Wild and Woolly is a cosy welcoming shop located in Hackney “for anyone seeking new adventures with yarn”. Shop owner Anna Feldman shares the ins and outs of running a business.
When and why did you open Wild & Woolly?
I opened in 2014 and I opened for lots of reasons. I had been doing a completely different job working on website planning for around 15 years or so and wasn’t nearly excited by that work as I was when I started. I think that’s kind of a common thing that happens to people when they do the same job for a long time. I felt less inspired and motivated and knitting was an ongoing interest of mine since I was a child.
Who taught you how to knit?
My granny taught me when I was really little. It was very private and I continued to do it on my own but I did really love doing it. I had a few favourite wool shops and some were expensive so I’d get half a sweater’s load of wool from one shop and buy the rest gradually and that was the best way I managed to afford it. I’ve got two children and I knitted a lot for them and as they were getting older I found that I reached a period in my life where I wanted to do more. I decided to do a course in hand knitting; I knew how to knit but I wanted to do something that would take me to a different level of confidence. I’m not sure that I knew what I wanted to learn, I think it was more about being in an environment of doing things at a more serious level rather than having a clear idea. I think at the time I said I wanted to learn how to design patterns but I’m not a pattern designer. I did learn technical skills for doing it. I really really enjoyed being on that course. It was different from like being on an evening course where you might go and learn how to cable. It was an ongoing course with people that were really serious about their craft and we’d meet up in museums and go and look at old knitwear. It was just a really interesting time. I think I realised that this was making me much more excited and inspired me much more than what I did with my day job. I had this fantasy like a child has a fantasy of owning a sweet shop. I thought “wouldn’t it be lovely to own a wool shop?” I have to confess I was quite critical when I walked into other people’s shops; I’d say to myself “if this were my shop I’d have this, that and the other”. So, I started having this sort of picture in my mind of what my shop would be like and it dawned on me that maybe it’s something I could do. There were all these new shops opening in the neighbourhood and a friend actually said to me “if you don’t do it someone else will and how would that make you feel?” I went to a business planning class for local start-ups in Hackney and learned how to write a business plan and worked out how much money I’d need to borrow to get everything off the ground.
What sort of materials do you stock?
Well the range is based a lot on the kind of wool that I like knitting with. It’s almost all natural fibres only, I do have a couple of wool acrylic blends but not that much because that’s not really where I’m coming from as a knitter. I’m really interested in ways of dying wool and different British breeds of sheep and blends of those wools. What I discovered quite quickly was that mainstream big branded wools don’t sell that well here because we’re quite close to John Lewis and other department stores that have those yarns and you can also get them really easily online; sometimes cheaper because big companies can sell more cheaply. It doesn’t make the shop very interesting to come into if you find all that stuff. I’ve really sought out more small scale manufacturers and also some from Europe I find particularly interesting.
From Eastern Europe?
Not so much no. There’re a few from Scandinavia and I’ve got some from the Faroe Islands and linen from Sweden. I do have some yarn from South America too. Increasingly my wool is from the British Isles, a lot from Scotland, the Lake District and Yorkshire. I’m very interested in small scale producers and also things that aren’t too luxurious. I think London’s quite well endowed with ultra-luxurious wool and it’s quite expensive when you get into the realms of cashmere and silk. I tend to steer clear of the ultra-luxury stuff, that’s not so much in my range.
Do you ever travel to different countries for material?
Well since I’ve owned the shop I’ve not really gone very many places at all. Once a year we have a holiday and wherever we go (this has always been the case) I’ve made a bee-line for the wool shops. Last summer we went to Ireland and I found a really special shop in Dublin called The Constant Knitter and made friends with the woman that runs it. She introduced me to a lovely new wool that I’d not seen before called Donegal Tweed. I brought back some of that and the year before we went to Portugal and I bought some interesting wool there. I definitely do seek out wool in places that we go but I can’t say I travel the world looking for it.
What countries would you like to go to for wool?
I’d love to go to Shetlands and see all the wool being made there. I’d love to go to Uruguay; they do some really interesting dying there.
What’s the hardest thing about running a business?
Keeping on top of things. There are a lot of different tasks that go on in running a business. Financial administration, ordering new stock, marketing and promotion, customer service I’m also running an online business. That’s a lot of different tasks and you have to put your head in different places in a way. I’m not very well organised at all and the hardest thing I find is just organising all the different things I do.
Would you not get a shop assistant?
I have a shop assistant on a Sunday afternoon now. The shop’s open six days a week and I used to work all six days but now I only work five days. One of the problems of having an assistant the rest of the time is that the shop’s a bit small so it would be a bit cramped.
What’s the best thing about running Wild & Woolly?
All the lovely knitters who come here, I love them! There are really nice people in the neighbourhood that knit and want to come and hang out and chat about wool and their lives. I love the effect that the wool has on everyone.
Do you still get a buzz from it, like it’s a new thing?
Yeah, all the time. Definitely.
That’s how I feel about textiles, just when you think you know everything within it there’s something new.
Lastly, what do you like about textiles?
I like how it keeps everybody warm.