Today I'm excited to bring you an interview with someone I admire greatly, Lisa Shroyer, content editor at Interweave Press.
Mari: I know you grew up in the fiber industry, but for knitters out there who may not know you, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Lisa: Sure thing. Well, I was lucky to be born into a creative family. On my mom’s side, a legacy of knitters; on my dad’s, one of drummers and woodworkers. I grew up knitting on the couch next to my mom while my brother was bashing away on a drum set upstairs. Maybe that’s how I became such a fast knitter…
Anyway, so my mom has worked in the yarn industry in one form or another all of my life—working in yarn shops, teaching, knitting samples for yarn companies, eventually starting her own manufacturing business, Nancy’s Knit Knacks—so I grew up with that world on the edge of my awareness, and I stuck with knitting myself through high school and college, and eventually it opened an important door for me: my first professional job. I applied for and was offered the editorial assistant position for Interweave Knits magazine in 2005, and I’ve been with the company ever since. Combining media and craft is pretty perfect for me. I was an English major; I picked the major that made me least tempted to skip class. I was not good at going to class. BUT, I loved writing long critical theory papers at 3 in the morning. I served on the newspaper and lit journal teams in both high school and college, and I took a lot of creative writing classes. As an adult, I’ve continued to be involved with the literary arts through different organizations. I flippin' LOVE writing and reading and discovering the world through media. And yeah, I kinda like knitting. So Interweave has been pretty rad for me.
Below, Lisa and her mom Nancy.
Mari: Wow, how cool that you got your dream job right out of college! When did you first meet Kate and Courtney?
Lisa: Oh geez, I actually remember the meeting clearly, but not when it was. It was at TNNA, and we were at some after-hours “cocktail party” in a windowless, white convention-center meeting room. Round conference tables; carrots and celery; a long line for the cash bar. I was still a bit unsure of myself in the professional yarn world, and I probably had a weird haircut at the time. I’d heard that two yarn shop gals from Rosie’s in Philly were picking up a European yarn line, and in my mind I recorded what that name was as “Le Fibre.” So when someone introduced me to Courtney at this event, and she looked cool and roughly the same age as me, I stuck out my hand voraciously and exclaimed, “Oh, you’re the ladies picking up Le Fibre! Awesome to meet you!” I pronounced it LUH FEEBRUH (I am Southern) and pumped Courtney’s hand way too long. She and Kate looked a little puzzled but pleasant, and, thankfully, we became great industry buds over time. Courtney has slept on my couch. We’ve celebrated quite a few birthdays together. I’m a fan.
Mari: I remember introducing myself to Kate at my first TNNA, before I worked for Stitchcraft. I found her a bit intimidating. Since I've gotten to know her, and Courtney, I've learned they are warm and kind women. In fact, my first time meeting you I was a bit intimidated too! Despite being a female dominated industry, it's a bit nerve wracking meeting industry veterans when you're young and new to the scene.
You've been in the industry for a while, and you've seen companies come and go. What do you think gives yarn companies longevity?
Lisa: I think the ticket THESE DAYS is crystal-clear branding and a narrow product line. When I see a yarn from The Fibre Company, I know right away that it’s one of their yarns. The palette, the look and feel, the luxury content of the yarn, the sort of dreamy drape with some interest in the strand that all their yarns have. Ravelry might have something to do with the success of companies like The Fibre Co./Kelbourne. Think about it—for a new yarn to rack up projects on Ravelry, it has to stay around for years. Something that comes and goes in one or two seasons? It never catches on. It doesn’t develop a name and a reputation with knitters. So I think Kate and Courtney have been smart—they started with a really narrow line, held onto those yarns, and have added gradually, but each addition fits their branding and sticks around.
The other thing about Kelbourne that works—the cute indie branding on all their patterns and materials—it’s accessible, friendly, but cool. As a consumer, you WANT a piece of that; you feel connected to what they’re doing, and it’s consistent. Boutique companies with these strategies have really emerged in the last 10 years as a force—look at Shibui, Blue Sky Fibers, Anzula, Brooklyn Tweed, Madelinetosh, etc. Now on the other hand, the older model of large lines with seasonal releases and discontinuations, I think where those companies still excel is in price point, market share, and in large seasonal pattern collections, which support those yarns. But the boutique lines with strong branding—even when they’re NOT hand-dyers—seem to be the wave of the future for us. Kate and Courtney are kind of old hat at that now.
