In Conversation With... Kristine Kirby, Deramores CEO

Following her recent appointment as CEO of award-winning retailer Deramores*, Kristine Kirby joins us to talk about her passion for knitting, her grandmother, her background in digital marketing, and some of the exciting things we can expect from Deramores, including a brand new website which has gone live today. (*This post includes a special reader discount and Deramores affiliate links.)

Kristine, thank you for joining us. Before we talk about your new role as Deramores CEO, can you tell us about yourself and your background? 
Thanks for asking me Sarah, I am thrilled to be participating. My background is a like a human United Nations! My mum is English, my dad Irish, and I grew up here in the UK and in Brooklyn, NY, and then greater NYC suburbs. I’m the oldest of 5, and I did a BA in Politics, and an MSc in Direct & Interactive Marketing, which was part of an MBA programme, but a speciality. My background is really in all things digital - and being an excellent babysitter as the oldest of 5!

I heard that you're a knitter. When did you start knitting? What sorts of things do you like to make, and how on earth do you find the time?! I am. I am a so-so crocheter. One day I keep saying I’ll fix that! My grandmother showed me when I was really young, so young I barely remember being taught. I do remember trying to not stab myself with her ‘pins’ as she called them, but they were a light blue metal, and I had some rather electric red, white, and blue yarn, and I knitted a long bit in garter stitch, and my gram made it into a change purse for me with a zipper and everything. I remember thinking that was quite swish!

My gram was a Geordie, and one of 7, and in their family, they would unravel jumpers and things people had outgrown to reuse the yarn - so my gram was the sock knitter for the family. I have a photo I love of her, which is all about knitting in a way. It is in black and white, but she has a lovely white collar on the dress, and she told me many times how she knitted in in angora she was given as a gift, and she would put the collar on other dresses to fancy them up. The one in the photo was taken back up North after they had moved South - but she said it was on a bottle green velvet dress! Other odd fact - my grandmother was in the original Dagenham Girl Pipers, and was the first woman, and first non-Scot, to reach the rank of Pipe Major. When they travelled to the US in 1939 for the World’s Fair, she was 19, and she knitted her way across the Atlantic to keep herself busy! So she was always knitting new things for me, and would let me choose my pattern and colour, and I’d make my odd shaped swatches that slowly turned into things. So I started young, then left it when I was a teenager, and came back to it in my late 20s.

My Gram (right) with her sister Jenny c. 1936, wearing their angora collars
I used to have more time to knit BEFORE I become the CEO of Deramores -now I am tormented with so much lovely yarn, and not enough time to knit it all, but my stash has grown. I tend to like to knit lots of accessories. I’d rather spend £25 and make a lovely cowl for me, or as a gift, than £10 to make a scarf out of a so-so fibre. Life is too short to knit or crochet in things you don’t love the look or feel of. I also knit for my nieces & nephews, even though they seem to walk into an ice cream or chocolate bar the moment they put it on! And my partner Simon has more hats and scarves and the like than he probably needs, but those are great projects for me to test new yarns out on. But I still insist on my knitting time - getting my hair done, or in the car, or when travelling…it is hard, but I still get it in there. I even knit my nerves away at the British Grand Prix this year!

This isn't the first time you've been involved in the yarn industry, what interests you about it? 
I did own a physical store and online store when I lived in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington DC before I moved home to England. It was called Knit Happens, and I sold it after 3 years and moved home to England. After 9/11 in the US, I turned back to knitting; it was so soothing and comforting and reminded me of quieter times. My then-husband was in the Pentagon that day, and I lost many friends in NY and DC, and knitting kept me calm. I also had a blog for many years, and wrote a regular column for Knitting magazine here, and Yarn Market News in the US. I also helped some designers with different pieces of work, but the reason I opened my stores was that I sold a marketing agency I had for 7 years, I had a two-year non-compete, and I was frustrated in the earlier days of digital by building sites for clients who had sites that could sell, but it was hard to just have ‘any’ staff work to fulfill an order. So I wanted to build a site with an easy CMS. Halfway through, I decided to recoup my investment, and landed on knitting, as I’d come to love it so much again, so I opened an online store - but then I opened a store too! I am not good at doing things by halves. I just love the passion of all the talented people in the industry, the possibilities, the relationships I have made, but I still get my biggest thrill when I teach someone to knit and they have completed their first project. Creating a new knitter is so much fun!

