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August 27, 2018 7 min read 9 Comments

It's Bank Holiday Monday and Tribe has been open for business for a total of 9 days already. Today is technically a "day off" but in reality, it's the day for me to catch up on book-keeping (yawn) and bang out a Blog Post (yikes).

As I sit here and dither, I'm finding myself looking back at the journey over the last few months and marvelling at the fact that what was just a twinkle of an idea back in February (six months ago) has now become a multi-dimensional reality.  And I've learned so many lessons along the way.

Six months ago I took a trip to various yarn shops in London to celebrate my 42nd birthday. It was mid-Winter, and I was recovering from a mystery (probably stress-induced) seizure. It had been a very long time since I'd been yarn shopping in London, but it didn't take long for me to figure out my route for the day.

Start with Loop because they definitely had stuff on my wish list, then onto Wild & Woolley, then to I Knit's new location.  

It was the lovely Anna at Wild & Woolley who ended up giving me some of the best advice for this journey that I was about to embark upon. She advised me that creating a LYS (local yarn shop) from scratch certainly hadn’t been easy, but that she had discovered she had a shocking amount of energy and reserves for all the work - because she was passionate about it.

She also passed on some advice she’d been given: don’t fall into the trap of "paralysis by analysis" - you just have to push the button and go, even if it's not all perfect and going to plan.

She was right on both counts.


A Steep Learning Curve

I had never built a website before. I had never owned a retail shop, or worked in retail. I was woefully out of touch with prevailing tastes and attitudes in the UK, but what I did know was what I liked and didn't like. And I know myself and my values. And I am a very hard worker. So, I had a pretty great starting position.

So, first things first:

  • Where to locate the shop
  • What to stock in the shop

Of course, the actual first list of things to do was much much longer than this (249 bullet points on the first draft to be exact), but once I'd sorted these two items, everything could flow from there.

Location, Location, Location

In February we were living with my parents in NW London - nice and close to where Indi was going to school. (It was a bit of a shock to the system to find myself living with my folks again, but honestly, I couldn't have done any of this without their selfless, unconditional love and support.  They really looked after Darren and me in those short months that we were "home". And from that safe, welcoming base we were able to gather ourselves again and start looking towards the future. I have the best parents in the world.)

It seemed bonkers to me that I had to travel so far from West London to find the type of Yarn Shop I wanted to shop at! Clearly there was a bit of a gap in the market. 

There was no point in opening another shop in East London - that part of the world was already so well catered for by the wonderful East London Yarn Triangle (Wild & Woolley, Knit with Attitude & Fabrications).

There were very few areas in NW London where people wouldn't balk at the price of great yarn. And the SW had Richmond! And since Mrs Moon had closed their retail store a few years ago, the SW was surviving without a yarn shop of their own.

Darren and I both hold out that Life is just too damn short (on so many counts). We have worked hard to live in some of the most beautiful parts of the world over the years. And since we’re committed to being in London for the foreseeable future, where better to park our arses than in Richmond-upon-Thames!

Drowning in Yarn

So that set, it was time to look at what to stock. This part was tricky. I went from panicking about not having enough choices to fill a shop (more about that later) to having waaaaaaayyy too much that I wanted and loved, but not enough space nor $$ for all of it.

But my guiding principles never changed, and never will:

  • Do I love it? Would I buy it, cherish it and knit with it myself?
  • Are they assholes?

Since working in the world of Corporate, I had adopted a very firm “Zero Assholes” rule in my life. If you’re an asshole, I will not work for/with you (Life is Too Short...).

Sometimes I have uncovered the assholery too late, and I guess that’s inevitable, but I strive to cut out the douchebaggery from my surrounds as soon as I can.

So, off I went to many, many Tradeshows and events where I could meet with the companies, manufacturers and reps, and I very quickly began to accumulate orders to fill our shelves.

I met some really lovely people really early on! Big shouts out to Olivia, Allison, Laili, Maggie, Carmen, Susan, Karen and the other lovely humans who were so welcoming and not threatened by the emergence of a new business. These lovely ladies are just as passionate about spreading the joy of yarn, knitting & crochet, world peace - and they gave me so much love and advice. I can’t thank them enough. 

I also met some not so nice people. I had a few doors shut in my face. Always from people who felt threatened in some way or another, or were weirdly, cliquey-loyal to another business and felt that there wasn’t room for me. Whatevs.

But in the end, I had managed to put together a shop full of yarns to die for (no puns...), and my master spreadsheet skills had ensured that I hadn’t ordered too much or too little to fit in my gorgeous little space on Richmond Hill. 

Website & Social Media

Yarn websites can be really crap. I knew for sure that I wanted a great website which is easy to navigate, authentic, truthful, inspiring and contains all the info you need. But I didn’t have the funds to engage a professional website developer, and I didn’t really trust that a non-yarny-techie would be able to convey all the juicy facts about all the fibres or lay it out in a way that yarn-lovers would really find useful.

So, I decided to build it myself. Having never built a website before.

This translated to a lot of late, late nights, learning about html, SEO, domains, plug ins, etc etc. It has been a labour of love and I am thrilled at the final result. If you’re contemplating doing this yourself – stick with it.  It’s very rewarding to see what you can build, and it's great that I can now make changes myself whenever I want to. 

