Is now live!: http://www.selectism.com/2013/03/05/catch-up-with-krochet-kids-kohl-crecilius/
If you know anything about Krochet Kids Intl. then you already know the oft-used lead – that the three masculine founders now in their 20s, all happen to be, well, male. While many of their peers were chugging beers, they were discovering a love for crocheting in high school passed down to them from Kohl Crecilius’ (one of the founders) older brother. What was once a pastime and part-time moneymaker for the boys became a mechanism of empowerment for women in Uganda following a trip to the African country in 2007 while the boys were still in college. Six years later, Krochet Kids intl., mainly known for hats and scarves, is launching a line of accessories including bags, sunglass cases and laptop bags, and we’ve gotten an exclusive look.
Besides bringing their company to California, the Pac Northwest guys also brought down the art of pickleball to the OC – a sport we learn about before digging into what’s coming up for the Costa Mesa-based company. Don’t be fooled though – the kids are laser-focused on the future and perfecting new products, while the female artisans look toward their bright futures as local leaders. Above all though, quality of life – for themselves, their knitters, and their employees – is tantamount to growing the business.
OK, pickleballing aside, the premise of your business is simple while life changing for your indigenous makers. Women in Peru and Uganda are taught to crochet as well as mentored in areas like leadership, finances, and starting a business. Their wares are sold via your network of sales affiliates and they are not only paid, but empowered to better their communities. Do you have local affiliates carrying out mentorship programs on a weekly and monthly basis? What does the mentorship consist of?
Yes, we have local indigenous people leading the mentorship programs. This stems from the idea that we could provide a job because they could create products with ease, but that’s a small step. One of the first things we did is help them understand their money: setting up bank accounts, managing money, and creating monthly budgets. We also teach functional literacy and life skills. Then we lead them into “dreaming” – what they could pursue in their future. In Uganda, for example, subsistence farming is something they are passionate about, so women are buying land and tending it. Some women are opening their own kiosks, purchasing motorcycles, and putting their husbands to work!
How are women in these communities chosen or recruited for KK?:
It is a thorough process facilitated by our local staff. We collect lists of individuals in need from local organizations and churches. Afterwards, our staff does interviews and home visits to assess the vulnerability of those recommendations to choose those that need help the most and could be successful in our program.
How many people does Krochet Kids employ now?
We refer to the women as beneficiaries. There are now 150 women in Uganda and 20 women in Peru. We have 11 staff members in the States, 12 staff members in Peru, and 20 staff members in Uganda that we deeply trust. Also, lots of interns here in the States that help make everything happen!
Why such a focus on women?
A lot of people say they’re the key to development and we saw that first hand. Mothers taking care of their own children, as well as others in the village, and even taking good care of the men. Helping one mom or one woman bring in an income, providing her a future, helps so many more. Our mission statement is to empower people to rise above poverty – all people. But as we continue to grow it still makes the most sense to focus on women and through that we focus on everyone in a village.
Do you consider yourselves in the business of fashion, mentorship, both, or neither?
We definitely are in the business of fashion but we are just now realizing the importance of that. What’s most important to us first in fashion is educating consumers, letting them know how much impact one’s purchasing decisions can have. We want to be the brand that elevates the conversation to knowing what you’re buying and the story behind it. We differ from most fashion companies via the connection piece. Consumers can find out who made their purchase and send her a thank you note as well as learn a bit about her via our website. It builds our beneficiaries’ confidence.
Will there be another fashion collaboration this year like the one you did with Volcom?
Yes, we’ve collaborated with Vans on a collection of shoes that will be available this Fall. There are two styles of women’s shoes, one pair of men’s, and a backpack.
What kind of accessories can we expect to see this year?
This year is a really big turning point both for us in both the quality of products and variety. We were known as a hat and scarves company because that is what we focused on teaching the ladies in each village. But as they’ve grown more proficient we’ve also had the opportunity to expand into new products, so this Spring is going to be really important for us. We’re launching iPad and Macbook cases this Spring, branching into bags such as over-the-shoulders, sunglass cases, clutches for women, and then in the Fall we’ll release duffle bags. In Peru, we’re incorporating a cut-and-sew element. This growth allows our teams to branch out into other skill sets.
You’ve been selling at large retailers for a while now. How is supply and demand met with big stores like Nordstroms?
We plan really well, as best as we can at least. We know what we can produce, and we schedule and plan the years pretty dutifully. We’re very thoughtful about our work with big retailers and big collaborations. We don’t want to grow too fast. It’s very tantalizing to expand into new countries of beneficiaries and new products, but we’re pacing ourselves. Our pace just happens to be pretty quick!