Real Leaders

Happiness in a Box

A DIY knitting kit that gives you the ultimate luxury – time with yourself.

Most fashion houses spend millions researching upcoming trends to ensure they are first to market with the latest fashion, but sometimes an idea can come from simple observation. On a trip to New York in 2010 María José Marín (above, right) was astounded to see people knitting all around her. And not contemporaries of her grandmother either; young and cool people that were crazy about the idea of producing their own clothing, in their own time.

Marín decided that DIY clothing would be a hit back in her home country, Spain and set out to combine her love of wool with what she saw as a growing trend in fashion. At age 21 and working as a financial auditor at PwC, Marín already had her company name firmly in mind: We Are Knitters. While auditing was profitable, she had longed to do something creative since she was at school. Summer holidays were spent browsing the internet, looking for ideas on how she could start a brand that she was passionate about.“I just wanted to be an entrepeneur,” says Marín. “I liked fashion and knew it was very competitive, and had this love of wool, but didn’t know how to put the two together.

When she saw the knitting trend in New York and started investigating she knew she was finally onto something. Many fast fashion outlets such as Zara or H&M were using synthetic fabrics, but Marín had always been fascinated by noble and natural fibers – cashmere or rare vicuña wool from the Andes. One fashion company in particular stood out for her, Loro Piani, an Italian luxury brand that made garments from the most precious raw materials in the world. They focus on finding the best fleece and promoting the sustainable production of wool, while also helping to preserve endangered species.

The long history and values immediately appealed to Marín. She wanted to become a luxury knitting brand. It wasn’t long before all her attention was on the best wool producing country in the world, Peru. “The production process here is almost an art,” says Marín. “I knew that our raw materials would come from this amazing country.” In the Peruvian Andes, knitting is a way of life, all the women know how to knit and the men raise alpacas, llamas and sheep.

Marín chose Alberto Bravo as her business partner, someone she considers an important part of her success. “Choosing the right partner, who shares the same vision and strategy is crucial to success,” she says. The two had no fashion experience, but plenty of passion, perseverance and energy. “The unknown can no longer be a barrier,” explains Marín. “Anything can be learned these days with our easy access to information.”

In fact, they atribute their naïvity and lack of knitting skills at the start of their venture to their success. Because they understood exactly what a beginner knitter needed, they were able to put themselves into the mindset of their consumers and design a product that appealed to them. The company slogan is “All the happiness in a kit” and the DIY kits sell for up to $176. Inside the box customers get balls of Peruvian wool, knitting needles and a pattern. The We Are Knitters label is included too, which knitters must sew on themselves when complete. The results are far from that jumper made from leftover scraps that grandma gave you for the holidays with a reindeer motif on the front. The kits and patterns are being marketed as a luxury fashion brand with ranges for women, men and children.

A young designer in France contacted Marín and is now designing the knitting patterns for the kits. Attracting renowned designers is now part of the company’s future plans. In Spain, entrepreneurship is generally frowned upon and not culturally accepted as success or even ‘real work.’ Marín’s training as an auditor kept her aligned and focused on a set of principles that she saw as crucial to success. One of them is using suppliers that are in accordance with her values of producing wool and another is the preservation of ancient peruvian culture.

It was hard to manage this from Spain, without a large travel budget, but they found a local Spanish company that was accredited by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, ensuring that their wool was already prescreened for sustainability. Even the knitting kits have been designed to be reused. Cool designs on the bags that hold the wool ensure they are kept for other storage by customers.

The business was built almost entirely by researching online fashion companies on the web and Marín and Bravo also found their first material providers online. They received a lot of support and advice from other entrepreneurs online too. “One of the most important things we learnt was not to wait until the product was perfect before launching,” says Marín. With fashion trends getting faster and faster Marín decided that sustainability was the way to go.

They promote the idea that knitting your own garment with luxury material can result in a garment for life, shunning the seasonal, and disposable, nature of mainstream fashion. Without a supply chain structured along the likes of other fashion brands, We Are Knitters easily puts out new patterns and kits as soon as designs are complete, ensuring they are in the marketplace before traditional brick and mortar stores have them on the rails.

“The idea of ‘season’ to us is just a pattern,” says Marín.“Basically, a piece of paper and a new sticker that closes the box – the wool stays the same. It’s really simple for us to adapt and we don’t have to plan a year in advance like the large fashion companies.” The time normally reserved for managing a supply chain is now spent on social networks, blogs and Pinterest looking for trends.

“I read the book by the founder of TOMS Shoes, who said that he didn’t have any customers, only supporters,” says Marín. “And so do we. Our clients are more than customers, they not only buy our kits but come back to the web or social networks to share the results of their knitting project and how much they are enjoying it.”

“We are not selling a product – we are selling an experience,” says Marín.People buy our kits for the experience and to relax. We have realised that our brand is more about the experience; the real luxury of people spending time doing things for themselves.”

More like this

Most Recent Articles