Another hurdle for me was Social Media. I had never been to Insta-land before, but Instagram seemed to be the place to promote a new business like mine. I have to say, I’ve found it a much friendlier place than Facebook, and enjoy using it much more. I haven't been a fan of Social Media, Selfies and “Filtering Your Life” culture, but I have discovered there is space for authenticity, self-expression and friendship too – which has been a happy surprise.

As I type this, I have 34 posts on @tribeyarnslife Instagram page, and 701 followers since I claimed my Insta presence 5 weeks ago. I’ll take it :)

As for FB, I have a funny (and controversial) story about the first person to contact me from my new Facebook page, but maybe I’ll save that for another Blog post…

I’ll also talk about brand and shop design in another post, if that’s ok.  There are a few tales, but I very much did it “my way”, and I love the result!

Early Days

I’ve massively simplified what it has taken to get the doors open at Tribe.

From business plans, lease negotiations, insurance, banking, accounting, policies, shipping, inventory control, tax, storage schematics, delivery logistics, security, POS systems, debt management, merchant services, KPIs to marketing, PR, branding, event planning, website, interior design, sample making, visual display etc etc – it’s been a humungous undertaking for one woman!

My husband and son have been invaluable – lending a hand and a shoulder whenever I needed one. My parents and little brother have been amazing. I know I am the luckiest woman alive. And when it’s dark and scary and I can’t sleep for worrying about EVERYTHING, I hold on to this fact extra tightly.

It’s a cliché, but it is a lonely running a business by yourself. And I miss my friends and sisterhood from the BVI so badly.  But I knew it would be this way for a while, while I was busy building – too busy to socialise and nurture friendships. Which is why I named this baby “Tribe” – because she will be my way (and your way?) of finding and cherishing a Tribe of humans with a common thread and our own weird and wonderful ways.

So far so good. I’m finally meeting these humans. Some of them even come and sit at our table for a few hours, creating magic and giggles, offering advice and mutual admiration for the colours and textures on our blurry notions.

I LOVE hearing the little “cha-ching” on my phone when we get an online order – I’m excited to think of all those real people receiving their parcels of joy – and it’s incredible to think that they somehow found Tribe and trusted us with supplying the stuff they will enjoy in their precious free time.

I am super grateful to all of you! Thank you so so much for supporting my dream, and supporting this fantastic industry! Thank you for choosing a small, independent business, and thank you for your time, love and encouragement! 

I’ll sign off now before I cry again…x

9 Responses

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March 26, 2019

Incredible points. Outstanding arguments. Keep up the good effort.


October 06, 2018

Can I chime in with some usability advice? Please place bigger sized images in your blog posts, some of us have burnt our eyes with so many miles of darker yarn :)
Also, the currency drop-down is not working for me.
Hugs from Spain!

Sue Smith
Sue Smith

September 25, 2018

I came across your shop by chance last week and am now knitting again after a break of more than 30 years : the welcoming, friendly atmosphere together with such beautiful yarns have inspired me!!! You and Karen have been so helpful in getting me started and encouraging about my early efforts. It’s so interesting to read about your journey of arriving in Richmond and setting up Tribe; I wish you every success- I’m loving it!!!

Suraya Hossain
Suraya Hossain

September 19, 2018

This is so inspiring, and reassuring at the same time. I totally get it when you say “it’s a lonely business running a business by yourself”. I feel that too – but there is so much support out there from the yarn community.
I loved your shop on my recent visit – and yes, it is in a dream location! I think I need to move to Richmond!
Wishing you every success, I’m sure the business is going to go from strength to strength.

Nicky Winterton
Nicky Winterton

September 11, 2018

Hi Milli – first of all, I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU’RE 41!!!! Secondly, Anna at W&W is an absolute gem isn’t she? And thirdly – GO YOU GIRL!! You’ve gone and done what so many of us knitters/crafters would absolutely love to do and, in my humble opinion (which really is humble) you’ve done it fabulously well. Loved reading your story – hopefully we’ll get many chances to knit and natter together (and maybe even weave?) in the future. 😊


September 11, 2018

So excited to have a lovely yarn shop in SW London, can’t wait to come and visit you!


September 11, 2018

I remember meeting you right at the start of your yarn dream journey as you described it here Milli, at Unravel in Farnham in Feb.Your passion and enthusiasm were so palpable from the start. Almost as evident as my initial scepticism (we get told A LOT by visitors on the stand that they are “going to open a yarn shop and can I stock Layercake and Soliloquy?”) But when you were back on the stand at Edinburgh Yarn Fest, I realised both that you were “for real” and “up the road” from Grayshott. We spent a day at my Studio talking each other’s ears off and the rest is history – fast forward to this coming weekend and The Slow Wardrobe will proudly appear at your generous invitation at its first ever pop-up shop; at Tribe during the Great London Yarn Crawl!
Thank you for including me in your journey and here’s to a long and fibre-filled friendship!

Karen Calcroft
Karen Calcroft

August 27, 2018

It’s so interesting to read your story, Milli. Loved your shop and I felt so at home when I visited. Can’t wait to come back x


August 27, 2018

Hi Milli, it was good to meet you on Saturday. Thanks for the warm welcome. It’s great to have somewhere you can show up and knit and chat about Knitting when you have a few precious hours of me time. Love the blog post too- it’s good to hear the personal side of the story x

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