The seedling idea for Quince & Co came from a random phone call. I was at my desk, working as creative director at Classic Elite Yarns, when the phone rang. The voice at the other end was unfamiliar and had a strong Texas twang. The caller was a rancher in Texas who raises angora goats (mohair) that boast extraordinarily fine hair.
That phone call, well over a year before I launched Quince, was one of those turning points in life. Without that serendipitous ring, Quince & Co and all attached to it might never have happened.
The rancher was calling because he was hoping to find a yarn company willing to buy his fiber of which he was deservedly proud. The possibility of building a yarn from scratch had never crossed my mind. From my experience in the knitting industry, as far as I knew, yarn was manufactured overseas or in South America and one shopped for it at trade shows in Europe or entertained mill reps in the office at home.
In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he was also talking to a guy who owned a mill in Maine, a mere 20 minutes from my office. This mill, he said, was spinning handknitting yarn. I could hardly stay seated. It was not unlike hearing you'd won the lottery, without having ever bought a ticket. How could anyone be spinning yarn within shouting distance and I not know about it?
I immediately called the owner of the mill, and that conversation marked the beginning of a life-changing experience for me. At first, I tried to interest the company I worked for in this US-made yarn. But the numbers simply didn't work. There was no way to make a yarn in the US, with all the wage and environmental standards to meet (a good thing), and compete with the yarn coming in from overseas.
And why was it important to me to make a yarn in the US? For several reasons:
First, it's impossible to live in the northeast, without feeling at times that one is living in a mill graveyard. Every town near a river has a mill building alongside. And it's sad to see those giant spaces turned into call centers or expensive condominiums. These sturdy buildings once housed vigorous, productive activity. The people that worked in them made goods that sold the world over.
Further, it may come as a surprise to many, as it did to me, that Texas was once the largest exporter of mohair fiber in the world. And this was true as recently as the 1980s. Not now, however. The ranches that used to spread far and wide in the Texas hill country with roaming angora goats are few at this point. And many have been converted to hunting playgrounds for wealthy gentlemen who bring their rifles to shoot exotic deer and boar from Africa.
For me, sourcing wool and mohair fiber in the US is a way that I can help to keep animals on the land. And in so doing, in my very, very, very small way, I'm helping to conserve history and open space in this country. And these are things that excite me as much as knitting does.
A few notes of clarification. Outside of Piper and Ibis, our mohair/wool bend that we source exclusively from Texas, Quince & Co doesn't make artisanal or boutique yarns. What I mean by this is that we don't source our wool from small farms or special breeds. Lovely as that idea is, my goal from the beginning has been to be a big company. Because as a big company, even if we're small relative to most industries, I like to think that we can have an impact, however small, on the things I value.
As a strong supporter of land conservation and open space, I like to think that by buying wool from a large broker who sources wool from many parts of the country, we're helping to keep a rancher on his land and sheep in the landscape. And given the precariousness of spinning mills that have managed to hold on during the 1990s and early 2000s, I like knowing that small customer that we are, we still contribute to their well-being.
A final word. I use the word "I" here a lot. But in truth, "we" is apt, as well. Without the help of others, including the talented Carrie Hoge who launched her own business in the past couple of years, and Ryan, my son, who has taken on all the nuts and bolts of operations and numbers, and now the business proper, Quince wouldn't be the company that it is. And I'd be remiss in not mentioning the other dedicated and talented people who contribute their skills and talents on a daily basis: Jerusha, Dawn, Leila, Whitney, Adi, Courtney, Kelly, Jenn, Hodan, and Karin.
As they say, it takes a village. Even when you're raising a yarn company.
We are so thrilled to have a guest blog post from Pam Allen! We have loved Quince & Co. since its inception and are honored to be a flagship store.