Working with Fairmount Fibers on the Collaboration Collection was a really wonderful experience, buoyed by the fact that we have all known one another for going on fifteen years. While we know quite a bit about one another, we thought it would be really fun to introduce (or in many cases, reintroduce) ourselves to one another’s customer base via an interview.
The result is a two part interview series, the first an interview that I did with the owner of Fairmount Fibers, Lisa R. Myers. Lisa’s interview with me is to follow. Enjoy!
Kate Gagnon Osborn: Let’s start at the very beginning. What is the Fairmount Fibers origin story?
Lisa R. Myers: It’s a story of good luck and good timing. When the previous distributor of Manos yarns, Judith Shangold, began to think about retirement, she reached out to several people in the industry who she thought really understood the Manos mission. I was lucky enough to be one of them. That was in 2006; I owned an LYS (Rosie’s Yarn Cellar in Philadelphia) where we sold quite a lot of the yarn, and I jumped at the chance to be more involved with the organization.
KGO: Fairmount Fibers is the U.S. Distributor of Manos Del Uruguay yarns. For those who aren’t super familiar with the distinction, can you explain your role as the distributor? Since you only distribute the one yarn line, how does your role differ from a company who might have 3, 4, or even 12+ companies they work with?
LRM: For most distributors, the job consists of importing a yarn line, promoting it in their territory, and shipping it to retailers there. Fairmount Fibers does that for Manos, and more: We provide pattern support in several ways (in-house design; commissioned capsule collections with independent designers; yarn support for magazines and books). We’re also involved in developing new colors for each season. And we work with new product development as well, discussing trends in the U.S. handknitting world and how they translate to new yarn bases for Manos. We also coordinate trips to Uruguay so that knitters (and their friends!) can see the country and meet the artisans who make the yarn.
KGO: Manos stands out in the industry as being one of (the only?) Fair Trade Certified brands. What exactly does the Fair Trade certification mean? Manos is also a co-op. How exactly does that aspect of the business work with the Fair Trade certification, since you can be one without the other?
LRM: To become a member of the World Fair Trade Organization, Manos was vetted for adherence to 10 principles of fair trade. These include some that would naturally go with a cooperative organization (like “Transparency and Accountability” and “Payment of a Fair Price”), and others that are above and beyond (like “Commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association” and “Respect for the Environment”). Manos’s cooperative status means that the artisans are the owners of the business and make their own decisions about its principles and operations. Fair Trade certification means they’ve committed to upholding an even higher standard.
KGO: How have you seen the industry change over the years? Have you seen the Manos customer change over that time?
LRM: The industry has changed in so many ways, but I think the one I find most exciting is the ever-increasing interest in where yarn comes from. Knitters want to know who made the yarn they use, and how. It’s about fair trade and transparency, but it’s also about a bond between makers at every stage of the process.
KGO: Collaborating on this project seemed so incredibly obvious once you suggested it, it made me think it was something we should have done long ago! How did you come up with the idea? Why Cardo and Germantown Bulky?
LRM: Well, there we were having dinner together last fall – outdoors, of course, and getting rained on – and one of us (I won’t say which) was wondering what the purpose of pattern support from yarn companies is now, when there are so many patterns out there already and they’re so easily findable online. Because let’s admit it: designing is fun, but it’s also work, and designing and knitting enough patterns to support multiple yarns every season is exhausting. And in that moment, I thought, “If only there was a way to share the design load!” We’d already told each other that we were each introducing a new, bulky-weight yarn; in fact, Kate was knitting a prototype hat with an early skein of Germantown Bulky in Forest. And the lightbulb went on.
KGO: Our inspiration for the Collaboration Collection began with an autumnal color story, and, armed with one skein each of Cardo and Germantown Bulky, each of us interpreted the design brief in our own ways. Fairmount’s contributions to the collection are Gilbreth, Herschel, and Merian. What inspired the designs, and what made them good additions to the collection?
LRM: Herschel was inspired very directly by a woven piece in the same style from Manos’s ready-to-wear collection; its simplicity fit right in with the collection’s goals. Gilbreth takes simplicity in a very different sense: it has much more shaping than Herschel (which is basically two rectangles), but the tailored look and plain stockinette lead to what I hope is an understated wardrobe basic. Sarah designed Merian to have the simple structure and try-it-on-as-you-go features of a traditional top-down yoke sweater, with the typical colorwork design replaced by texture for ease of knitting and to avoid added bulk.
KGO: Cardo is a Corriedale wool, while Germantown Bulky is made from Territorial wool. Were there any differences in the swatching or knitting processes that surprised you when designing the garments?
LRM: You bet! As knitters, we’re taught that two yarns of the same fiber content, structure, and yardage should work to the same gauge. Yet here we are with two plied wool yarns getting the same gauges even though one has 109 yards and the other has 123 in the same 100 grams. It shouldn’t have worked, and yet it did. The hand on each pair of garments differs, but they’re both lovely fabrics.
We hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as we enjoyed conducting it! (Next on the to-do list is to convince Lisa to let us tag along on her Uruguay Trip in April 2023! Hah!)