12 women in 12: Jeni (Fyberspates) Hewlett

This month, my attention for 12 Women in 12 turns to the world of yarn production and just what it takes to make a yarn business grow to an international level. It's no mean feat and it's a goal not to be taken lightly. Offering a quality product, in a range that appeals to all kinds of Crafters, with pattern support takes time and dedication and here at A Playful Day we salute that. 

Jeni, (c) Fyberspates
Jeni Hewlett is the woman behind the brand Fyberspates, and believe me, she is a force to be reckoned with. Jeni has built this empire from scratch and every aspect of the business and it's thriving community of supporters is a credit to her hard work and determination. Fyberspates started out as a small and independently run hand dyed company, but Jeni admits that it was never her intention to keep it that way. Fyberspates yarn is now sourced from within the UK, Peru, Italy, Spain and the USA and can be found stocked in LYS' from Australia to France and more, so you can see just how far a journey Fyberspates has enjoyed. 

Jeni's aim was to grow her company slowly and build into a sustainable business which would be able to do things which she felt other commercial companies didn't do. This growth came from wanting to get Fyberspates products out into the world, and so Jeni came up with 2 ranges: a 100% Wool range and Scrumptious. Scrumptious was a huge success and so Jeni expanded what worked, and rolled out Scrumptious into 5 weights of yarn to suit a wide range of projects.

Now with a hand dyed speciality range, a whole sale range and pattern support from well known and respected designers, I asked Jeni what an average work week looks like; her answers were honest and I was struck by how much dedication it takes to create a yarn business of this magnitude. On average, Jeni will work 6 and a half days, occasionally managing a weekend off but even then there will always be work in there somewhere. A huge proportion of time is spent answering emails, organising advertising, sorting out wholesale orders, doing invoicing and packing orders. 

Hand dyed lovelies, (c) Fyberspates
When Jeni first started, she had left a Master's degree which she hated and set out to make knitting her career. She started learning to design and dye yarns and from this small business enterprise, a yarn company grew that included a hand dyed range but also a carefully developed whole sale line. Jeni admits that dyeing has become the least part of what she does now, and admits that it is a shame because it's her most favourite part. With this in mind, the Fyberspates site moved and changed so that Jeni now has a new dyeing unit which means she can dye a lot more in a shorter space of time. Great news for those of us still loving the Fyberspates unique colour palettes.

Alvescot by Jeni, (c) Fyberspates
Furthermore to all this work, there is a huge amount of planning things that will happen in the future. Fyberspates now work on an 18 month plan ahead of time so that there is quite a strict structure to work in terms of patterns, books and other publications. On this schedule, Jeni states that it takes about 12 months to bring a book to fruition. This struck me as incredibly well thought out, with a clear understanding of the market, knitters and her own products. To go from working week to week, to planning so far in advance, means strict budgets and editing schedules. Like our other 12 Women in 12, Jeni is approaching her work with carefully measured plans and allowing projects time to grow so there won't be any nasty surprises in the future.

It would be easy to think that Jeni has, understandably, become removed from the customers who she first started dyeing for but this is simply not the case. Jeni exhibits at roughly one show a month and admits that this is great fun and that this is the time when she gets to go out and meet customers face to face, and get great and valued feedback on the company and products. Jeni states emphatically that this is something very important to her.

I asked Jeni for her business advice for those wishing to follow in her footsteps. Here's what she said:
1. Steady growth is extremely important, because it allows you to learn the lessons you need to learn as you go along.
2. Get customer service right- you have to deliver the things you have promised, and if you end up losing money/or customers, you must learn from it, move on and DON'T do it again. This is VERY important.
3. Find people to work with who match both your own personality and share the same values.

Longcot by Jeni, (c) Fyberspates
Finally, I asked Jeni what her proudest moments have been to date. Jeni described the way in which 'The Scrumptious Collection: Volume 1' opened so many doors for the company. Tellingly, Jeni states that it wasn't the book so much as the realisation that her business would fly once she had the right people to work with on board. Jeni now feels that she has a 'dream team' that can do anything together and so now the stage is set for further success. A point proven by her other greatest moment- being asked by John Lewis to be featured in their stores. Fyberspates is now a widely respected luxury yarn stocked in high end commercial and small, independent stores alike.

This interview gave me great food for thought and really made me appreciate just what makes a yarn company successful: determination, sound business plans and the ability to attract the right people around you. In the future, Fyberspates 'dream team' are planning Collection 2 of the highly successful Scrumptious Collection for January 2013 and also exhibiting at Handarbeit in March 2012. Lastly, there's TNNA to look forward to in June with the new Distributor Lantern Moon so things look very positive indeed.

You can follow all of Jeni's most recent news on the Fyberspates blog, her twitter feed, the Ravelry Group and Facebook.

Stay tuned for more 12 women in 12 and please do join in to show your appreciation for good business practice by yarn companies by eithertweeting along on twitter (#12womenin12) or sharing your feelings on your own blog. Be sure to let me know/ link us in, we'd love to know what you think!