A custom bag for Indie Untangled by Montreal accessories company Twill & Print.
Photo courtesy of Tiffany Kerr
Perhaps like many of you, I never thought I would be a craft business owner. Back in the summer of 2013, I had recently been laid off from my job as a newspaper reporter and was applying to and interviewing for full-time media and communications jobs, when I stumbled onto an idea.
I had been knitting since 2007 and had just started using hand-dyed yarn. Some dyer and maker friends on the knitting social network Ravelry were discussing recent changes at Etsy and the challenges of reaching customers when they moved to standalone websites.
I wasn’t interested in dyeing yarn myself, or selling handmade items, but I knew how I struggled with keeping track of all the dyers out there, like my friend Ridgely of Astral Bath Yarns, whose Etsy shop updates sold out within minutes.
Skeins of La Bien Aimée yarn, hand-dyed in Paris, in colorways that are exclusive for Indie Untangled.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Chamoff
“In my dreams, there would be an online marketplace venue just for textile-related vendors – sort of like a RavelryRetailer site!” wrote my friend Vicki, who sewed project bags as That Clever Clementine.
Picture a cartoon lightbulb going on above my head.
What eventually became Indie Untangled – which turned five years old in April! – has had many twists and turns along the way. I’ve learned quite a few things that I think would be helpful to anyone looking to start something similar or create an entirely new business model for their own craft niche.
Me at the 2018 Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show.
Photo courtesy of Carolina Carvalho-Cross
Don’t reinvent the wheel
My initial conversations on Ravelry set off weeks of researching how to get an actual marketplace site developed: asking techie friends for advice, joining a site called CoFoundersLab to find a technical cofounder, and attending business networking Meetup groups.
Eventually, I met with a knitting friend whose husband was a software developer. She steered me away from trying to reinvent the wheel of an online marketplace – and the challenge of finding dyers who were willing to take a chance on a new platform – and instead encouraged me to focus on the real need: providing an easy way for all indie dyers and makers to share what they had for sale, and for knitters like us to easily find that out, and focus on my strengths of writing and communicating.
So, I launched Indie Untangled: a site that lets dyers, designers, and makers pay to promote their latest shop updates, sales, patterns and special collaborations.
I then send out a weekly newsletter to share what’s new. It has since grown to include events like the Rhinebeck Trunk Show and the sale of exclusive colorways from dyers.
While it isn’t always necessary to start something completely new, I think that finding what sets you apart, and the value you can add to your segment of the market, is critical to your, and for that matter, any business’s success.
Once I had my idea fleshed out, I started looking around at the websites of dyers I liked and finding out who created them. One of the sites I loved, for the now-closed Cephalopod Yarns, had a company credit. That firm was Aeolidia, a team of designers and developers who work primarily with creative businesses.
Since I knew I needed an attractive way to display what is essentially marketing as content, hiring Aeolidia for my branding and web design and development, as well as marketing help for the launch, was one of the smartest decisions I made. While it was a big investment, it gave me a way to put my best foot forward when reaching out to dyers and makers I knew I wanted to showcase and work with.
Since then, I have hired illustrators, graphic designers, event planners, and other professionals when I realize I can’t DIY everything.
This brings me to my next lesson: collaboration is key when creating a new business and new business model – particularly when many of your clients and customers are members of your small community.
Be prepared to talk openly with people you consider your friends about money – how you are compensated for your work, how they are compensated for their work (I’ve learned a lot in the last five years about what goes into designing a knitting pattern and sewing a project bag), what sells, and what doesn’t. Try not to do this on public forums. In-person conversations, or emails/texts as a last resort, are a much better way to navigate through these issues.
Marketing your business should be considered a collaborative process
When I approached bloggers and podcasters to promote my new site, I found ways for it to be beneficial to both of us. One knitting blogger who mentioned my site had knit a gorgeous sweater in a set of gradient yarns that I ended up featuring in one of my posts. I also swapped guest posts with a crafting podcaster who had launched a blog series about supporting indie business owners in the fiber industry.
Be open to change in direction
One of my biggest successes, the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show, was a passing idea I had about doing something for my first New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, known simply as Rhinebeck for its location in the Hudson Valley.
Ticket holders waiting to get into the 2018 Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show.
Photo courtesy of Natasha Celm
I had made a weekend of the popular festival the past couple of years with a group of friends. In the past some of the dyers in the group brought suitcases full of their yarn to show off and sell on Friday night while everyone was hanging out and knitting at one of the nearby hotels. So, I thought I’d reach out to a dozen or so vendors who advertised on my site and who I knew usually traveled to attend the festival, about having a small marketplace.
The first event in 2014 drew roughly 250 shoppers over four busy hours. Now the event has grown to more than 1,300 ticketed attendees during a full day last year.
When I first launched the site, in-person events were never a consideration, but they have been essential to the growth of Indie Untangled. I have since run a “pop-up” version of the trunk show in Portland, Oregon, and a live interview with knitting designer Andrea Mowry in Brooklyn.
The crowd at the 2014 Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show.
Photo courtesy of Wil Waldon
I’ve also seen the rise of Instagram as a valuable marketing tool, and while it does provide competition – people use it to learn about all the new indie dyers coming onto the scene – I have learned to use it to my advantage, by increasing my brand awareness and boosting vendors who pay to upgrade their Indie Untangled posts on my own Instagram feed.
I also promote the fact that unlike Instagram, posts on the Indie Untangled marketplace are always shown chronologically and targeted to the Friday newsletter, so customers don’t have to jump around to dozens of different feeds or worry that they’ll miss out on something.
Of course, as an entrepreneur, I’m constantly learning and seeking out new opportunities as the industry evolves. I expect I will have many new lessons to learn as Indie Untangled continues to grow in the years to come!
Lisa is a freelance journalist in the New York Metro area who specializes in home design, real estate and healthcare. When she’s not writing, or knitting shawls and sweaters, Lisa runs Indie Untangled (www.indieuntangled.com), a marketplace and blog that promotes the work of yarn dyers, pattern designers and crafters of knitting-related accessories.