|Careers in Fiber:|
Online Yarn Shop Owner
Emma Eaton, The Wool Shack
Many of us fantasize about ditching the corporate world and opening our own yarn store. This British native now residing in Australia left an exhausting, fast-paced marketing career to open an online yarn shop. Read the story behind The Wool Shack.
How were you first introduced to knitting?
My mum taught me to knit when I was little, but I never really became "addicted" until I was 18 and went in for making all my own clothes. Knitting is my retreat. I can relax when the needles are clicking in my hands.
I can never explain the satisfaction at completing a great looking garment. When I pick up my needles after a long spell without them, I always marvel at the joy I feel when I start to knit.
How did knitting continue into your adult life?
I lived in London for five years before I moved to Australia, and, of course, in London knitting is much more accessible. You can get all the yarns you'd ever want. Having said that, on a recent trip back to the U.K. after two years in Oz, I was devastated to find that Liberty's and Selfridges had cut their usually well-stocked yarn sections back to a mere corner. Very sad to see.
When I arrived in Australia, I went on the hunt for quality yarns and patterns, but didn't come across any in the mainstream. One local store stocked a beautiful selection of Rowan yarns, as well as many other European brands, but that was all I was able to find. The support system offered from this store was amazing. They held regular classes, and, believe it or not, this is where I have fine-tuned 15 years of knitting.
I have so much more confidence now with finishing and shaping, and my garments look much more professional than they ever did. Australia has given me that jewel.
Why open your own shop?
I worked in marketing and advertising for years, and I was getting tired of the long hours and fast pace. I wanted to do something that made me want to get out of bed in the morning.
After sitting down with my husband to discuss where my passions lay, I decided that knitting was something I took great pleasure in, and I would love to inspire Australian knitters with patterns and yarns from all over the world. Many of these yarns were not readily available, and my frustrations led me to launch The Wool Shack.
How would you describe the knitting climate in Australia?
I think people perceive that Australians don't knit due to the heat, which is certainly true in the summer months, but a lot of Australia actually has a cooler climate. Plus, with all the linen and cottons on the market, summer garments are rising in popularity.
Australians have typically not seen the range of patterns and yarns from the rest of the world, so their choice is limited. But I am finding that if you offer a wider selection, they are eager to get knitting. The vast majority of my knitting workshops have been for women aged between 22 and 35, a great sign that a younger audience is getting excited about this fabulous craft. Inspiration is the key!
In terms of Australian yarn/pattern producers, there is really only one major player, Australian Country Spinners (ACS). They produce and distribute many low-cost yarns and have recently acquired the distribution rights for Rowan Yarns in Australia. My personal view is that, as a result of there being very limited competition, quality and innovation are low on the list of priorities.
I believe that there are many Australians out there who are desperate for great patterns and top-quality yarns, but the choice isn't yet readily available. There is also the issue of exchange rates, and the Australian Dollar has been dipping for some time now. This adds considerably to the cost of imported yarns, further compounding the supply problem.
There are, however, a few die-hard Australian stockists out there, striving to bring their customers the best yarns, patterns, books, accessories, and service in order to satisfy what I perceive as a hungry market.
Jo Sharp is the only Australian producer of yarns who seems to have hit the nail on the head. Her patterns are innovative, and she has just introduced her first children's book. Not only are her patterns and yarns great, but their service to the knitting industry is second to none. It would be perfect if she could vary her yarn range, and perhaps introduce some 4 plys, Arans, Chunkies, or maybe even cotton.
Which designer do you most admire?
As far as knitwear design goes, I have to say that Kim Hargreaves really presses my buttons. I find her patterns classic, but trendy.
ZoŽ Mellor is my favourite for kids' designs, as I love her bold use of colour and fun.
Debbie Abrahams and Erika Knight also get a huge thumbs up from me for their innovative knitting projects for the home.
As an online-only shop, do you miss the feeling of having a community of knitters around you?
Funny enough, I do feel that I have a community spirit, even though most of my business is online. My motto is "all the service of a knitting store - online" and I try, where possible, to reply immediately to any queries I receive, whether by phone, fax, email, or the good, old-fashioned letter.
I also like to emphasize to my customers that they don't have to make a purchase to receive advice or assistance from me. I am always happy to help out if I possibly can.
I opened The Wool Shack because I am passionate about knitting. For me, the greatest pleasure is to get others hooked on this fabulous pastime too. Having a good rapport with my customers, even via email, is the most satisfying feeling.
Do you have any advice for aspiring yarn shop owners?
I was lucky enough to have a "business angel" to support the launch of The Wool Shack. The major advantage of running the business online is that I don't need to stock the enormous levels that a store with a shop front does.
This means that I can be more selective about the yarns and colours that I order. The hardest thing is to judge what the "typical customer" will like or dislike. It's very easy to make boo-boos on a range, even if you happen to like the yarn yourself.
My business is relatively new, with its official launch in May 2001, so it would be hard to say what lessons I may have learned. I think if you are a wise business person you are always learning and always trying to improve the way you work.
Customer feedback is crucial. Without it, you will never really know what they want or don't want from you. Be fresh, innovative, and offer the best possible service you can. I believe that knitters can be very loyal customers if they always receive great service and exciting products.
Visit Emma's shop, The Wool Shack.