Working Mom Spotlight
I love hearing about working moms who can take their passion, make it their own, and make a living from it. Amy Kett is one of those moms. She heads up Crankypants, and makes, hands down, the cutest freaking handknit baby products I’ve ever set my eyes on. I’m just mad I didn’t find out about her longies until after O was too big to wear them.
If it wasn’t enough that Amy makes some of the cutest baby products around—they are also wildly, WILDLY popular. To keep up with demand (and shorten her wait-list), she cooked up a fair-trade partnership with a knitting cooperative in Peru. Seriously—how cool is this woman?
I asked Amy if she would answer a few questions for WMAGs. If it encourages just one of us to dust off that little dream sitting in the back of our mind and take some action, well, I’ll be a happy woman. And knowing, Amy, she will be, too.
1) You were a SAHM mom before you started making Crankypants? What ultimately made you want to jump into working-mom world?
I was a stay at home mom with Henry (now 5) until he was about 18 months old. Shortly after his first birthday we moved from Ann Arbor, MI to Asheville, NC. We love Asheville, but my husband (a special education teacher) took a serious cut in pay and benefits when we left Michigan’s strong teacher’s union behind. We were only here for about six months when we realized that I either needed to get a job or we would have to move back to Michigan. I scoured the internet for work from home opportunities and came up empty. I even thought about selling Mary Kay, which is ridiculous considering I haven’t really worn make up since my Def Leopard phase in 9th grade.
This period coincided with me getting sick of going to the store to buy Henry clothes and finding the same baseballs and teddy bears everywhere, especially on knitwear. I picked up my needles and made him the first ever pair of Crankypants—now the Classic Jolly Rogers. I sent a picture of him wearing them to a friend of mine who turned around and posted it on a parenting board she was active on. I started getting emails asking if I could make them for other folks’ kids and Crankypants Knits was born!
2) What’s the best part of running Crankypantshome.com? The most rewarding? Easiest/Hardest?
The best part is being able to work around Henry’s schedule. He is starting Kindergarten and I get to walk him to and from school, volunteer in his room, and still have the gratification of having my own thing going and contributing financially to our family. I also love the relationship it has given me with other moms—both my customers and other mama crafters. The support I’ve gotten is amazing. The hardest part is definitely the balancing act. Since I work out of my house I never actually leave the office. It is really difficult to transition from work time to family time when I can hear the ding of emails coming in and see work piling up in the next room. This summer has been particularly challenging because it is the first time my husband has been the primary caregiver while I work. It is hard to explain to a 5-year-old why I can’t drop everything to go on daily adventures with him and Daddy, and it is hard to know they are going without me.
3) Did you think Crankypants would explode in popularity like they did?
I had no idea. I have kind of an odd sense of humor so I never know if people are going to “get it” or just think I’m a big weirdo. I’m glad I’m not the only one out there who thinks a wee little monster bum is funny and cute.
4) Do you have a sewing background? Business/marketing? Any? All? Other?
Not at all. I have a bachelor’s degree in Literature with a concentration in Shakespearean Studies. It’s a good thing Crankypants has taken off, right?
5) What do you think most contributed to the success of your business? (If you do feel it’s a success—looks like a success to me!)
Work, work, work! I think some of it has to do with coming up with the right idea at the right time, but a lot of it is just putting the hours in and staying true to your vision. I put everything I have into Crankypants, which may sound weird—they’re baby pants—but it’s true. I try to make sure I’m connected to my customers and I think that people respond to that.
6) What made you decide to do a fair trade partnership to create more Crankypants?
I wanted to make sure that I was expanding in a way that was socially responsible, that was really important to me. I considered small knitting mill production in the USA, but there is really no such thing anymore. The thing I love about fair trade is how symbiotic it is. There are over 120 head of household women in the knitting cooperative I work with that are able to provide for their families because of the work small companies like me give them.
In my case, the yarn they use is also locally produced and small batch dyed so that means more economic development for that community. In return, I get to keep Crankypants hand made while coming closer to meeting demand, and they are absolutely amazing artisans. Holding something that I designed made by another mother halfway around the world is way too cool.
7) Was it hard to pull that partnership off?
Yes! I worked on it for two years before finding this cooperative. It is really difficult to find a group that is actually fair trade (now that those are buzz words you have to be careful) with good quality control that has access to local supplies. I had failed partnerships with groups in Russia and Nepal before I lucked out and met my Peruvian contact at a trade show. He has been doing this kind of work for almost 20 years and has been certified by the Fair Trade Federation, so I was immediately comfortable working with him.
8) What’s the favorite thing that you sell on Crankypantshome.com?
I think the Monster Booty longies are still my favorite no matter how many pairs I make. I also love the undies made by Sublime Threads. Henry has super sensitive skin and the exposed elastic waist on commercial undies is really uncomfortable for him so Sublime Threads are all he wears. Sonja (the mama behind the undies) let me go crazy matching stripes and prints and we had a lot of fun working together on them.
9) What do you like to do in your spare time? What is this thing you call “spare time”?
Kidding… kind of. We are lucky to live in an amazing part of the country here in the mountains so we try to get out in it as much as we can-hiking, swimming, etc. We are also big fans of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Recently I challenged all of my customers and/or blog readers to a Guitar Hero battle, offering free Crankypants stickers to anyone who could beat me, but I had no takers.
10) If you could have any job in the world, what would it be/what would you do?
I would love to hold cue cards for The Daily Show or be a PA on This American Life, though I know if either Ira Glass or Jon Stewart actually spoke to me I would spontaneously combust.
11) Do you have any partnerships going with Crankypantshome.com–or is it a one-woman show?
The behind the scenes is a one-woman show, and I still do all of the custom work myself. The fair trade cooperative has taken over all of the knitting for the Classic Crankypants and I just contracted with a local seamstress to help me meet demand on our line of Monster Snap Bibs, which should hit the website in the next month or so. I’m just getting it through my head that I can’t do everything myself.
Maybe, not Amy, but you’ve done pretty spectacular so far. And keeping on with the cool, Amy gave WMAG one free pair of 12-18 month Sock Monkey longies and 10 super-cute stickers to give away to one lucky reader! Check out the WMAG review blog for details on entering. And don’t forget to check out Amy’s blog, where she hosts giveaways, keeps people updated on her projects, and the goings on with her adorable son, who recently started kindergarden.