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‘There’s wisdom in the Wool’ – TheEmployable talks to Katie Mowat, Founder of Knitwear Co. Grannies Inc.

Many of us have a dream of turning a hobby into a business. Katie Mowat, founder of Grannies Inc, has done just that by turning an interest in knitting  into a full-time business. However the real coup was not so much the quality knitwear products, or even the bespoke knitwear you can design, but the name itself. With Grannies at the helm, knitting the products, Katie has a brand that has it all stitched up….

Founded in Oct 2009, Grannies Inc, has had great success and PR. In branding the product as something your own Gran might make, Katie has hit on a formula that works and feels good too…We chatted with Katie to talk about her success and plans for the future…

Grannies Inc. Great name. At what point did you decide you would employ Grannies to knit your products?

The idea to employ grannies to knit the products came from when I was looking for knitters just before launching the company in Oct 2009.  I put an ad on a knitting website and it seemed most of the ladies that responded were of the older generation.  I wanted to develop the company into an ethically British brand, promoting British wool and manufacture in the UK so having a team of grannies hand making our products was a great fit.  It offers grannies to opportunity to earn extra income from doing exactly what they love and customers the knowledge that their product will be lovingly hand-made for them by an expert knitter.

With regards to employment legislation, how did you advertise the Granny positions, and have you been able to recruit, (this might seem like a silly question) just Grannies?

I never advertised specifically for ‘grannies’, it just happened in the initial stages the first people to reply were grandparents!  We haven’t advertised since we took on our first knitters as our publicity had led to grannies from all over the country (and world!) contacting us wanting to knit.  Another point to make is that we do not employ grannies, they work for themselves on a commission basis.

You founded your business back in 2009, can you take us back to those early days, what was your business like and where did you sell your products?

It was completely daunting starting a business and our first winter season could only have been described as a whirlwind.  The public took to our products and brand so well and I’m not sure I came up for breath from Oct until about February time!  We officially launched at the Ski and Snowboard Show at Olympia taking the pricey risk to target the snowsports market with our first product – the beanie.  It was a risk that paid off and we had a great response from the product, the concept and the bespoke nature of our service.  Since the beginning we have mainly sold our products online since the ‘design your own knitwear’ element of the business has been the most popular choice of product but I have plans in the future to try selling a range of our products wholesale or even have our own shop.  I concentrated on PR rather than paid advertising and achieved some great exposure (including featuring on BBC Radio 2 talking to Chris Evans) which I credit a lot of our success in the first year to.

Did you start using ‘Grannies’ straight away and how important do you think the ‘Grannies’ branding has been to your success?

The idea of bespoke, ‘design your own’ knitwear definitely came first in the business.  We didn’t really start using ‘grannies’ straight away, a few of the knitters who knitted for the company in the early stages were not grannies but as more knitters were recruited it seemed they was a huge untapped resource of retired women out there who not only had decades of experience in knitting but who absolutely love doing it.  I soon realised how powerful the idea of using grannies in terms of ethical, traceable fashion and that giving people that ‘warm, fuzzy feeling’ when they hear about us meant that we could be successful.  Using grannies in our brand has been very important in terms of relating to customers and has no doubt gotten us the amazing exposure in terms of media coverage that we have achieved so far.

What type of Career did you have before Grannies Inc, and where and when did you pick up the knitting bug?

After university (I studied Computer Science at the University of Bristol) I took a job as an IT consultant in a niche consultancy serving the asset finance industry.  A world away from where I am now!  Whilst it didn’t much enjoy the job, I don’t regret it for a second.  It taught me some extremely valuable skills and instilled in me a level of professionalism that I hope is reflected in the way I run my own business today.  I made some great friends and business contacts and over the 2 years I worked there I was able to save a good sum of money which meant that I could start my business without outside funding.

I learned to knit during a university year abroad in California 8 years ago, where it had become a craze amongst celebs.  The girls in the apartment opposite mine would always be knitting and were happy to teach me.  I soon picked it up and have been knitting ever since, being as creative as my spare time allowed me.  I am also a very keen skier and passionate about fashion on the slopes so I always used to knit my own beanies (and for friends), which is where the idea for bespoke beanies came from (our first product)

Was it a shock to your friends and family that you took your interest in knitting and made it a business?

Not really, I come from a fairly entrepreneurial family and always knew I was going to start my own business at some point.  I guess they wouldn’t have bet on it being a knitting company but it fits me pretty well, allowing me to be creative as well as running a business.  I would say that my friends probably were shocked but they all seem to absolutely love hearing all about the business and what I’m up to when I see them as it’s a little different from the average 9-5.

What next for the Company for 2012 and any exciting developments you would like to share with TheEmployable?

One of our most exciting pieces of news for 2012 is that we have a book being published which should be on the shelves in September.  It’s called ‘The Grannies Inc Guide to
Knitting’ and is an instruction knitting book with a collection of 20 beautiful knitting patterns at the back.  We are also collaborating with Age UK on part of their Spread the Warmth campaign, a campaign to reach 350,000 older people and ensure they’re warm, safe and healthy this winter.  2012 is going to be a year of growth for Grannies Inc, I have loads of exciting ideas that will be fed into my business plan for the year but you’ll have to watch this space to find out what the grannies and I will be getting up to next!

We certainly will be and we would like to wish Katie and all the Grannies all the best for 2012!! Check out the Grannies Inc Website Here..

If you would like to see who else TheEmployable have interviewed – CLICK HERE.

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