My ABQ SnB was filled with talented ladies, and I still miss our weekly meetings at The Flying Star in the North Valley. Ramona is one of the fabu crafters I used to hang out with, and I’ve been admiring her Sweatergirls business since she and her partner Chris opened their doors…or hitched their trailer…two years ago. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Ramona and Chris. Wait until you read about their business!
Sweatergirls, you bring LYS to a whole new level. Can you explain the premise behind your business?
Ramona: One of the things I like best about our business is that we are not a typical LYS. We are not confined to a building, or rent, or paying utilities or specific working hours or a large shop inventory. We are both full-time moms who have the freedom to work when we want, with relatively low expenses.
Chris: We are definitely not the normal yarn store. We are a fusion of yarn store and teaching studio uniquely free of the problems associated with being shackled to a building. In our mobile store we keep essential knitting supplies and yarn from small, independent vendors to accompany our classes. We offer what a yarn store has but in a mobile venue. Bring knitting to the people!
How did you hatch the idea? What came first, the trailer or the idea?
Ramona: The idea definitely came first. The original idea was to rent a small space somewhere, and just teach a variety of knitting classes. We realized pretty quickly that we just couldn’t afford the expenses that came with renting a space. Chris read an article in Mary Jane Farm’s magazine about Sisters On the Fly, a group of women who travel around in vintage trailers, and camp and fish together. So she brought up the idea of making us a mobile business. Then our friend Margo impulsively bid on, and bought a trailer Chris had showed her on Ebay. Margo traveled to Missouri one weekend with her family, and picked up the trailer, and brought it back to Albuquerque. She parked it in her front driveway for a couple of months until we could afford to buy it from her. I’m not sure there would be a SweaterGirls without Margo giving us that “big push”.
Chris: As Ramona described we were worried about brick and mortar cost and hours needed to invest to make a teaching studio work. I had picked out the trailer but was unsure my business partners (we were three once upon a time) were ready to commit to a “crazy” idea. Margo believed in it, and she can be described as a patron saint of the arts. She didn’t want us to lose out of the opportunity and decided she didn’t have anything to lose other than a weekend spent camping in a Walmart parking lot. She knew if we didn’t go ahead with it she could always sell a very cute trailer. Don’t ask her about some vintage barber chairs she hasn’t been able to sell.
Tell me about some of your classes and your favorite locations.
Ramona: I love teaching classes outside at Albuquerque’s Downtown Grower’s Market and at the beautiful Los Poblanos Inn, and at our local yarn store. However, my favorite place is a little bakery called Cravin’ Cookies that is owned by a wonderful woman named Barbara. When we were just starting out and trying to find places to hold our classes, most business owners had a hard time understanding that we were a legitimate business. I’m sure we sounded crazy when we told people that we just wanted to park our vintage trailer in front of their place of business, and teach people how to knit. Barb was one of the first business owners that encouraged us and gave us a spot to teach.
I think my favorite class is still Beginning Knitting. I love to watch people get excited about knitting those first few garter stitch rows, and it doesn’t take long to pick out the students who will become the “knitting junkies”.
Chris: I would like to add that we had the opportunity to launch our business during Women in Creativity Month at the National Hispanic Cultural Center two years ago and that was a great place to get our feet wet. They offered support for starting our business and gave us a radio spot and exposure all for free. They are very supportive and promote local run women businesses.
What has been the biggest surprise for you?
Ramona: The biggest surprise for me was how much attention the trailer and Chris’ vintage Chevy truck attracts. You think knitters are obsessed, spend the day with people who love to restore these old trailers and trucks. We always joke that we would be rich women if we just started charging a fee to look inside the trailer and take pictures of the truck and trailer. I also love the stories people have about being a kid and traveling around in a trailer that “looked just like ours”. The question we are asked most is not about knitting but, “What year is the truck and what year is the trailer?” Sometimes I think we could be sitting in front of the trailer knitting naked and people would never notice. Well they might notice, but only because we are blocking their view of the trailer.
Chris: We do get an amazing amount of attention for our whole “knitten rig”. Sometimes we are not sure we are in a knitting business at all. We are surprised by what a challenge it is to fill our classes and motivate people to get off their couch and sign up for one of our sessions. Also, our name gets us in trouble because they think we might be sexy and want to hire us for bachelor parties.
Ramona: Yes, sometimes we are known as the ‘SweatyGirls” or “SisterGirls” or the “DancingGirls”. People love to change our name around
What else do you do?
Ramona: I’m a full-time mom to Alexander and Isabella, and this year I started an etsy store called Thimbleful where I sell my embroidered jewelry.
Chris: I’m also a full-time mom to three kids- Gabriel, Beatrice, and Oliver. I have a baby headscarf business, BabyDews, that I honestly don’t spend enough time on since SweaterGirls started, and I sew and knit boutique accessories and clothing for the Downtown Grower’s market under the tag line See Apple.
Anything else to share?
We have a great time doing private parties teaching groups of ladies to knit or learn a new knitting technique. We bring our teaching booklets and get everyone started and usually by the end of the evening everyone is knitting unless they drank too much. This is something we just couldn’t do if we were a traditional store. SweaterGirls’ also provides individual private lessons, and we have recently started a monthly knitting group at los Poblanos Inn.
Thanks, Sweatergirls, for telling me all about the coolest LYS around!
Want to know more about the Sweatergirls? Visit their website, like their Facebook page, and follow them on Twitter! Remember: if you’re visiting Albuquerque, look for the vintage trailer!