Sharing Yarns: An Update on Emilime Handcrafted
Story by Stacy Edwards.
When we last spoke with Emily Green of EmiLime Handcrafted, she was hard at work living the life of a solo entrepreneur, traveling between Austin and Peru to build relationships with Peruvian artisans and telling the public about her hand-knit, all-natural and traceable product line. The past year has been a busy and growing time for both Emily and her business. In fact, at the time of this interview, she had just arrived in Peru to work on a few new projects and scout potential artisans. In her own words, now that her “baby business has started walking on its own,” she’s looking forward to the future and reflecting on the steps she has taken thus far.
Emily interviews the women and families who work on her pieces to better understand their personal approaches, and share the stories with her customers.
Emily started her business with a goal of creating variety in the goods being produced out of Peru. While she believes they are well on their way, she recognizes that the group has only covered the basics. “There are so many different types of artesania in Peru, [so] I would love to expand our network of artisans to include different forms and create more interesting fusions with not only technique, but also materials.”
The newest project she’s working on involves combining the work of hand carvers in the jungle with artisans in the mountains who wrap cardboard with bright metallic thread. “Although both methods are traditional, the fusion is what really allows me to get creative with the design process.” Emily is also excited about the HOOD and TUBE pieces being released this fall/winter season. By blending fine alpaca yarn with chunky sheep wool, they’ve created quite a unique texture and feel.
Of course, insuring the quality and creativity of these products is only a part of Emily’s entrepreneurial venture. She strives to make everything traceable by making known the condition of the alpacas’ home, depicting the journey of the yarn used and sharing the stories of her fellow artisans. By providing this transparency, Emilie seeks to encourage people to appreciate and understand the production process.
Part of this respect for the artisans is shown through Emily’s commitment to meaningful communication. While she has worked with many people through email before, she is unconvinced that it works for the creative profession. “I’m not sure if ideas get lost in transmission without my oh so helpful hand gestures, or if it is that the artisans still have not been accustomed to working with digital designs, but I haven’t ever been able to get it right no matter how technical I try to get with my designs.”
The logistics of this interaction and business structure has taken dedication to fine tune over the past year. “The way I currently have my business structured is that I have one main contact in Lima and I send everything through quality control and packaging there. But I also have one contact person in each [of the three regions] I work with.” Working in different regions is quite important too, since each area has a regional specialty. For example, “One area is really good at one type of embroidery while the other region uses a slightly different technique that really allows the designs to transform. Some women prefer to knit with one strand of yarn, while others prefer two or three.”
While seemingly cumbersome, Emily’s dedication has truly paid off. When Sheepless spoke with her in March 2010, EmiLime was in 20 stores, but now, they sell to over 150 stores and have international customers too. Much of this brand exposure comes from doing trade shows in New York, which she is currently preparing for again. “We are doing a retail holiday market in New York this winter in Columbus Circle, so I am really excited to interact directly with the customer and have so many people see our products even if they don’t buy anything.” She believes the feedback alone in these situations provides invaluable insight for improving the designs.
Overall, Emily believes 2011 has made her a stronger person and businesswoman. As the brand gains momentum, people that she really respects are now starting to seek her out. “I guess it is validation for all the work I have done and being a solo entrepreneur, it is difficult to find that validation. I have a new confidence that I know what I am doing and if I don’t, I can figure it out.”
What’s next for this world traveling, powerhouse and entrepreneur? A temporary relocation to Peru from January through spring. But before then, we asked Emily three final questions:
What has been one of your favorite product stories? I think the flow wrist warmers. It has been a total blend of all my favorite elements. It started with a seemingly impossible journey across the country to find one artisan in a sea of thousands of knitters. I picked up one of her products at a fair in Lima, but no one knew how actually created it. With the hat in hand, I traveled to that region and as fate would have it, the knitter got into a taxi with me! She came to my hotel that night and showed me her products and I started crying. We worked on these arm warmers based on the techniques used in the design that I saw that night. I went to see her while production was going on and I got to go visit all the women while they were making them. I walked through the markets and one woman was selling potatoes and her nearby neighbor was selling vegetables. They have to keep 11 separate balls of yarn while they work. It is such a cool process. I also just think the product is beautiful.
What advice would you give people who want to start a business with similar international interests? Give yourself plenty of time to be successful. You probably won’t make money for a long time and you are going to make tons of mistakes. In international situations, you really have to trust your instinct so if that is strong, and you have tenacity, then you probably have what it takes.
Lastly, are you incredibly happy doing what you do? I really am. I have created something that blends all my interests and talents. It is tangible and it is a direct reflection of experiences and thoughts that I am having on this crazy journey.
Online at http://www.emilimehandcrafted.com
Stacy Edwards is a graduate student of non-profit and public administration, food blogger and uncontainable dreamer living in Austin, TX. While finishing her Masters in Public Administration remotely through New York University, Stacy works with Yelp's Austin Team to promote local businesses through online engagement. In her spare time, she plays soccer, takes too many pictures of food and theorizes the adoption of a puppy. She can be found at about.me/stacynedwards.