When it comes to her business, Plump & Co, everything is on a plus-size scale: giant wooden knitting needles and chunky yarn look as if they have had the Alice in Wonderland treatment, supersized to unexpected proportions.
It’s knitting – but not as you know it – and it’s attracting a new generation of crafters.
Stevenson, a 28-year-old art school graduate turned entrepreneur, has tapped into the worldwide movement for ‘slow craft’ – embracing craftsmanship, mindfulness and simplicity.
From her office in Flagstaff she sells her unique giant wool to the world, via an elegant e-commerce website: plumpandco.com.
The wool has been developed in collaboration with a local manufacturer, sourced from luxurious New Zealand merino. Customers from across the globe flock to buy colourful limited edition ‘bumps’ of chunky yarn, giant one-metre-long knitting needles and crochet hooks so they can make their own chunky knitted masterpieces.
The DIY market is one revenue stream, and finished products are also available to purchase. The pieces are popular with interior designers, and have featured in several glossy home magazines.
Stevenson also travels around New Zealand to teach her craft at workshops, which sell out quickly.
It’s a fantastic success story for a business only three years old, and one that is more creative and crafty, than traditional.
In the past year Stevenson’s business has grown five-fold, and turn-over has increased significantly. Plump & Co has evolved from a self-described “hobby business” to one with confidence, and four staff on the books.
That success is thanks, in part, to getting expert advice and business mentoring.
Since last May Stevenson has been supported by Novell Gopal, a business growth advisor from the Business Growth Services team at Waikato Innovation Park in Hamilton.
The Waikato Business Growth Services team is funded by the Regional Business Partner Network (RBPN), a central government initiative to help build business capability for growth. RBPN is led by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) and Callaghan Innovation. The aim is to support businesses that have high-growth aspirations and are also export focused, technology-driven or have innovative products or services with real commercial merit. The services are free to all greater Waikato businesses, not just those based at Waikato Innovation Park.
Gopal says that Plump and Co is a unique business with the potential to grow. “She is doing something that, if it hits the right notes, it will explode,” says Gopal.
After meeting with Stevenson, he gave her advice, contacts and helped her source funding to support her business. “Novell has been so supportive,” says Stevenson. “He put us in touch with people in the industry who could help us. I’m not from Hamilton originally, so those contacts were invaluable.”
“He also gave us advice about funding we could apply for,” says Stevenson. “We received funding towards a business mentor, which helped grow my business.”
A New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) voucher under the Regional Business Partner Network (RBPN) paid for 50 per cent of the costs of a business mentor, up to $5000.
Stevenson says getting a business mentor was “one of the best things I ever did” and she recommends it to other entrepreneurs and start-ups.
“It was scary, as a small business owner, investing that much money in a mentor, but I was so glad I did.”
The expert advice from business mentor Phil Wicks, from Business Success Partners, and that of Novell Gopal, propelled the business to a new level. “It’s important to have a sounding board – someone to talk you through the highs and lows of the business, someone to convince you not to throw in the towel today,” says Stevenson. “As a small business owner every day is like a yo-yo – one day you are on top of the world – a magazine wants to write an article about you or your workshops sell out – the next day nothing seems to go right, so that’s a challenge. Keeping your focus is a super important thing.”
The seed of an idea for Plump & Co began when Stevenson was a university student, studying Textile Design at Massey University. She started knitting as a way to relax and wind down. “I found it very therapeutic and mindful,” says Stevenson. “I did a lot of knitting during university and when working on my thesis.”
In her fourth year, she created an installation piece, using ripped fabric to create an oversized ‘yarn’.
After graduating she worked in the corporate world for a time, but she missed being creative, and began knitting once more – at first as a hobby, then as a business. Stevenson thought there might be a market for a new kind of knitting – to tap into a global trend, especially among millennials, for all things handmade.
So three years’ ago Stevenson launched Plump & Co to offer ‘slow craft’ to consumers – providing people with the opportunity to create something unique that also gave them something intrinsic and soulful.
“You get that warm, fuzzy feeling of having made something – people just love it,” says Stevenson. “There is a real sense of pride in knitting something yourself.”
Starting the business involved some out-of-the-box thinking. With no suitable plus-size yarn available, Stevenson set about spinning her own supersized wool yarn, but soon found that wasn’t ideal: “It was too time consuming,” says Stevenson.
In collaboration with a local manufacturer, a unique merino yarn was created that had a low shedding and pilling quotient. Working through issues with technology and processing took time.
The end result was an innovative product: a giant yarn that was beautiful and practical, and perfect for oversized knitting and creating.
Part of the Plump & Co story is its ethical and sustainable approach, and that means keeping things local as much as possible and knowing where raw materials come from. “We like to be ethical in business,” says Stevenson. “We source everything as much as possible in New Zealand, not only the Merino wool but the wood for the needles.”
The luxurious one and two-ply yarn comes in three standard colours – midnight, grey and white – plus a limited edition collection of seasonal fashion colours which most recently included grapefruit (pink), wild mustard, pine (dark green) and pomegranate (red).
Each season involves new run of limited edition colours and Stevenson keeps up with colour trends and selects shades she loves, that she thinks will work for her product and market. An important part of the Plump and Co ethos is collaboration, and Stevenson hopes to work with interior designers, fashion designers and artists in the future to create limited edition colour collections and patterns.
Stevenson says social media plays a key role in her business, and she posts regularly to Plump & Co’s Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as Twitter and Pinterest. “It’s been the most powerful tool for us, and has given us a lot of exposure and helped us connect with people we want to collaborate with,” says Stevenson. “Great images are very important. We are very strong curators of all our visual material and we make sure they are beautiful. I think beautiful images will help sell your brand.”
Workshops are another revenue stream for the business, and a place where new connections are made and friendships are formed and offers customers a unique experience
Stevenson has taught workshops in towns such as Christchurch, Wanaka, Gore, Queenstown, Taupo, Auckland and Waiheke. The workshops sell out quickly – often driven by word-of-mouth. “A lot of it is friends telling friends,” says Stevenson. Her first international workshops are set to be held in Australia this winter.
From a hobby business to a global venture, Stevenson is proud of where she has come with her business. “I couldn’t have believed when I started it would have gone so crazy. It’s been a fun journey.”
She believes the best thing she did was to commit to the business as a full-time venture. “The best thing I ever did was give it all my energy,” says Stevenson. “If you are committed to your business you can’t do it part-time, it has to be all or nothing.”
Her goals for the business include managing growth, ensuring supply and strategic planning. There is potential to grow domestically and internationally, particularly in Australia and the USA.
“This doesn’t feel like a job, it’s so much fun,” says Stevenson. “It has its challenges but I enjoy having a business and a product that makes people happy.”