Today, July 30th, is the International Day of Friendship. Proclaimed by the United Nations in 2011, the International Day of Friendship recognises the relevance and importance of friendship in the lives of human beings around the world, and how it can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities. The inclusion of different cultures in community activities that promote international understanding and respect for diversity are integral to this. The international knitting community has been engaged in an ongoing conversation about diversity that has come to a head in recent months, highlighting just how important it is that we embody the ethos of days like the UN International Day of Friendship in an effort to promote dialogue, solidarity, mutual understanding and reconciliation.
Stitch & Story was built on a friendship, and in recognition of today and the enduring power of friendships we thought we’d share the story behind it.
...begins over 15 years ago. Two school girls and a hobby.
Jennifer Lam, Managing Director of Stitch & Story, said: ‘I remember, aged 15, Jen got into knitting and gave her first project to me: a thin, peach-pink scarf, in acrylic wool. It had a few holes, and cost just £1, but I thought it was such a meaningful gift. It was the beginning of our friendship; who'd have thought we'd end up starting a knitting business together!’
Internships at a startup Korean beauty brand in the summer of 2008 paved the way for Jennifer and Jen’s first working relationship. Jennifer worked in the accounts department while Jen did graphic design, but the two worked together at trade shows and exhibitions. It was their first insight into a startup brand, what that entailed and how a product is brought to market.
Jen Hoang, Creative Director of Stitch & Story, said: ‘The benefits of working together at a young age allowed us to see how similar our work ethics were - proactive, organised and willing to go the extra mile - important when running a startup!’
Jennifer said: ‘We learned a lot from working a summer internship at a startup; what made it successful; what worked/didn’t work; and what needed to be done to make it work.’
Despite Jennifer completing a business degree and pursuing a career in publishing, while Jen went on to study design, the two remained close friends. Jennifer had hopes of becoming an editor but the job wasn’t the creative outlet she’d envisioned, and in an act of self-care, disconnecting herself from her mundane office job, she took up knitting.
Jennifer said: ‘I picked it up because it’s one of those social crafts. It’s also easy to transport; you can do it on your commute or lunch break. Jen and I used to meet in coffee shops and knit together for hours.’
Back then, knitting was seen as old-fashioned and Jennifer found the UK craft scene uninspiring. The patterns were hard, yarn quality was cheap, and the craft felt like it belonged to an older generation. Knitting was no longer being taught in schools and fewer parents and grandparents were sharing their skills.
Jennifer wanted more people to benefit from this amazing craft, so in 2012 she asked Jen to go into business with her. The response was immediate: ‘yes!’ With Jen’s background in design and Jennifer’s experience in publishing and business, the pair felt they could inspire more people to learn to knit.
The insights Jennifer and Jen had gained from interning together at a startup meant they felt they were one step ahead when it came to starting their own business.
The light bulb moment was when Jennifer and Jen decided to bring this traditional art form to a new, tech-savvy audience. It was perfect timing, as with the boom in social media, crafters were super interactive. They wanted to tell their own stories and celebrate each other’s creativity.
Jen said: ‘It’s great to see so many of the younger generation getting involved. Knitting and crochet are definitely becoming more popular and fashionable!’
Jennifer and Jen believe there is so much to be gained from knitting and crochet, especially the well-being side of it. The name Stitch & Story came about because the pair know how empowering it is to enable others to start their own projects and tell their own stories.
Jen said: ‘Knitting and crochet are so therapeutic - you can lose yourself in the stitches and forget all your worries. It’s almost like mindfulness. Nowadays, it’s rare to get a moment to yourself.’
The Stitch & Story business plan began with a series of workshops in London, but when Jennifer and Jen realised that they weren't reaching enough people this way it was decided that knitting kits were the perfect solution. A Stitch & Story kit is essentially a “workshop in a bag”. The initial Stitch & Story kit made its debut at a stand at Spitalfields market, London, in June 2012.
Jennifer said: ‘We had no savings, so I had to stay in my job for two years and live at home. It was hard to convince buyers. But we managed to get a loan — and were able to turn a profit in our first year!’
Six years on Stitch & Story kits are stocked in over 25 countries and sold in high-end department stores including Liberty London, John Lewis, Fenwicks and Nordstrom in the USA. Collaborations with global brands have included Miffy and Sophie la girafe, with a new range of exclusive branded kits launching very soon.
Jennifer said: ‘I am incredibly proud of our small team and our efforts to inspire a new generation of hobbyists. It’s been a mad journey, but it’s a dream running a business with my best friend.’
Jennifer and Jen’s advice for crafters who want to start their own business is to go for it! Build your confidence by surrounding yourself with supportive people and a great team. Make sure you have a business plan and clear goal, then be sure to remind yourself of this as your business progresses.
Jen said: ‘It's an amazing experience to work with your best friend; someone you can fully trust and build an honest relationship with. I have been able to grow as a person both inside and outside the business. For anyone who is looking to work with their best friend, find someone who has similar work ethics and make sure you have opposite strengths. One of the reasons Jennifer and I work so well together is because we complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Work towards a relationship where you can be open and honest with each other. Make sure you don’t lose sight of your professional and personal relationship either; Jennifer and I are able to differentiate between the two and weave them together. We work 24/7 and are constantly talking to each other - it’s like being in a marriage - we just make it work!’
Jennifer and Jen, best friends and business partners, are out to change the way crafting is done. What started as a hobby, turned into something much more. From a kitchen table startup, Stitch & Story has grown to provide a range of premium knitting and crochet kits, containing quality, 100 percent merino wool and clear, stylish patterns to suit different abilities, with a series of online video tutorials, guides and workshops, to make crafting accessible to all.
In the spirit of friendship we’d like to offer you a FREE Maggie Tassel Cushion Cover pdf knitting pattern. Just add the pattern to your cart and enter discount code BESTFRIENDS at checkout to claim your free pattern*. The cushion takes four The Chunky Wool 100g balls to make and uses 12mm knitting needles. Why not celebrate the International Day of Friendship by sharing the pattern with friends and organising your very own knit along, bringing together craft and community. If you knit the Maggie Tassel Cushion Cover we’d love to see your results so don’t forget to tag us #stitchandstory #yarnmazing.