Update: Darn Good Yarn, originally featured on FreeEnterprise.com in 2013, was named the Community Excellence Award Winner at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 America’s Small Business Summit.
“It is true of the nation, as of the individual, that the greatest doer must also be a great dreamer.”—Theodore Roosevelt
Knitting and crocheting have dramatically increased in popularity in recent years. In fact, according to the Craft Yarn Council, 38 million consumers knit and crochet today. It’s a market ripe for an entrepreneur like Nicole Snow.
Snow started Darn Good Yarn out of her home in the remote town of Sebec in upstate Maine. She hires women in India and Nepal to craft reasonably priced, high-quality yarn using reclaimed materials such as silk. Then she ships the finished product to customers around the world. Using materials that would otherwise be thrown away, Snow’s business helped save 10,000 pounds of waste in India and Nepal last year. In addition, her 300 yarn crafters earn between $10 and $16 per day in communities where most people live on less than $2 a day.
“A big reason why the yarn is so important to me is that it’s being made by people who are super impoverished,” Snow says. “These people usually wouldn’t have work. It’s a beautiful supply chain, and one that nurtures people. It’s not a charity but, rather, conscientious capitalism. And it’s a great way for people to make money using their hands.”
Snow, who won the 2013 FedEx Small Business Contest’s $25,000 grand prize, didn’t set out to become a yarn shop owner. After serving a brief stint in the military, a move to California with her husband sparked an interest in artistic design. She became an importer of women’s clothing and accessories made from reclaimed materials. Though her business experienced success, it just wasn’t where her heart was.
Nevertheless, it was that first business that helped incite and fund Darn Good Yarn. While she imported these items, Snow discovered the recycled yarn and developed connections with various Indian co-ops that manufacture the material. She then experimented with the niche market under the Darn Good Yarn name. It became an instant success. Today, Snow sells 350 yarn varieties, and her business has grown 1,500% in the past four years.
Snow has developed a diverse client base, ranging from yarn shop owners to independent, mixed media artists. Her website attracts more than 40,000 customers each month, which account for 60% of sales. The other 40% of her business is wholesale, primarily to yarn shops around the world.
“You need 10,000 people that really love you, and that’s what I really live by,” she says. “If you can take a niche and be the best, you can pay the mortgage and have a really thriving business.”
Snow puts a premium on customer service. “When people buy Darn Good Yarn, I want them to know that they are getting a piece of me,” she says. “Everything gets wrapped in a bow and comes with a personalized letter. I want it to seem like a present from me.”
She hopes that her success will inspire up-and-coming business owners. “My goal is to have people look at me and say, ‘This is someone who is marching to the beat of her own drum, and I think I can do that too.’”