It's a Saturday in October and I'm set to meet Kelsey Adair of Bare Knitwear who has come highly recommended from a mutual friend (Hey thanks, Courtney Barton!) The seasons have yet to change over, and there's still a warmth and buzz in the air as we ride summer's coattails into fall. The city still feels sleepy from last nights hurrah, but the sun is up and the birds are out and I'm settling in to a smashed avocado/poached egg-on-toast combo at The Birds and the Beets— which was excellent, I might add. When Kelsey walks in we both light up at the shared recognition of each others' presence. There's something real refreshing about not internet-stalking someone prior to meeting them, and just letting a first impression be just that. In this case, she passed with flying colours.
Nothing but Knit
"While working at Sitka I assisted in buying from local accessory designers and I got to see how feasible it was to have a small brand on the side. That’s what really got me inspired initially. I started to knit at home because I didn’t have cable or even a TV. I had a radio and I lived by myself, so I just knit. I made this small collection of six scarves, all one of a kind, but I had no real idea of making it a business. I ended up putting them in a shop and they sold, which was awesome! From there, I then continued to do it on the side while working at Sitka. I later moved from Vancouver to Pemberton because I wanted to have a clear vision of what I wanted to do with the business and at that point I started thinking about outsourcing. I was working as a jewelry wholesale rep at the time, so I knew the sales side of it, like how to get product into the store, but I just needed to know more about production. I started talking with people I had gone to school with at the John Casablancas Institute and they put me in touch with some magazines to look at and different production options with artisan groups, so that led me into looking into Peru because that’s where the alpacas and artisans are.
I took a trip to Peru because I didn’t want to commit to production and all these relationships without going over there, checking it out, talking to people and making sure it was a legitimate operation. I went for two weeks last summer and worked in the artisan group for a week of it in Ayacucho. They are so skilled at knitting. They are the best artisans that I could ask for really because they bring my visions and designs to life in a way that I never could as I’m not a master knitter. It’s a really good partnership. There’s also an alpaca farm there I'm working with. I’m going back at the end of this year as well. Now, looking back it’s pretty funny. I don’t speak Spanish so it was overwhelming the whole time I was in the artisan group. At one point, I felt like I was going to black out, I was like, "oh my god this is a surreal experience." (laughs). It was my first time outside of North America. My boyfriend Ben was there which was nice as it was so intense. It was a crazy experience.
Risk & Influence
Every day running a small business feels like a risk, especially within the first year. There's decisions that I have to make, and with it just being myself, I make the most educated decision I can. For me, the biggest risk probably was just going to Peru and meeting everyone and committing to my first order. At that point I didn’t know if I’d even get my order delivered! I placed my order and I paid for half of it up front, so that was a big risk on the large scale of things. And then there’s the little every-day risks, like when I try a new style out or even just picking up the phone and cold calling someone.
I’ve been influenced most by other small brands that I’ve been looking at and brands that I look up to that are further along than I am, whether it’s another accessories designer, or really anyone that is doing their own thing. But I think that at the end of the day, as it’s just myself, it's what influences me that gets translated to the brand. Everyday I think about where I want to be next year and the year after that. I always have to set goals with production months in advance, so I really need to be motivating and keeping myself influenced and inspired everyday. It’s a balance. I try and surround myself with like-minded people as they all help to influence and support me.
When I started I was so hard on myself like “I can’t believe I did it like this..” and “I could’ve saved so much money if I had done it like that". Obviously there’s so many lessons to be learned. I think patience, and just trusting in the process and my vision has been really important, because it’s not just going to come over night. Everything that’s out there on social media can be viewed like “oh my god I should be doing that! I should have a show room! I should be doing this!..” and realistically, you're doing as much as you can do given your time and means, and you never know what other people’s situations are. Just go at your own pace and use social media more as inspiration rather than a comparison. I’ve really learned to just scale back and kind of plan one year goals and five year goals and not be too hard on myself and just trust that it will come.
Word of the wise
I think if people are interested in something, now is such an awesome time because so many resources are out there and available to you. I recommend just going for it!"
Interviewed and photographed by Tianna Grey on 10.25.2015