Form a network of other female entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur, especially a solo founder, can be incredibly lonely. Plus, the highs are high and the lows are LOW. When you hit a low point, you need a group of people who can understand what you’re going through to either help you with a solution or simply be there to vent. Find other people who are in a similar stage as you, or slightly ahead, and ask them to grab a cup of coffee. Chances are, you know things they don’t know and they know things you don’t know. Be open and willing to help someone else and they’ll do the same for you.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christina Fagan Pardy. Christina is the founder and CEO of Sh*t That I Knit (STIK), a high-end knitwear and accessories brand based out of Boston, MA. A long-time knitting enthusiast, Pardy started Sh*t That I Knit in 2012 as a blog to share her designs with friends and family. Pardy launched direct-to-consumer knitwear startup with same name, Sh*t That I Knit, in 2015 with products across categories for women, men, and children. Today, STIK sells handcrafted beanies, wraps, earrings and bags at www.shitthatiknit.com, in pop-ups, and through multiple boutiques across the country.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up spending my summers in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, a beautiful — but fairly desolate — island that my family has been visiting for generations. When I was ten years old, my mom took me to a yarn store in Cape Breton and taught me how to knit. My first project was a purple sweater (I still have it!) and from there, I was hooked. I continued knitting throughout middle school, high school and college. I was that girl knitting on a Friday night instead of going out to bars!
I absolutely loved gifting my beanies, sweaters and headbands to friends and family. In college, I created a blog called Sh*t That I Knit (STIK) so I could share what I was currently knitting with my family members. When I started selling my designs online and at markets, it only made sense to turn the blog into a brand — Sh*t That I Knit. You can’t help but smile when you hear it, and you definitely won’t forget it!
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
After college I moved back to Boston and I landed a job working in tech sales. This “real-world” experience was great, but I found myself yearning to do something more creative and tangible. I was constantly knitting in my free time — on the couch, on the beach, on the train, on conference calls — you name it, I had my needles and yarn.
By 2014, I wasn’t just selling my designs to friends, but to friends of friends and complete strangers! I spent the summer of 2014 knitting beanies and headbands to build up inventory for the winter season and set up a booth at the SOWA Market in Boston to sell my products. Watching people walk by our booth, sound out our name and laugh, really pushed me to keep going with the brand and the business. That was my ah ha moment — that so many people were interested in purchasing my products, and that I was innately building a community of followers who felt connected to the brand. I quit my full-time job in 2015 to turn Sh*t That I Knit from a side-blog into a business and never looked back.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
My advice is simple — just get started. Don’t have expectations that your business is going to be perfect on the first try. Start somewhere small — but just start somewhere.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
My honest advice is that if you’re reluctant to do it for a living, you shouldn’t do it for a living. Turning your hobby into a business can take all the fun out of your passion, so don’t do it if you’re not fully confident that you’re ready!
Instead, start your business on the side to gain some traction. I’m so glad I waited a few months to dive full-time into STIK. While fresh ideas come with feelings of excitement and urgency, take time to set things into motion. That way, when you’re ready to jump head first into the deep end, you at least have a strong foundation. While you’re at it, ask people for advice! Take someone out to coffee and walk them through your business idea. Odds are, your connection will know other people who can help you. Create a network of people who are invested in your future.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
As your business grows and scales, always be on the lookout for new ways to learn. When I first started STIK I hired a local team of Bostonian knitters, which was great but not scalable. As order volume grew, I made the decision to outsource production to a female artisan group in Lima, Peru. This was absolutely essential in keeping up with order volume and quality control, lowering costs, and growing the business.
While STIK was born out of my love of knitting, when I outsourced production I found that I really enjoyed the business side — sales, marketing, and events. While I still love designing new products and prototypes, every day is different which keeps it really fresh. I constantly remind myself that this is supposed to be fun — and that usually works too in keeping my day-to-day enjoyable.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
People think that owning your own business is very glamorous. In reality — it’s a lot of grunt work! We’re getting new shipments almost every week, so I’m carrying a lot of boxes of beanies!
