International Women's Day 2019 - Q&A with Jennifer Lam
Inspiration | 4 min read time
At Stitch & Story, we believe that self-empowerment means to take charge of our lives to make positive change. Active and purposeful knitting can project goals of empowerment and creates a self-confidence that is sustainable and has long-lasting effects.
Since launching Stitch & Story back in 2012, we know how empowering it is to enable others - to start their own creative projects and tell their own stories.
This year, for International Women’s Day, we asked CEO and Co-founder, Jennifer Lam, what empowered her to start Stitch & Story and the positive impact knitting has made on her team and crafters around the world.
What inspired you to start Stitch & Story?
Founded alongside my business partner (who is also called Jen), with our combined backgrounds in design and publishing we set out to create a product that would inspire more people to learn to knit and emphasise the richness of stories behind handmade products. Working from my mother’s kitchen table, we started sketching the initial concepts of this “DIY knitting kit” prototype and thus Stitch & Story was born.
Our mission is to support crafters in offering handmade products that keep with an artisanal ethos. Aimed at giving novice crafters a stress-free experience in learning to knit and crochet, our all-in-one kits contain everything you need to get started and learn the basic techniques.
What has been your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is growing the business to the level it is now; collaborating with global brands, securing contracts worth over a quarter million pounds, and being the face of UK’s Exporting is Great national government campaign. Start-ups are all consuming – I eat, sleep and dream of the business and it requires inhuman amounts of energy to get it off the ground and to keep it going. Yet I feel incredibly proud of our small team and our mission of reinventing the traditional concept of knitting to inspire a new generation of hobbyists.
How has knitting empowered you?
I first started knitting back in February 2012 but soon discovered that the haberdashery scene in the UK was uninspiring and knitting difficult to learn. It was perceived as old-fashioned with gloomy haberdasheries, overwhelming terminology and textbooks, out-of-date patterns and cheap yarns. Yet for me, I found knitting brought an array of health and wellbeing benefits. The high you get from saying, “I made that” is a great feeling and whatever you’ve created will far outweigh anything you could buy. It represents the leap you made to have a go and learn a new skill; a way of taking time for yourself; the thrill of creating something from scratch and sharing it with family and friends. In its uniqueness, it’s quirks and imperfections, a handmade item carries the imprint of its creator. And it was then, my mission was born, to make knitting simple.
How do you empower your team?
Great teams don’t just happen. Those teams are the ones that fit together like puzzle pieces through the result of hard work and thoughtful leadership. I would thank my team and my partner Jen Hoang because without them Stitch & Story would not be what it is now. The team shares our core values. Each team member is incredibly passionate, empathetic and naturally puts the needs of our customers first.
What drives you running your own crafty business?
My favourite thing is sharing my passion for crafting with our team and with the world in as many ways as possible. Securing the global baby-brand, Sophie la girafe ®, was one of my biggest milestones. Being recognised and invited by them to develop an exclusive collection of baby kits was a testimony of us staying true to our core company values of being brave, empowering and nurturing. The success of this collaboration led us to securing Miffy ® shortly after.
Jen and I also celebrated our first TV debut on a new TV series called Make! Craft Britain on BBC4. Celebrating all things craft, MAKE! Craft Britain followed ordinary people giving crafting a go under the instruction of influential teachers. The show echoed Stitch & Story’s love of sharing craft and our ethos of knitting made simple.
How has knitting empowered others?
At our knitting workshops, we’ve helped numerous people learn a new craft; people who suffered from depression, women who were having IVF treatments, hen-do’s and bridal parties; to teaching solicitors, accountants, medics, all whom were after the pleasure of taking time for themselves and that wonderful sense of accomplishment you get from learning something new. We’ve seen them gain self-confidence and now move onto bigger and bolder projects!
What advice would you give to anyone who wanted to set up their own business?
If we can do it, you can! As women, selling ourselves doesn’t come naturally so my advice is to be brave and seize every opportunity even if it seems intimidating. Build your confidence by surrounding yourself with supportive people and a great team. Women aren’t just empowered to ask for equal pay and more senior positions; they are also gaining the self-confidence to start their own companies. More than ever, female entrepreneurs are taking the opportunity and empowerment to lead, choose their career paths, and make an impact in a male-dominant arena.
Are there any women out there who inspire you as you do others?
The late Anita Roddick – Founder of Body Shop.
In my eyes, she was the female version of Steve Jobs in advocating a global message without advertising. She showed business and ethics can go hand in hand. She was brave on advocating a change and challenging the status quo in the beauty industry.
Marjorie M Scardino - former CEO of Pearson PLC, owning Penguin.
The first woman to become chief executive of a FTSE 100 company. I liked her gutsy approach to business - acting on instinct rather than starting out with forensic analysis.
Amal Clooney - Human Rights Lawyer
She sets an example for young girls and women everywhere with her dedication to her work and cause.
What’s next for Stitch & Story?
We’re looking to expand Stitch & Story globally and there will be another major brand collaboration launching in A/W19 – but I can’t say too much yet!
Jennifer was a Finalist for the Natwest Everywoman Award in 2018.