“I knit on the bus so people ask me what I’m doing”
How did you become an entrepreneur?
After studying at Cleveland College of Art & Design, I enrolled on a fashion and textiles degree at Bath Spa University and discovered three months before graduating that I was pregnant.
When baby Eevey was just six months old, I did a PGCE qualification and then worked as a supply teacher until I decided to start up a business on my own to create a better work/life balance.
Year after year, I found I was buying knitted accessories that would last only a few months and then fall apart. I looked into many types of yarn from all over the world before I discovered all the amazing ones right here on my doorstep.
How has the business grown?
I started at home in my front room hand knitting vintage-style berets, fingerless gloves, bobble hats, long scarves, snoods and other accessories under my maiden name, Samantha Grig, using 100 per cent British wool from Bluefaced Leicester sheep and alpacas.
Then last year I began trading in Stockton Borough Council’s small business incubator unit, the Enterprise Arcade, and I’ve now expanded into its new larger premises on the high street where I have a double unit called All Things Wool which sells my own adults and childrenswear designs and wool at various price points. Knit kits are also available which include wool, needles and a simple pattern so budding knitters can get their needles clicking straight away. The next step is to move into my own shop which is very exciting.
What are the benefits of working in a commercial space?
At home I could stay in my pyjamas all day but here, no matter how I’m feeling, I have to put a smile on my face and get on with it. I’ve had to grow in confidence overnight – I always believed in my products, but I was scared to tell people about them. The reality kicks in when you have rent to pay and you have to sell.
I wish I hadn’t been so cautious about buying in wool – even though that’s what everyone was telling me to do. Sometimes you need to listen to what people say but I was too busy wrapped up in my own little world of knitwear. You really need to listen to your customers in retail, as soon as I started selling wool it flew out the door.
I sat in my little flat for six months knitting, not knowing if anyone would like what I’d made which was scary. Customers now tell me how talented they think I am, which is an amazing feeling.
How have you diversified?
Although I still champion the British wool, I had to introduce other brands at a lower price point to make it viable. I also organise workshops once month, teaching traditional skills like knitting and crochet, which is massive. We were booked for a 50th birthday party earlier this year where all the guests helped make a friendship blanket. The aim of our business whether it is the yarns, products or knitwear is to give our customers a ‘creative hug’.
What have you learnt?
To run your own business you need to be really organised and self motivation is everything. I’ve been to some business mentoring workshops and had social media training at Digital House in Stockton which has been really helpful.
I’ve also learnt that people tell you things you don’t want to hear sometimes and you have to make lots of mistakes – I’ve bought wool I shouldn’t have done fairs that I shouldn’t have done.
I’ve had to compromise on the products I sell but I’ve still kept my integrity and I’m still developing my own high end luxury brand.
I now knit purposefully on the bus so passengers ask me what I’m doing and I can advertise my business.
Lots of people have said it’s so nice to see a young person knitting. They have an image of a granny in an armchair, so people are quite shocked that I am so passionate about it at the age of 29.
Have you ever wished you hadn’t set up on your own?
There have been days where I’ve thought “why am I not still teaching?” but you only live once and this makes me happy. To give it up now would be mad when I’m on the brink of making it big.
You are working six days a week, how do you juggle everything?
Eevey, who’s now six, is proud as punch of me. She comes in here and looks around, she gives her opinions too – she’s a big motivator. I think this has shown her that you have to work hard for what you want.
I got married to my partner, Nick, last month. There’s not a chance in hell I would be here now if it weren’t for him. He is the cornerstone of the business and he does all the housework, childcare, and my books while working five days a week.
I also care for my mum who has dementia, I’ve had some very hard days with her and I’ve come into work and burst into tears but I have had a lot of support.
What does the future hold?
My products are now available to buy on my website and I will be selling at fairs this year including Yarndale, Living North at York and Newcastle and Harrogate Christmas Fair.
Business is doing so well know that I have a real hunger to be in my own shop by January, it would be great to hold knitting classes there for people of all ages such as mums and sons and dads and daughters.
An 11-year-old boy came in during the school holidays asking me to teach him and the next time I saw him he brought with him the hat and scarf he’d made for his baby brother. If I can teach the younger generation to knit then that’s a great thing.
All Things Wool, Enterprise Arcade, 37 High Street Stockton.