Below, Lisa with the team at Interweave, and Lisa with Knitscene editor Hannah Baker.
Mari: You always have such great insights about the industry. What's been the biggest change in the industry from when you first started, to now?
Lisa: Well, I worked my first Stitches show in my parent’s booth in the late 90’s, then helped them out through the Stitch n’ Bitch and eyelash crazes, then I joined Interweave in 2005 when the money in knitting was FLOWING LIKE CRAZY. Advertising—there were issues of Interweave Knits we added multiple signatures (sets of 8 pages) to because we had so much demand for advertising. Yarn shops were popping up all over, and they didn’t all fail right away. The economy was good and knitting was hot. I knew knitting book authors who were getting SICK advances from other publishers. Then Ravelry launched and it was like, whoa knitting is THE HOTTEST THING. And hand-dyers! Whoa! And then 2008 came, and since then we’ve plateaued and even shrunken to some extent. So the peak and trough cycle has been very clear during my time in the industry.
And culturally, I’ve witnessed a really interesting dynamic in the industry—we got a flood of young people around the Ravelry explosion: young indie designers, yarn company owners, and shop owners joined the industry in this pretty big wave. A lot of the really hardcore customers of the independent market are Boomers. So you have this dynamic of two generations who often don’t understand each other, playing together in this space where their passion brings them together, and the things a younger business owner would due to attract a customer her own age might not work with a Boomer customer, so you have to adjust strategy. I find this firsthand as a frequent blogger in the knitting space—I’ve grown up with the internet and the internet’s snarky, intellectualized language. I’ve spent a lot of time on Reddit. So when I write for the web, it’s in that language; everything is cynical and has dual meaning. While it might be upbeat and highly educational, it is not spoken in a tone of earnestness; it’s more like a wink and an elbow-jab—joyful but always mischievous. Younger folks don’t take things on the web at face value; they understand that tone. But the older generation who missed that digital adolescence—the ones who have flocked to Facebook in recent years—read things very differently online; they get offended more easily and will comment more quickly. So I have to find balance in my writing and my tone. For better or worse, this younger, snarkier set is inheriting the yarn industry, and we have to decide what it looks like and figure out how to make it succeed, or it will die. So that’s a big change I’ve seen: the rise of 20 and 30-somethings in the industry. We have to attract the even-younger folks to the craft to keep it alive, and we speak their language well enough to do that, I think.
Mari: Can you share a fun story about Kate and Courtney (preferably one that won't get me in trouble for publishing it on their blog)?
So, I have a lot of stories about K+C. A lot of those can be summed up as “what happens at TNNA, stays at TNNA.” But I have one that is rather sweet. It was 2008; I was living in Philadelphia at the time (where K+C also lived), and I was newly editor of Knitscene magazine. I’d met K+C a few times, through TNNA and Philly yarn events, and I asked them if I could interview them for the magazine. So I went to Kate’s rowhouse in East Falls, where she had, like, so many dogs and cats running around—mid-renovation on her kitchen—and the three of us sat at a big table and I interviewed them. This was before Kate was married or had kids, and Courtney’s baby was really young, and I was whatever mess I was at that time—I was like 26. And they were so eager to impress me, a magazine editor! And I thought they were so COOL—partners in a yarn company, living in cool old houses in hip Philly neighborhoods, with tattoos and stuff. Here’s a pic I took that day in Kate’s house. This ran with the article I wrote about Kelbourne for the spring 2009 issue of Knitscene. And here we are, 9 years later—their company has grown and is very successful; they’ve both moved up into bigger houses with bigger families; and I’m running the whole department at Interweave. Three freaks who love yarn and made careers out of it.
But sometime, you should ask K+C about the motel lounge in Solon, Ohio. And the formal frat gala we crashed in Phoenix. Talk about fun stories!
Mari: I'll definitely do that! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer all my questions.
Left: Lisa, Amber, Kate, and Jaime (Amber and Jaime are owners of Fancy Tiger Crafts) Right: that photo from 2009 of Kate and Courtney.