As a child I went 'wool' shopping with my mother (it was acrylic, but I didn't know the difference then) - there wasn't much choice and she'd have to select patterns from a few scrappy A4 folders. Things have changed considerably over the last decade.  Thanks to the internet we now have access to a huge yarn selection and can find just about any sort of pattern with a few clicks. What further changes do you predict over the next decade? 
I have the same memories, and some of my gram’s patterns too, with her notes on them. I think - or hope, maybe - over the next decade that yarn won’t be pushed like a commodity, and we put value back on design and development of yarns. Designers study and train to become knitwear designers, and all the free patterns undermines their skills, passion, and hard work. I think if people understand everything from good design from the passionate people who start out hand-dying at home and build huge brands (like my friend Felicia at Sweet Georgia yarns, for example) or Scheepjes, who are so brilliant in interacting with the greater community and inspiring with their yarn and design, that people will understand why a ball of yarn might cost more than £2 and that designers should be paid for their fantastic work. Then if I can get them to spend a bit more, we are helping our own knitterly kin. Over the next decade, I hope that online retailers and LYS can work in synergy, because I think we are missing a large opportunity there. Both are needed, and do perform different needs for crafters.

What changes have you made at Deramores already, and how do you foresee the company developing under your leadership? 
Goodness, how long is this meant to be? I’ve re-branded us, done an entirely new range, brought in lots of lovely new brands but still ensuring we have yarns at every price point, in every fibre composition, and for every level of knitter or crocheter. We’ve built a new website, developed a new yarn for Deramores, commissioned pattern books for our existing yarns, and signed two rather fantastic well-known knitwear designers who are doing ranges for Deramores, along with design for their ranges. Oh, and I have a TV show in the planning. I see us developing into a hub of knowledge, inspiration, and making knitting or crocheting seem less scary, and more ‘give it a go’. Video is going to be big for us, tutorials, stitches, etc. I want us to tell stories, and to inspire. Pushing yarn isn’t exciting, but supporting brilliant brands and curating yarns for our customers and filling them with inspiration or the confidence to try something new - that is how I want Deramores to develop under me. I want to spread the love of the fibre arts.

Your new website has gone live today, complete with a fresh new look and logo. What are you hoping to convey with the re-brand?
Knitting & crocheting is fun, and not scary. Everyone is welcoming and here to help. There are no boundaries to what you can do. Mostly, I am hoping to be a resource of ideas and inspiration, and have a collection that is curated so that people feel like there are seeing an edit that is selected for them, and they are discovering new things. We’ll be dropping in new lines, and guest yarns - it is all about freshness, newness, and engagement to me. If the new site makes one person fall more in love with knitting or crochet, or go find a group to join, or try a new stich pattern, I’ll be thrilled. (Although my boss would rather see numbers in £ than in new knitters!)

So, if you could sum up the Deramores ethos, what would it be?
The world's finest yarn & supplies at the click of a button. We hand pick the finest fibres from across the globe and deliver them straight to your door, quickly, so you can get going when your fingers itch and you want that new yarn or project on the go.

I want us to be known for working with small independents to the world’s greatest brands, and have customers be confident that we source and curate the best in quality leaving them to the important stuff: that means knitting needles poised and crochet hooks at the ready.

Kristine, it has been lovely to chat to you. I'm looking forward to the new things you have planned, and am sure that many of my readers will be too. Thanks for taking the time out of your incredibly busy schedule. 

SPECIAL READER DISCOUNT: Click here to access the new website, then use the code CWTCH10 to get 10% off your order, plus you'll get free shipping if your order comes to £25 or more! The offer runs for the next 48 hours, so be quick! 

'In Conversation With...' is a series of posts featuring interesting people with careers related to the fibre arts. Stay tuned throughout the coming months for more interviews and behind-the-scenes news. You can subscribe via Bloglovin' and follow CftC via Facebook so you don't miss a thing. 

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