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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:
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.
The music for this podcast is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The musical section is an excerpt of the original: The Beauty of Maths by Meydän.
April 21, 2020
What a heartwarming message! I listened while weaving tape for loops for my halvdräll towels from the current weavealong. The videos and companionship of the weavealong were a delight during these anxious times. I think Duet is a wonderful yarn, but I especially love that it uses American grown cotton and supports the American textile industry. I can’t wait to see the new tapestry yarn, knowing that it comes from American sheep. These times show us how we are all connected over the whole world, but also highlight the need to preserves skills and manufacturing processes at home.
Be safe, be well. I admit that I did order more Duet as soon as I saw how beautifully my towels washed up, but I am in no hurry.
April 20, 2020
thank you for this uplifting message, sarah! as i listened to this twice, i’m warping my rigid heddle with duet for another hand towel. since march 9, i’ve woven almost 30, each warped individually. without my weaving to come to everyday, i know i would be struggling more with social distancing. saturday, i received my duet order with the new colors & now i have all 12. as i sat down to consider color combos, i came up with at least 22. so thank you & your staff for supporting us weavers, the cotton & wool growers, the mills & all involved. your dedication, hard work, foresight, etc. keeps us all going & looking forward to the next sunrise. i will be putting in a Mallo order when you release it, for sure. i continue to keep all of you in my thoughts & prayers. stay safe & healthy.
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May 15, 2020
Thank you for this message. I am a teeny tiny business owner (natural fiber textiles) and have been struggling with how to communicate to my customers while also struggling with being completely overwhelmed by impacts of COVID19. I’d all but given up until hearing your sincerity. Thank you.