Behind the Scenes: Our Origin Story
So you may have seen over on Instagram the past few weeks, that I'm hoping to start sharing more stories from behind the scenes here at r&s. I thought this might be a fun way to celebrate our one year anniversary coming up soon (as well as the launch of our new base!) and I'm hoping this will be a chance to really share with you not only our processes, but also the heart behind who we are and why we've started this company, why we run it the way we do. Over the following weeks and months, I'll be sharing lots more about us (of course!) but also the geographical area where we live, our sheep & mill and just how far our yarn has to travel to be made (spoiler alert: it's not far at all!). But I thought it would be fun to kick things off by sharing more about how we began.
The truth is that I didn’t mean to start a yarn company. I honestly am not the most business-savy person and I really didn’t think that this was something I could even do. (To give you a clue of how clueless I was, last year right before our launch a friend of mine asked me what our projected/anticipated “net” and “gross” income was for the launch and I literally asked him “what’s the difference?” (!!) I’ve heard it said that there are two types of business owners- those who are passionate about starting a business and go looking for an idea, and then those who stumble across an idea and are like “dude, I gotta start a business…”
Regardless of if this is true for everyone or not, I’m definitely the second type of person.
R&S yarn essentially came out of my failed attempt at learning how to hand-spin yarn. But let’s back up a little bit: When my son, Caleb was about 7 or 8 months old, I all of a sudden had a very strong urge to add a little extra creativity into my life and routine. At this point, I’d dabbled in selling both hand knit items on Etsy as well as pattern design, and while it wasn’t without it’s successes (particularly the pattern design thing…) neither had really taken off, and I was quite honestly looking for something new to try. Anyways, I used to take Caleb on long walks in his buggy on cold winter afternoons- he would sleep and I would listen to podcasts. I listened to a lot of fiber arts and maker podcasts and heard many stories of people doing amazing things. I wish I could remember the exact podcast episode that got me started thinking about learning to spin, but all I know is that it was an interview with a hand spinner who set up a small Etsy shop to sell the yarn she was spinning, and I was so inspired.
So I decided to ask my friend Marty (spoiler alert: it’s the same Marty who’s now my business partner), if he knew what happened to the fleeces of the sheep that sometimes grazed in his backyard. Just to clarify as people have asked me about this: at the time Marty was living in a small village right next to Marburg, and there was a herd of sheep that would graze in gardens and fields around the village. I thought maybe I could contact the shepherd about purchasing the fleece from one of his sheep to learn to spin with.
Marty didn’t know the answer, but he contacted the shepherd and asked. Through this one little innocent question we found out that most of the fleeces in this area were not being spun into wool. In fact, they often weren’t being used at all but rather thrown away or sometimes burned. Of course, this was a rather shocking discovery and I started to wonder how many other flocks of sheep were producing fiber that was ending up in a similar spot. We contacted a few more shepherds and then found a mill (45 kms from where we live!) that’s able to process and spin the wool in an environmentally friendly way and at a rather small scale.
Enter the “dude, we’ve gotta start a business” moment…
Over the past year and a half since we made this decision, we’ve had our share of up and down moments. At first (honestly) we couldn’t believe that no one else was doing this in our area yet-it was such a great idea! But, of course, eventually we figured out why. Honestly, this is really hard work. There are challenges associated with bringing this yarn into being that I honestly hadn’t even considered before we began. Though I love this yarn and it’s story (and am passionate about figuring out how we can continue to tell it), running this business has also brought it’s fair share of doubts and difficulties and rough days. Of course we’re not here for the money but I don’t think it would come as a surprise to anyone that the easiest way to make money is not to start a small yarn company and running this business has honestly taken quite a toll on me, my family and our support network.
BUT. But. I am still so glad that I asked that question. And that I decided for once in my life to follow through on the crazy idea that was birthed from the answer. For the first time in my creative journey, with r&s yarn, I feel like my own passion and what I want to create has crossed over into something that others are really interested in, and want to use. No matter what happens from here- how long we continue to run this company, how many more bases we produce, how much more yarn we sell… Honestly, even if we were to stop today and go no further, I am so dang proud of what we managed to do and create.
But of course, I can’t wait to see what happens next! Thanks friends, for being here for this crazy ride.