I’m sitting here trying to think of things that I’ve done longer in my life than knitting, and coming up with a pretty short list. Teeth brushing (maybe), walking, running, riding a bike (maybe), but it has really been a constant presence since my grandmother taught me at age 5. I was instantly hooked, and very persistent. She took me to my first yarn shop, whispering as we went in, “Don’t worry; they’re rude to everyone; not just children!” and helped me pick out yarn for my first projects. My first sweater was in fourth grade; a sleeveless shell with appliqued daisies from a Family Circle Knitting magazine. I haven’t mentioned yet that my grandmother’s maiden name was Katherine Temple Woolfolk; she had several last names added and removed over the years, but I adored her, and think of her every time I unpack another box of Woolfolk.
After graduating from college with a degree in Architecture (during which my most memorable project was knitting a duplicate Cowichan sweater for one of my classmates to replace a treasured one that was his father’s; I made $25 and a free margarita), I practiced in Seattle for 20+ years, working primarily in commercial and institutional fields on everything from Nordstrom stores to prisons.
I married and reproduced at an “advanced” age; with my husband, bought a farm on Sauvie Island, and was lucky enough to get to stay home and raise my kids, along with 5000 apple trees and a herd of Highland cattle that grew to as many as 60 head. I learned to graft, prune and castrate; and was the labelling machine for our small hard cidery. And, I kept knitting.
Apples at Ford Farm
When my kids began to need me less, I went back to work at a local yarn store in Portland, and then was moved to the wholesale division, where I learned what it took to build a yarn business. My husband encouraged me to try it on my own after I met the local partner of Ovis 21, the Argentinian co op that sustainably raises merino sheep, with a goal to improve the grasslands of Patagonia and elevate the living standards of the farmers as well as the herds. You can learn more about them here....http://en.ovis21.com/.
I knew that the fiber was unique enough to stand as the basis for a company the first time I felt it. If you look at it through a microscope, the scale pattern is closer to cashmere than to wool, and the 17.5 mm diameter, long stapled fibers are incredibly soft. We signed an agreement that granted Woolfolk exclusivity to the fiber for handknitting; in exchange, we give back a percentage of the profit to help the farmers. There is a limited amount of fleece that meets the Ultimate Merino specifications, so I have hand selected the retailers which I think will do the best job of representing the brand.
Designwise, my Danish heritage and background in Architecture drove most of the decisions as I built the company. I hired an incredible graphic designer, Vanessa Yap Einbund, who has been able to clearly articulate what I see in my head on to the website. She and Olga Buraya Kefelian have been very key in growing the brand, and I am lucky to have such wonderful creativity and attention to detail to work with. Antonia Shankland, who is my East Coast rep (but so much more), has been a great sounding board for decisions that have been made in choosing and serving my retail partners.
I have a few rules that I think set Woolfolk apart from other companies, and they have come about from my massive respect for the hard work that is done at the LYS level. When I was working at the retail store in Portland, I would watch a customer fondle a skein, help them calculate a sweater’s worth, and then see them walk out the door, presumably to order from a discount website. I will not sell to discounters, and I do not sell to website only shops....and I’ve asked my retail partners not to discount. In exchange, they get exclusivity in their area, and as much support as I can possibly give them.
I also work with a handful of incredibly talented independent designers, who to me, are the unsung heroes of the industry. If the knitting consumers knew how much work went in to creating a pattern, there would be no grousing about paying $8 for a pattern that has required conceptual design, tech editing, layout and printing....oh, and test knitting to top it off. I have chosen to allow the design team to sell the patterns directly via their website or through ravelry; I hope to cover my printing costs, but I also understand that they are the best kind of advertising.
This summer, I hired my first “employee”, and am no longer packing the boxes myself as I did for my first two seasons. Meredith Hobbs is handling shipping and customer service, and I cannot thank her enough for allowing me to be able to develop new yarn lines and colorways and thinking about new ways to help my retail partners sell the yarn.
The Woolfolk World Headquarters is in our former cider room; I walk 300 yards past my goats and cows to go to work every day. I use the term “work”, but this never feels like it to me. I just feel lucky to be part of this industry that has shaped my world view and reconnects me with my roots on a daily basis.
Kristin out with her herd of cattle
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