- Jake Kenyon left his job as a speech pathologist in January 2021 to pursue Kenyarn full-time.
- In fortuitous timing, the pandemic drove many people to crafts, like knitting and crocheting.
- Sales jumped from $33,000 in 2019 to $125,000 last year, and he’s on track to make even more in 2021.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Last April, Jake Kenyon spent his 29th birthday quarantined in his bedroom eating a stack of pancakes his roommates made and left outside his door. He was battling COVID-19 and reconsidering his future.
“I was so sick and reframing what was really important to me,” said Kenyon, who was working as a speech pathologist in a hospital when he got sick.
One silver lining was that his side hustle, a hand-dyed yarn business called Kenyarn, was taking off on Shopify. “I’m having so much success doing this thing that I love, and it’s a space where I don’t feel constantly drained.”
Kenyon recovered from COVID, and left his job at the hospital in January 2021 to pursue Kenyarn full-time. While the pandemic shifted his priorities, it also drove many consumers to crafts, like knitting and crocheting. Kenyarn’s gross sales jumped from $33,000 in 2019 to $125,000 last year, and he’s on track to surpass that figure this year, according to documents viewed by Insider.
Kenyon shared his advice for launching a business around your passion, building community support, and how he stands out in a crowded market.
Make connections in your community that could lead to future business opportunities
Before joining Shopify, Kenyon sold his yarn at several farmers markets in the Providence, Rhode Island, area. When he missed the deadline to apply for a notable farmers market in the nearby city of Pawtucket, he set up a table in a friend’s store, which was adjacent to the market, so he could still interact with those customers.
Working the local crafting scene and connecting with customers face-to-face helped Kenyon spread awareness about his brand, he said. It also created opportunities for him to work with other local yarn and crafting stores, leading them to eventually carry his products and host trunk shows.
Entrepreneurs who want to increase their brand awareness or find collaborators should consider how they can work with popular shops or farmers markets. Linking yourself to these sellers will give you access to their customers and, potentially, boost sales.
Set yourself apart in a crowded industry by finding a niche
When Kenyon entered the DIY yarn dyer industry, he learned it was a crowded market. What’s more, people had their favorite dyers, so he needed to create something that would stand out.
“The market is oversaturated and there are so many dyers that it’s overwhelming,” Kenyon said. “I stay in my lane and true to things I’m wholeheartedly interested in.”
Kenyon’s yarns have, what he calls a “fat speckle,” which is a large splatter pattern of color over the yarn. Other dyers might feature a smaller speckle or dusting of color, he said.
Additionally, Kenyon avoids popular yarn trends and sticks to ideas that inspire him. For example, he’s released a collection inspired by Henry VIII’s wives. This Halloween he plans on releasing a line called “Bad Girls Club,” which will feature yarns inspired by female villains like Ursula.
An email list can grow your customers exponentially and lead to greater sales
After his first year in business, Kenyon set up an email list using MailChimp, which he describes as a “game-changer.” He sends out an email to the group whenever he releases a new product or collection and subsequently sees a jump in subscriptions, sometimes by about 200 names.
Email lists aren’t new, but they are an easy way to stay connected with your audience and alert them to any company news or developments. Self-published author Sally Miller uses a similar strategy when she releases a new book, often touting reduced prices for her titles in order to boost sales.
Incorporating your values sets your business apart and helps form a loyal community
One of the ways Kenyon connects with his community is through an annual fundraiser. He chooses charities that focus on queer youth, including Trans Lifeline and the Ali Forney Foundation. While it sets Kenyon apart from other sellers, it also aligns with his ethos and passions.
“Those are recurring things that really excite people,” said Kenyon, who identifies as gay. “I try to do things that people can relate to.”