How Yarn Is Making a Difference in the Lives of Women in Nepal and India

Photo by skinnydiver. CC0 Public Domain

Photo by skinnydiver. CC0 Public Domain

Nicole Snow is an American entrepreneur and founder of Darn Good Yarn, an online creative lifestyle and yarn trade platform that connects women across the globe. Nicole’s initiative has helped Nepalese and Indian craftswomen distribute quality yarn and goods worldwide and turn their traditional skills into economically viable entrepreneurial ideas.

Darn Good Yarn hand-selects more than 300 skillful women from India and Nepal to work on collecting and recycling textile waste and produce high-quality yarns. This way, the manufactured waste that would otherwise be sent to landfills is re-purposed to provide raw goods, while the distribution of the products takes place online via the company website, Amazon, or Etsy.

All these factors combined helped Darn Good Yarn grow from $16,000 company in 2008 to $1 million in 2015. Nicole talked about this recently at the US Chamber of Commerce Small Business Summit, where she said it took several years until she could start working on this particular project full time. Today, Darn Good Yarn has an active social following, does knitting and weaving classes in their facilities and plans to open a dedicated fiber studio.

I spoke with Nicole to learn more.

Sarah Green: A few weeks ago, New Delhi hosted a conference that gathered women entrepreneurs from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations to help them promote their crafts and fabrics. Do you feel this initiative is related to what Darn Good Yarn does? How?

Nicole Snow: Both Darn Good Yarn and this conference share the same goal – encouraging Asian women to take a more active role in the economic development of their respective countries. By enabling them to build connections with other like-minded women and inspire each other, such initiatives create new business and social opportunities.

When I first traveled to Asia, I was amazed to see the extent to which the work of these women is underestimated.

They possess highly valuable skills and talents and it’s a shame that the world has insufficient understanding of it. I also noticed there is a lack to basic supply in the poorest regions of these countries. This exacerbates issues of under-employing these women.

This is why any initiative aimed at helping the world recognize such skills can make a great impact onto the way these women live and work. Similar to Darn Good Yarn, which is an online space for trading quality yarn, the New Delhi conference does something beyond simply creating marketing opportunities. It connects the two sides of the market and promotes valuable crafts by Nepalese and Indian women.

Sarah Green: Tell us more about the way Darn Good Yarn is changing social opportunities for women.

Nicole Snow: In addition to enabling women with similar interests to share their ideas, I think that Darn Good Yarn’s major value is the fact it managed to change the living for hundreds of women in Nepal and India.

Namely, when I first started collaborating with these women, their average salaries were less than $2 a day and now they earn $13-$16 a day!

All this was achieved by opening a global market for them using a single resource available to everyone – the Internet.

Sarah Green: You mentioned travelling to Asia. Is this when you first got the idea of starting Darn Good Yarn?

Nicole Snow: The very idea was conceived based on my personal experience with buying yarn. After leaving Air Force, I started being interested in knitting and realized that much of the yarn you can buy in the US stores is low quality. I started looking for a way to get better quality yarn for myself, which is how I discovered this huge market gap. The realization of the fact that its production in Nepal and India is highly underestimated only added up to my idea, enabling me to create something that has a market value and, at the same time, improves the living of other people.

I personally never expected that the project would be as successful and make such a deep impact on both yarn trade industry and economic opportunities for women in Nepal and India.

Sarah Green: Previously, women in Nepal and other Asian countries mainly produced clothing, food and jewelry for personal use or the use of their close community. Today, we’re seeing more innovative initiatives by women in these regions having a global impact. What has changed?

Nicole Snow: Like in most other industries, the availability of the Internet created new opportunities for product sales and promotions, which many women from these regions recognized. If I could pinpoint a single most important benefit the globalized village has brought about, it would definitely be the openness towards creative initiatives that finally found the medium to monetize their efforts.

Sarah Green: Being a woman entrepreneur yourself, what do you most frequently advise other young people when it comes to entrepreneurial opportunities? What if they are coming from conservative or otherwise constrained societies?

Nicole Snow: The easiest thing to say is that these women only need to focus on what they do best to eventually gain recognition for their work. However, the truth is that they need to go through various challenges and adopt new approaches to the world around themselves in order to succeed. They need to be ready to invest so much energy and time into creative processes that they will often feel completely powerless.

And it is this powerlessness that should inspire them for constant improvement. I believe everyone is powerful enough to make a significant change for themselves or the world around them, which is a fact they should never forget.


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