feel afraid. Planning for growth in a small inventory-based business can be scary in the best of times. Trying to plan in this time, with so much fear about the virus, and so much economic uncertainty, kind of feels like jumping off the side of a mountain and hoping everything works out on the way down. When I forecast out our cash flow, most scenarios see us spending a large portion of the money we have in the bank to make these projects happen. For a bootstrapped business without access to traditional capital, this is certainly a risk.
But here’s the thing. American growers and ranchers are continuing to grow cotton and shear sheep, trusting that mills and brokers will continue to buy their fiber. Mills are continuing to operate their equipment and employ their workers, trusting that businesses like ours (and businesses much bigger than ours, of course) will continue to place orders. So as scared as I am in this moment, I feel strongly that we need to keep our place in that chain, sending our dollars to support domestic production on the yarn we have been working with our partners to develop for many months, and trusting that our community of customers will continue to be excited to support what we are working on, and weave your magic into it.
When we launched our first line of yarn, Duet, we did it with a pre-order model. Our community rallied to support this project, purchasing the yarn in advance (and receiving bonus cones as a gift for your support!) so that we could have the funding to put down deposits with the mill. Since then, we have used this pre-order model a few more times, and plan to continue to use it in the future. We use this model because it works - these yarn lines are now in regular production, and it is entirely thanks to you.
When friends ask me how we have been able to access capital to fund our growth, the answer is simple – our community lends it to us, and we pay you back in yarn. We don’t have to turn to the bank, or credit cards, or investors who might pressure us to turn this company into something we don’t want it to be. With our community as our investors, we are able to focus 100% on creating the quality you are looking for, with the values we share.
It’s a simple model, really, but something I never ever take for granted. In a world where enormous e-commerce corporations have trained us to expect 2-day shipping, this beautiful community is saying: we’re fine to take a pause. We don’t need the instant gratification of the package on our doorstep tomorrow. We believe in you, we believe in your partners, and we’re ready to wait for something beautiful and ethical, that supports all chains of our domestic economy – from the farmer to the mill to the dye house to the retailer to the weaver.
So. That’s the model we’ve been leaning on to launch new projects, while continuing to ship out your orders quickly for yarn that’s in stock! And because this wonderful community has proven time and again that you are here for us and love what we’re working on, I have been able to lean into the trust that you will continue to be here for us, and decide that in this time of great upheaval and uncertainty, we are still moving forward with our plans for the future. It’s 100% because of all of you, and I thank you for that.
If some of these new projects sound intriguing to you, the best place to stay tuned for all of them is by signing up for our email list. Thank you for your continuous support - your emails and podcast downloads and orders and phone calls. The photos of what you’re weaving. The cards you send us in the mail. They mean more to me, and to LaChaun, Christine, and Emma, than you will ever know.
One last thing, a note about this podcast. You probably noticed that we haven’t been entirely able to stick to our weekly publishing schedule. We are working hard on it, but to be honest it has been a little harder to get guests to agree to come on the podcast recently. People are busier, parents are home with their children, we totally understand. But if you - yes, you! - are interested in being a guest on the podcast, or if you have a friend you think we should reach out to, we want to hear from you. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be well and be safe, dear weavers. We are here for you.