Running your own business requires you to wear many different hats (pun intended). With the help of my awesome team in Boston, on any given day I find myself working through budgets in Quickbooks, signing leases for pop-up shops, on the phone with financial consultants, designing new prototypes to send to our team of 170 knitters in Peru, creating marketing collateral on Canva… the list goes on! But at the end of each day, I’m proud to be running a business I’m passionate about.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I’ve made (so far…) was going to a trade show during the wrong season. I was going to Capsule New York Women in September and brought all my winter beanies to share with potential buyers. Turns out, the show was intended to exhibit spring/summer apparel. Needless to say, no one bought anything, and I learned very quickly the retail sales cycle.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Knitting has numerous therapeutic benefits and meditative qualities. The repetitive motions, counting, and concentrated silence all has been proven to reduce cortisol levels and blood pressure, lowering stress and anxiety. Because of this, knitting has been recommended to help decrease pain, manage depression, increase self-worth, and manage stress.
Knowing these health benefits, I created “Give-a-Sh*t Knit Kits” after teaching my friend who was recently diagnosed with Leukemia how to knit. Since then, we forged partnerships with hospitals across the country to donate our kits, and offer online video tutorials to jump-start the learning process.
I always wanted to use my platform as a way to give back. Creating these kits, giving back to our peers, and sharing our love for knitting felt like the most authentic way to do so.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Nine times out of ten, when we do something that actually pushes the business forward, I am super uncomfortable. I am constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and that is when the big stuff happens. Whether it means picking up the phone (rather than emailing) someone who hasn’t been responding, attending an event where I don’t know anyone, opening up our own shop or taking a leap with a new hire — we’ve grown out of my discomfort.
- Form a network of other female entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur, especially a solo founder, can be incredibly lonely. Plus, the highs are high and the lows are LOW. When you hit a low point, you need a group of people who can understand what you’re going through to either help you with a solution or simply be there to vent. Find other people who are in a similar stage as you, or slightly ahead, and ask them to grab a cup of coffee. Chances are, you know things they don’t know and they know things you don’t know. Be open and willing to help someone else and they’ll do the same for you.
- Get an on-demand CFO (and how to get one). Numbers have never been my strong suit and I spent my first year of business grappling with financial projections and money management. I didn’t start STIK with a formal business plan, so it would have been difficult for us to have gotten to where we are today without some help. I finally discovered the world of on-demand CFOs and it was life changing. Meeting with our CFO once a week allows me to get a full look at the business and have a better understanding of how to cut costs, allocate budgets and plan for the future.
- Make time to exercise. When I was just starting out, I had little money to spend on fancy workout classes or a gym membership. I felt like I had to be working 24/7 and had a hard time leaving my office at an appropriate hour to get in a workout. Even just 30 minutes usually clears my head and a long jog is typically when I ideate on fun business plans. Simply put, make time for yourself even when you’re up to your neck in work — being healthy will make you a better person and a better business owner!
- Run your own race. This is one of my favorite Oprah quotes — something that I have to remind myself of constantly as the comparison game is real. It’s so easy to hop on Instagram and look at how other businesses “killing it” and feel some pang of jealousy. Fact is, how well they are doing has no impact on how you’re doing. You have to put your head down and keep moving the ball forward — no one else will do it for you and looking back at competitors will only slow you down.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is something my dad has always said to me: “No asky, no getty.”
I live by this quote, and it’s gotten me very far in business. I’m not afraid to ask for something — the worst possible thing that will happen is someone will say no! If you don’t ask — the answer is always no.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I’m constantly inspired by female entrepreneurs — women who have built their businesses on honesty, transparency, and a strong community. Some amazing women who fall in this bucket: Sarah Blakely, Arianna Huffington, Kathryn Minshew, Emily Weiss, Jenn Hyman, and Alli Webb.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.