Can a middle-aged man make a million dollars from knitting?

It’s blue yarn, so it must be knitted by a man, right?

At the end of February 2022, two techbros — let’s call them Dave and Mike — decided that their next million-dollar venture would take place within the realm of knitting. That’s not altogether strange, because despite what you might think, knitting and crafting is big business as the following examples illustrate:

  • In 2021, LoveCrafts, “a start-up which builds social marketplaces for the crafts sector” and which began as LoveKnitting, raised $10m in venture capital. A partner at one of the VC funds was quoted as saying that he had “a weakness for fast-growing, strongly-led companies that are addressing a huge market opportunity. Crafts is a $100bn market worldwide…”
  • In Norway, yarn companies and yarn shops made record profits during the pandemic. Covid lockdowns not only rejuvenated experienced knitters, who now had time for all their projects, but also introduced newcomers to the craft — in other words, there are now many more potential customers.

Anyway, our protagonists saw an opportunity to create “an ecommerce brand supported heavily by a content website” with their ultimate goal to become “the number one knitting brand on Amazon.” The blog post outlining their plans to make $1m within a year and $7.5m within five years, coupled with their expenditure of $80 000 on a domain name, apparent lack of any due diligence, and zero crafting experience, would have been enough for #KnittingTwitter to gather round and haul out its popcorn buckets. However, in the podcast that accompanied their blog post, Dave and Mike upped the ante even further.

Unsurprisingly, the techbro characterisation of knitters as “unsophisticated grandmas” did not endear them to their prospective customer base. As the rest of the saga and its sequels have been discussed at length elsewhere, I will not repeat it here; you can find it on Reddit here, here, and here, and on Twitter here and here. Instead, this article will focus on an aspect that’s been neglected amid the discussion of their shortcomings: whether making a million dollars from knitting is a realistic goal for two middle-aged men.

For some reason, in both the initial blog post, responses in comments on the blog, and on Twitter, Dave kept pointing out that he and Mike were “two middle-aged straight men” who “don’t exactly fit the typical knitter profile.”

While I take issue with two men in their late 30s and early 40s describing themselves as “middle-aged,” the latter statement is probably true from a statistical standpoint. Yet the more I thought about it, the weirder and more non-sequitur this fixation on gender seemed. Mike and Dave don’t need to fit the profile of a “typical knitter” in order to sell “a decent number of products” or to take advantage of “massive content opportunities” in the crafting market. As self-described middle-aged men, they could absolutely succeed in making a million dollars in this industry — even if they never learn to knit.

How can I make this claim with such certainty? Because the CEOs of all major Norwegian yarn companies are actual middle-aged men (born in or before 1970). This information is publicly available from the Brønnøysund Register, a government database of all companies registered in Norway, and 180.no:

Sandnesgarn — Harald Mjølne

Rauma Ullvarefabrikk — Arnstein Digernes

Drops Design/Garnstudio — Stein Arild Rugtveit

House of Yarn /Gjestal— Tor Henrik Knutsen

Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk — Øyvind Myhr

Viking of Norway — Ivar Audun Ullebust

Given their ages and the sad truth that knitting in Norway is still a very gendered activity, I would be surprised if any of them could knit. In fact, I know for sure that at least one of the men on that list can neither knit nor crochet. However, he knows everything about fiber and the economics of yarn. He also does not suffer fools particularly lightly, and I cannot imagine how he would react to someone waxing lyrical about setting up a knitting business to sell unspecified “products.”

In short, as the list of CEOs above illustrates, it’s not particularly strange for men to be involved in the knitting world via leadership positions in yarn companies. Dave and Mike, as purveyors of “knitting products,” are in this sense less unique than they seem to believe themselves to be. In fact, given the misogyny and ageism of Western society, they may even be better positioned than a skilled female knitter of a similar age.

Knowledge of yarn and fiber is certainly useful if you want to enter the market — Ivar Audun Ullebust of Viking told a local newspaper that he had been involved in the yarn/spinning business “for altogether too many decades,” Stein Arild Rugtveit has been hands-on with Drops Design since co-founding the company in the early 1980s, and Øyvind Myhr is the fourth generation of his family to run the factory at Hillesvåg. However, as the financial trajectories of two newcomers to the market demonstrate, it’s possible to make decent profits even without an initial familiarity with yarn. (I say “initial” because I’m pretty sure that it’s impossible to continue in the business without acquiring at least a modicum of this knowledge, even if it’s just by osmosis rather than dedicated study.) The Danish companies Hobbii and Rito were both founded by millennial men within the past ten years. Rito’s founder and CEO Dennis Drejer even wrote on his personal blog that he didn’t know how to knit:

I know nothing about yarn. I do not knit and crochet. But I know something about internet marketing and customer service. That’s what Rito delivers in style.

Last year, Rito reported a net profit of about 3m Danish crowns, or US$435 300; Hobbii’s net profit for 2021 came to 14m crowns. Although I could not find any information about the knitting skills of Hobbii’s founders, owners, or Board of Directors, the people in these positions are all exclusively men. Their marketing team is also comprised solely of men.

One should keep in mind that these comparisons are all a bit apples-to-oranges. While the examples discussed in this article demonstrate that it is entirely possible to make a million dollars from knitting/yarn, whether one can do so via dropshipping and SEO exploitation — Dave and Mike’s stated business model — is unclear. Norwegian companies keep their own warehouses and engage primarily in B2B sales to local yarn shops. The Danish newcomers both focus on online B2C sales; Hobbii also welcomes customers at its warehouses.

So there you have it, techbros. Stop whining and start doing. As much as it pains me to say it, I think you’ll land on your feet despite the magnitude of your missteps so far. And that’s because everything — your age, your gender, your ethnicity, and, yes, even your lack of knitting skills — is on your side in our imperfect world.

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I used to be a medievalist. Random fact accumulator, knitter, and reader of Sütterlin script.

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Knitting&Death

Knitting&Death

I used to be a medievalist. Random fact accumulator, knitter, and reader of Sütterlin script.

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