Left / Lisa with the team at Interweave. Right / 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.