This 30-year-old turned his side hustle selling yarn into a 6-figure business: ‘It’s no cakewalk’

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Sometimes it takes a major life event to push you in the right direction.

Last April, I spent my 29th birthday battling Covid-19 in my bedroom. I had to take time off from my full-time job as a speech pathologist at a hospital in Providence, Rhode Island to quarantine. The experience forced me to think about my future and what really made me happy in life.

While I liked my job, what I enjoyed even more was working on my side hustle, Kenyarn, selling hand-dyed yarn.

With the pandemic driving more people to crafts like knitting and crocheting (as a way to alleviate stress), sales on Shopify were skyrocketing. Gross sales jumped from $20,000 in 2019, when I started the side hustle, to $125,000 in 2020.

I loved engaging with customers and the community of knitting enthusiasts who were also hand dyeing their own yarn. So I continued to rethink my priorities long after I recovered from Covid.

Finally, in January 2021, with three months’ worth of living expenses saved up, I decided to quit my job and work on Kenyarn full-time.

That turned out to be a smart move. I’m on track to make $200,000 in gross sales by the end of this year. My product prices mostly range from $28 to $35 — and I get anywhere from 200 to 500 orders of varying quantities per month.

As with most successful side hustles, it hasn’t been a cakewalk. Here’s what I learned from turning my passion into a profitable full-time business:

1. Never say, ‘I don’t have time’

If you’re not willing to put in the hours, don’t expect to make a ton of money off your side hustle.

When I started Kenyarn, I was dyeing yarn in my kitchen every Tuesday and Saturday — the days I wasn’t on shift at the hospital. Eventually, I found myself doing it when I got home from work. During work lunches, I sat in my car updating the website with new photos and product listings from my phone.

“Summer Sherbet,” Kenyarn’s one-of-a-kind colourway, is made with 75% Superwash Merino wool
and 25% nylon.

Credit: Kenyarn

I posted on social media at least three to four times a week and spent every day networking and cultivating friendships in the knitting community on Instagram. I’d also send weekly emails to subscribers announcing new items and upcoming events.

Some people make side hustling look so easy, but you get from your business what you put into it. And as you begin to see growth, you’ll work hard and smarter. Be prepared to make sacrifices, too; late nights and missed social outings were common during the early stages of Kenyarn.

2. Be experimental and don’t resist change

At first, I had a clear image of my product — a consistent batch of standard solid colors available at all times for customers.

But that didn’t last long. I found that because the DIY yarn dyeing business was so crowded, people had their favorite dyers. So I experimented with making things that would stand out, like having a “jumbo speckle,” which is a large splatter pattern of color over the yarn.

Kenyon’s yarns have what he calls a “jumbo speckle” — a large splatter pattern of color over the yarn.

Credit: Kenyarn

As I played with different creations, I found that there were higher sales for limited edition patterns, especially ones themed around exciting fantasy and pop culture genres. For Halloween this year, I’ll be releasing a line called “Bad Girls Club,” which features yarns inspired by female villains like Ursula from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

3. Find your crowd and network with them

I’m constantly connecting with other creatives who sell similar products and create similar content on social media.

Whenever I encounter another yarn dyer, whether in-person or online, I always make a point to compare their business structure to my own and build a relationship. It helps to know your competition, but having a community of people with the same interests is just as valuable because it can lead to wonderful opportunities and lifelong friendships.

Kenyon says his yarn business is on track to making $200,000 in gross sales by the end of 2021.

Credit: Kenyarn

When Kenyarn was still a side hustle, I’d set up booths at several farmers markets and host trunk shows. Being in the local craft scene and connecting with people face-to-face helped spread brand awareness. I also met local yarn shop owners, who now carry my products in their stores.

4. Be authentic

In just two years, Kenyarn’s Instagram following has grown to nearly 17,000 followers. This has played a significant role in boosting sales.

How did I do it? At first, I made close connections with popular yarn bloggers, who featured me on their websites and tagged me on Instagram.

I often share Instagram Stories and posts giving people a behind-the-scenes look at my dyeing process. I’m very transparent about what it’s like to run my own business — the successes and challenges, and even my flaws.

Your voice should always be authentic. Customers want to know where their money is going and what the person behind the brand stands for. Every year, for example, I host a fundraiser for charities that focus on the queer community.

I feel incredibly lucky that I get to do what I love while also giving back to causes that I care about.

Jake Kenyon is the founder of Kenyarn, a hand-dyed yarn company. Follow him on Instagram @isthatkenyarn and visit his website at Kenyarn.com.

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