Photos courtesy of Barrett Wool Co.
When Evan Anderson was about 13, his mom got her first book deal. The teen was impressed, but it would take more than a decade for the chain of events set in motion by his mom’s first knitting book to come full circle and change the course of his life.
That book, Itty-Bitty Hats, was published in 2006 and his mom, Susan B. Anderson, a soon-to-be-very-popular knitting pattern designer, started blogging and traveling to yarn shops around the country to teach and promote her first book and the five others that followed. As her fan base grew, Susan worked hard to create content for her website and Evan started helping her with photography and the video tutorials she recorded for her YouTube channel. “I’ve always helped my mom out,” says Evan, now 25, recalling how he held the camera for some of her earliest videos.
Fast forward a little more than a decade and Evan, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, is fully appreciating how growing up the son of a knitter prepared him well for his current role as cofounder of Barrett Wool Co., the online yarn company he launched with his mom in the fall of 2016. The company sells 100 percent American grown, spun, and dyed yarns. The headquarters is in the basement of his childhood home in Madison, Wisconsin—a place Evan commutes to every day for work. “It’s not a typical work setting,” he says. “You can kinda just be yourself.”
This is Evan’s second post-college job. His first was a gig as an accountant. The job was fine, the people were nice, but “I didn’t really like… the whole office, sitting-in-a-cubicle-all-day sort of thing.” Fortunately, Evan and his mom had been talking about launching a dream yarn business for a couple years and Evan believed going into business together was the right move.
“One of my favorite things was working with my mom,” he said, explaining why the business idea appealed to him. They started floating the idea when he was a junior in college and “finally the timing was just right and we kind of just jumped in together,” he said. Evan left his accounting job in June, married his high school sweetheart, a teacher, in July, and launched Barrett Wool Co. in November.
Together Susan and Evan are making a conscious effort to build their family business slowly, with bit a of help from Evan’s dad who is an attorney. “We couldn’t do anything without my husband,” Susan said, noting the benefits of having both financial and legal expertise in her immediate family.
The business features Susan’s maiden name, represented by the “B” initial she started using at the prompting of the publisher of her first book. “In my daily life, I don’t go by ‘Susan B. Anderson’,” she says. But after publishing books and a blog using her “B” initial, the letter seemed to take on a life of its own.
“One of my favorite things was working with my mom.” — Evan Anderson
Susan was amused when some people would shorten her name to “Susan B.” on name tags. Nonetheless, Susan, 52, said she has always been fond of her maiden name and is thrilled to roll it out as the name of her yarn company. “After I got married I kind of debated whether or not I should just keep my maiden name, but I didn’t end up doing that,” she said. “So it’s kind of nice for me that I can bring it back in and use it.”
On launch day at Barrett Wool Co., Evan and Susan waited anxiously for their first online sale. It took about 10 minutes. “I was more excited, but she was more nervous,” Evan recalls. “And then I remember when we got our first sale—all the work we put into it—it was real…. The first couple days were pretty exciting.”
Since then, the pair have sold out of knitting kits and yarn and had to order more from the US mills they’re partnering with. “We’ve had a such a great start,” Susan said. “It’s been better than we could ever have imagined. We sold out of a lot of our colors. We’ve already placed another large order.” In his new role, Evan is getting a chance to interact with his mom’s longtime supporters and fans. “We’ve gotten a really nice response to the things we’ve put out so far and that’s definitely a credit to my mom,” he said. “She’s built a really nice following. We get nice emails and comments all the time. It makes you feel good.”
Susan has been blogging consistently for more than a decade and credits her devoted following with helping to make the Barrett Wool Co. launch a success. “It’s just the best feeling,” Susan says about recognizing the names of the people ordering her yarn. “And it makes me feel like all that effort I put toward trying to keep up my blog and really keep that going has really been wonderful. And I really appreciate seeing all those old friends. It makes you feel good.”
Barrett Yarn Co. stocks a line of Wisconsin Woolen Spun Merino and Corriedale wool that is gathered from Midwestern farms and spun and dyed in a local mill. The company also features a Home yarn line that features 16 colors inspired by nature. Kits and patterns designed by Susan are in the online shop, and there are plans in the works to feature more patterns by other designers in the future.
“It’s funny how fast the days go now,” Evan said. “It’s so much faster than my old job. I would watch the clock a lot of the time and now it seems like there’s not enough time to get everything done. The number of hours—it just doesn’t matter.” Susan agrees that their business partnership is a great match. “It’s really the best of both worlds for both of us,” she said. “We get along great. He has a good creative side. But he’s also really organized and has a real business-like mind and math mind with numbers, and I’m much more on the creative end of things. He’s really done wonders for me.”
“It’s really fun for me for him to just join in with me and take what I’ve been doing to a new level,” Susan said. “And I can help him early in his career with business, too. No matter what happens, it’s been a great experience so far. And we really are having just the best time.”
Evan couldn’t agree more. “It’s definitely the best job I’ve ever had,” he says.
Business Tips from Susan B. Anderson
Be authentic and play to your strengths.
“You have to be really passionate and knowledgeable about whatever area in which you are thinking about starting a business.” Susan says. “Along with that passion, I think you have to just be really true to yourself. You just can’t try to be something you’re not. Just be who you are. Be true to yourself in every part of the company or business that you’re trying to start.”
Make it official and draft a business agreement.
Even though Susan and her son, Evan, get along well, they signed a business agreement to clearly define their roles and set a course for success. “We have an agreement in place…. Everything is all set out. There are no wishy-washy kinds of terms.”
Even if you go into business with a relative or close friend, Susan recommends having a business agreement in place. “It doesn’t have to be a fancy legal document. You can write out your own contract and both sign it. File it away and have it on record in case something happens or a person can’t carry through, [or] there’s some issue that comes up. You have this foundation that [you both agree] upon before you get started. It’s a good thing no matter who you’re working with. I would highly recommend that.”
Remember it’s ok to say “no.”
“I’ve learned a lot of things,” Susan said, recalling one of the most difficult. “One of the things that comes to my mind is that sometimes you can’t say ‘yes’ to everything.”
Don’t give up.
“Don’t get discouraged,” Susan says, encouraging new designers to get out there with their work. “If you submit somewhere and you’re not accepted, that’s okay. You can still use that design. You can publish it yourself. You can submit it somewhere else. There are always things you can do if you see yourself wanting a design career ahead of you. Don’t give up and then just keep trying.”
Jennifer is a journalist, podcaster, printmaker, fiber artist, swimmer and community college media adviser. She is also the editor and publisher of CraftSanity Magazine and has produced a podcast about art and craft by the same name since 2006. She blogs at CraftSanity.com, sells her handprinted t-shirts and wooden CraftSanity weaving looms at craftsanity.etsy.com. Jennifer lives in suburban Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband and two daughters. Follow her fitness and creative adventures on Twitter and Instagram under the name @CraftSanity. Watch her craft tutorials on the CraftSanity YouTube Channel. Contact her by writing email@example.com.