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A Yarny Manifesto

March 20, 2019

There have been some great conversations happening throughout the fibre arts world about the responsibility to make our craft, space, and community open and welcoming to all. Accessibility is more than just an open door, and true inclusiveness takes an ongoing commitment.

BC local dyer, designer and fibre mill co-owner Caroline Dick @electrictree recently posted an amazing Instagram commentary with suggestions on many ways in which a fibre artist can stand in support of true inclusiveness in our community.

I asked Caroline if we could embed the post online so it could be readily accessed, and she gave permission to post her words in full, which I am happy to share. Some of these suggestions the staff of Baaad Anna’s can be proud to already stand behind; and I look forward to the challenge to double back to this post as we move forward on making more of these great suggestions possible in our shared space: in store and online.

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From a Feb 10th 2019 post written by @electrictree:

I thought I’d write about tangible ways to make our industry more inclusive. Everyone keeps asking “What can I do?! I feel so helpless!” We can be as welcoming and friendly on social media as we want, but if our goods and services aren’t actively accessible than we aren’t really being particularly proactive.

Being proactive is my mantra. I’d rather try and prevent a problem than fix one.
The accessibility of products can be a huge challenge for BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Colour]. In Canada 80% of people living on reserves (reservations for my American friends) live below the poverty line.
In America the percentage of black peoples living under the poverty line is nearly double the national average. So it doesn’t matter how social inclusive you are if a huge number of BIPOC can’t afford your products.
That’s part of why the yarn world is so privileged and elitist. Especially considering the current trend of bigger projects, with more colours, in handdyed Yarns. A “shlanket” comprised of 6 skeins in hand dyed yarn, while very beautiful, is simply out of reach for a huge number of people. Someone living below the poverty line is not likely going to spend over $100 to make themselves a scarf, no matter how pretty it is. And of course those trends are driven by sales. Yarn companies love projects that require more yarn because they make more sales, the more sales they make the more advertising for large products they can afford, the more large advertising driven publications are inclined to have patterns including multiskein, handdyed projects. It’s all driven by money, and the yarn world has its own economics.
Of course you need it to be profitable for it to spread, for more people to be inspired to enter the industry and attempt to make a living.
Remember when the current Fibre renaissance was new, and one skein projects using hand dyed Yarns were the rage? That was an amazing way to make the industry profitable enough to grow.
We all need to make money, that’s for sure. But there’s no need to always have to make the most money all the time. A product that has a lower price point and therefore a lower profit margin might not seem like its worth the time when you can make SO much more money selling fancy expensive Yarns. Designing projects that are multiskein, multicolour monstrosities are what the current trend wants, and therefore have less risk and are more profitable.
Obviously you need to make a living. So do I. But here are some ideas that I’d love for you to percolate in your head and seriously consider.

 

Hand dyed companies

1) Consider going on a Holy Grail search for a Yarn that fits with your branding but is also a lower price point. That can be difficult because a lot of the less expensive Yarns don’t dye up as beautifully. They DO exist. Talk to your fellow dyers, talk to your Mills. Give them some parameters. Find ways to lessen the price point while keeping quality. This could take a while and require a lot of research. Also consider taking a risk and buy in enough volume to make it worthwhile.

Talk to your fellow dyers and see if some of them want to go in on a volume purchase with you. Let’s face it, we use the same bases as other hand dye yarn companies. It’s not a secret. It’s not a big deal if you share in a volume purchase and have the same base as other dyers. Your dye styles are different. It’s gonna be ok.

2) Once you have a product like that promote and post about it and it’s affordability. Make project recommendations that are economical. Knit samples in the yarn and include the cost to make the project showing how accessible it is.
3) If you’re a company that does your own designs or hires designers, consider adding more patterns that are single skein or use a less expensive yarn (or has the less expensive yarn as one of the options).
4) Give your less expensive Yarns time to “warm up”. Right now the trend is for expensive Yarns and multiskein projects. It will take time to make a trend.

5) For multi colour projects, if they use partial skeins, make kits so that people aren’t buying 6 skeins of fingering weight yarn for a project that uses only 600 yards total.

6) Do NOT view it or promote it as some kind of charity. You can make yarn accessible for EVERYONE. Teenagers and university student can spend their little bit of disposable cash and feel good about it. We can spread our passion and make it accessible for all people.
7) Sell your seconds at Fibre fairs and online.
8) If you run a Fibre Fair, make sure the entrance fee is affordable. Make sure you make a decent profit, but don’t pad it just because you can.
9) Retreats are largely inaccessible to most income levels. The retreat world is growing hugely and with demand the prices go UP. Consider doing some lower priced retreats. You still need to make money, but there a venues that are nice and less expensive, there are amazing designers/teachers with lower prices. Consider adding in classes in a “day retreat” style. That way accommodation costs are nil, but the pricing is accessible.
Designers
1) When self publishing, go out of your way to include a percentage of single skein, lower price point yarn designs. This will help drive the market, make those lower price point Yarns more profitable for hand dyed companies, and we can make a lovely circular motion of supporting each other.
2) Consider submitting more single skein projects to the industry call outs. If enough of us do that, more companies will have no choice but to accept some of them.

3) Support yarn companies owned by BIPOC. Ask for Yarn support or if they accept designs. If you’re a designer that garners a higher price for your designs, consider making a policy of dropping your price a percentage when working with a company owned by a BIPOC that’s just starting out. You need to make a living too, but I’m pretty sure we can all afford to drop our commission 20% for one design a year until the industry catches up. Seriously, one design a year.

You don’t need to be a charitable organization. You need to put food on your table too.

4) When self publishing, go out of your way to be inclusive in your designs. Have a huge range of sizes. Include people of different backgrounds and sizes in your photography and sample sizes. Consider doing more unisex designs.

 

Yarn Buyers

1) Obviously, purchase from BIPOC if the Yarns/designs/products speak to you.

2) When using BIPOC products, post on social media. But check what hashtags, etc the company/designer uses, and use them as well. Taking a few moments to do this, improves the visibility big time!

3) If you have a decent amount of disposable income, consider skipping the sale bin and purchasing products at full price. I sell yarn at shows, and believe me, I want to get RID of that sale stuff. But I also am saddened by the huge amount of obviously affluent women who have crazy free for all’s over sale bins because they want to save a buck and pad their stash. It’s awesome when a person sees something in a sale bin that’s exactly what they need, no matter what their background is. If the yarn is exactly what you need or you HAVE to have it, please please buy it! If you have loads of coin and you just want to walk out with giant bags of yarn in the style of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman shopping on Rodeo Drive, maybe do some soul searching on exactly what you’re trying to get out of your purchases. It’s saddening to see someone who clearly has very little income, purchasing from the last dregs of a sale bin in colours they don’t love or colours that aren’t quite right because that’s all that’s left.

People tend to forget what kind of power they have. WE run this industry. Every purchase we make, every company we support drives the industry and the trends. You can purposefully shift your buying habits to drive change. You are in charge. What you decide to do with that power is up to you. (Also, please feel free to share this post, so that more people have some idea of where to start making a difference).

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Thank you Caroline for sharing those suggestions. I felt it also timely to make note that Caroline who is a self-identified BIPOC dyer and fibre artist will be hosting a booth at next weekend’s Fibres West exhibition, so stop by and say hi. We have stocked her beautiful yarns for about a year and are thrilled to continue to partner with her; and lastly be sure to check out her social media presence as she can be found @electrictree or @elderberryyarns and occasionally hosting the #saltspringfibrefest … she’s one talented lady that I’m proud to call my friend.

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