What I Learned From Starting an Instagram-Worthy Business

Christina Fagan Pardy

Christina Fagan Pardy chats about her company, Sh*t That I Knit

It’s finally starting to get chilly out there (well, sort of), so it’s almost time to stock up on beanies and knitwear. Enter Christina Fagan Pardy. As the CEO and founder of sustainable knitwear and accessories brand Sh*t That I Knit, she’s got your covered. We chatted with Christina about her Instagram-famous hats, the rewards and challenges of starting your own business, and her best advice for knitting newbies.

Katie Couric: How did you fall in love with knitting?

Christina Fagan Pardy: My mom taught me how to knit when I was 10 years old. I think I connected with it so quickly because, frankly, it gave me something to do with my hands when I was bored. Without realizing it at the time, knitting has always been a form of meditation for me. Depending on the difficulty level of the project, knitting either allows your mind to wander or forces you to only focus on one thing at a time. It’s really calming, plus it’s fun!

How did you determine that there was a market for your beanies?

I started knitting things that I actually wanted to wear! I was inspired to knit hats like the ones I saw in Europe and out west — the fur pom-pom trend was just starting up in Europe, and I jumped on that pretty early on. After that, all of my friends and coworkers wanted to buy them from me, which is how Sh*t That I Knit (STIK) turned from a side-blog to a brand and a business.

Your mom helped you knit a bunch of hats one summer, but you still couldn’t keep up with the demand. What was your “aha” moment that made you realize you could turn this into a business?

I wouldn’t say there was one big “aha” moment, but a series of smaller moments instead. At my first market in 2014, we sold out of all of our inventory and also accomplished something even more meaningful — we made everyone who walked by our sign stop and smile. Our name is so catchy, it’s hard not to make someone laugh! I’d say it was the combination of having a really great product, a growing following on social media, and a mindset of, “if not now, then when?” that really pushed me to pursue STIK as a business. I quit my full-time job a few months later!

How did you go about finding women who could produce your products?

In 2015 I posted on Instagram that I was looking to expand my team of knitters! I received a lot of interest, and quickly had about 30 women in Boston knitting for STIK. It was a really great way for me to learn about production on a larger scale. As much as I loved the team of Boston knitters, I quickly realized that it wasn’t scalable.

As order volume grew, I made the decision to outsource production to a female artisan group in Lima, Peru. This was absolutely essential in keeping up with orders and quality control, lowering costs, and growing the business. We were already purchasing our merino wool in Peru, so it made sense from a supply chain and carbon footprint standpoint to outsource production to Peru as well. How did I find this group? I feel like I got very lucky! Through Google, I learned a lot about all of the different communities in Peru who have a longstanding tradition with knitting. One night, I cold-called a non-profit that connects artisan groups to brands (for export reasons), and they connected us to our team in Peru. We now employ over 170 women in Lima!

What’s been the most rewarding part of starting your own company?

Turning my hobby and passion into a business has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. But beyond the success in sales, it’s more about how Sh*t That I Knit has touched so many people in a positive way over the past few years. I’ve hugged the women who knit our hats and listened to their stories of how much this job means to them. I’ve met countless customers who rave about the quality of our products or how their husband surprised them on Christmas with the beanie they’ve been asking for. I’ve sat down with young adult cancer patients who tell me how much our Give-A-Sh*t Knit Kits made them smile during a difficult time. It’s overwhelming to get this kind of feedback and it’s insanely rewarding to make a difference. PLUS, I absolutely love seeing our hats “in the wild.” I usually chase people down the street and yell, “I LOVE YOUR HAT” and then run away.

And on the other hand, what was the biggest challenge starting your own business?

A great challenge we’ve always had is having enough capital to keep up with demand. The lead time to make our hats is long and expensive. It’s scary to invest all of your money in inventory and hope that people will buy it a few months later! That is probably our biggest “real” challenge, but I think the challenge that most entrepreneurs would tell you is just how scary it can be to start your own business. It takes a lot of blind faith and confidence to believe that your idea is really going to work. You put yourself out there and deal with rejection multiple times a day, but get back up and keep going until it sticks. It can be exhausting, but the reward is worth it.

We see a lot of new businesses pop up on Instagram. Has it been a helpful platform for you and your company?

Instagram has no barriers to entry. Anyone can make an account and start posting. I began by casually posting photos of Sh*T That I Knit and was able to drum up an audience with great photos and silly captions. Not only was I able to build an audience, but was able to craft our brand’s voice, connect with other companies and female entrepreneurs, get our beanies into the hands of influencers (ahem, ahem…Katie Couric!) and market our products. It’s a pretty incredible platform for a new brand with a consumer product. We’ve been able to keep our marketing budget low, that is because Instagram has been such a powerful tool for us.

Since it’s finally fall, what are some of your favorite items to recommend people knit for the cooler weather?

Well you won’t need to knit any cozy beanies — STIK has you covered with those (haha)! It’s always a great beginner project to start with a chunky scarf. Recently, I’ve enjoyed knitting color work sweaters — they take me a while so they’re a good long-term project and I learn a lot of new skills as I knit them. For instance, right now, I’m teaching myself how to steek a traditional Fair Isle sweater which is a very daunting endeavor.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start knitting but isn’t sure where to start?

My favorite places to get inspiration for designs is Pinterest, Ravelry.com and the hashtag #knitspo on Instagram. I also find watching knitting YouTube videos very helpful in learning new techniques. Whatever you do — pick up some yarn and needles and just start somewhere!

This originally appeared on Medium.com