The Business of Yarn

It’s not often that I stop to consider the intricacies of the yarn business. I adore yarn. I shop for yarn. I buy yarn.
I’m a happy consumer.
But a couple of issues have arisen lately that have given me pause. Most of you have read (and read) about them. I’ll mention them only to avoid being incomplete.
I’m talking about the Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Issue (is there cashmere in the yarn, and does it comply with what the label states?) and the Tilli Tomas Sarah’s Yarns keystoning issue (keystoning is selling a product at double the wholesale price, and it’s typically — I believe — what the MSRP is).

In both of these cases I’ve tried to approach them the way I would if I was in a work situation — both to try and appreciate both sides of the issue, and even to expand my thinking for problems that could arise at work. I’m in a consulting field and it never hurts to have more perspective.
So this Debbie Bliss issue. I’ve had to deal with issues similar to this at work. Meaning, we deliver something we believe to work a certain way, and then questions or accusations arise about its truth. Fortunately, it’s only happened a couple times, and hasn’t happened for several years now (both times at a previous job).
In both cases, we truly believed we delivered as promised. You could blame some of the issue on inexperience (during the web boom you hired anyone you could find, and you knew if they lasted 6-12 months you were doing well), or a bad/nonexistant QA process (we should have caught it but we didn’t) or bad project/account management (not enough time to do things right, sold the project too cheaply to do things right, etc.).
Whenever this happened, there would be several issues we’d consider:

  • Did we do something wrong?
  • If we didn’t, communicate it quickly and thoroughly to clear things up.
  • If we did something wrong, put a plan in place to fix it, and measures in place to make sure it didn’t happen again.
  • Consider what needed to be done to smooth feathers and generally make the client feel good again. Much easier said than done. But like Seth Godin says, it was easy, no one would pay you to do it.

I’ve remained silent on the cashmere question thus far because I suspected the truth was probably somewhere in the middle, that Debbie probably believed things were on the up and up, and that the issue would be rectified.
Ascertations are flying over why this became an issue at all. One theory is that Cascade was upset that KFI released a Cascade 220 direct competitor (Ella Rae Classic) and therefore attempted to debunk their success by bringing this issue to light.
That might be the case. I don’t know. In fact, I don’t even care. Competition gets dirty. It happens all the time in business. To stay competitive you have to stay ahead of the curve. You have to be smart. And if you’re not, you’ll be left behind.
It’s not for everybody, and it shouldn’t be. I’ve been in consulting my whole career, and it’s possible that I’ve become desensitized. A competitor of one of our products lists on their site a comparison chart. While the chart is technically accurate, it leads the consumer into believing that our product is more expensive and offers less features.
Neither is true.
My point here is that competition is just that — competitive. Last year’s greatest-invention-ever will probably make it onto every major manufacturers’ product list next year — or next season, or next quarter, or next month. As quickly as they can possibly make it happen.
Until the issue is truly refuted or verified, I really don’t care how it started.
I was happy to see that Kristine was trying to help clear things up. She posted an open letter from Debbie Bliss and then posted test results on the cashmerino line.
I applaud her for trying to clear this up and move on. The consultant (non-knitter) in me is also looking forward to seeing results that confirm the label is right. Or even, results that show the label is wrong, with a plan to rectify it in the future. In general, I’m hopeful it will be addressed similarly to the bulleted list above. Mistakes happen (even when intentions are very good). And even if there is truth to the issue, it wouldn’t stop me from buying Debbie Bliss in the future (assuming it was fixed).
I’ve heard comments about how soft the yarn is, so why would it matter? I’ll leave you with this — if it didn’t matter, would the manufacturer choose to pay a premium to include it? Would it be half of its name?
Of course it matters.
As for the keystoning issue, I’ll point you to a great article to read. Knit blogger, yarn store worker, and attorney Carol wrote an excellent overview. She gives you the basics of anti-trust (where this issue falls from a legal standpoint) and walks you through several scenarios to help you make your own informed decision.
It’s an excellent article, and one that really made me think. Don’t you just love smart women?
Important Note: I considered turning off comments (which I’ve never done before) because initially I wrote this to get my thinking together and share it. However, I’m looking forward to hearing your comments on it, regardless of your perspective. All I ask is that (to quote Carol) you play nice.

8 thoughts on “The Business of Yarn

  1. I work in a yarn store and the owner’s personal opinion tends to be that this is between Cascade and KFI and she resents them trying to play her as part of the argument. She also says that the papers she was sent never said that the DB Cashmerino line did *not* contain cashmere. Rather, it said that they could not conclusively prove there was or was not cashmere in the yarn.
    My husband, who has a PhD in chemistry, is a bit suspicious of the claim that “DNA” testing was performed because it’s his opinion that the processing of the yarn would destroy the DNA enough to make it inconclusive.
    Given that Noro Cash Iroha (another KFI yarn) has also been implicated by Cascade and yet has not responded, it gets curioser and curiouser.
    I think the whole thing is too bad and it makes the yarn industry as a whole look disreputable.

  2. My very limited understanding of the cashmere issue is that false negatives are very common in tests for cashmere fiber. So very often, tests will suggest that there is no cashmere fiber when there actually is. In any case, Cascade’s handling of the issue leaves much to be desired. If they were genuinely concerned about people being ripped off they should have notified the appropriate government agency in Britain then waited for the results. Blabbing to all and sundry while the issue is still in question is petty, and frankly makes me not want to support Cascade.
    As for Tilli Tomas, I never even heard of them until this whole thing happened (maybe it’s all a big scheme to get publicity??)
    But seriously, this is really between TT and their customers, much like the whole “KFI sucks as a supplier” is really between yarn stores and KFI. That said, I’m particularly piqued about the KFI issue since it leads retailers to stop carrying certain brands I like. But really, that’s a hypocritical complaint on my part. As a poor starving grad student, I buy most of my yarn on the internets anyway…

  3. Hiya, I only heard about all of this while listening to a Podcast by Lime N Violet.
    As laws are different here in Europe I didn’t really get all excited about it, although I do think it is not fair for a designer (of yarn) to force a certain price on shops. It is not her problem how much profit the shop makes from her product as long as she get what she is supposed to get.
    Cheers Eva

  4. Jody,
    Simply brilliant especially when you write ” Of course it matters.”
    I’m coming to the conclusion the culprits thought they could get away with the cashmere problem because knitters enjoy the process and look forward to what the project will be when finished instead of looking backward at what the materials really are.
    Not entirely there yet, but that’s where I’m tending to go.

  5. I think KFI and Designer Yarn are giving us the
    stonewall treatment. Bet
    they are trying to hide something. Why else wouldn’t they publish them to the public?

  6. As a (new) yarn store owner who was faced with this issue right off the bat – the whole cashmere issue had me completely confused and a bit overwhelmed until I did a LOT of research to get to the bottom of it. Ultimately, I feel horrible for Debbie Bliss – she, herself, did nothing wrong …but I did have to question why so many yarn shops are dropping all their KFI lines and refusing to work with the company.

  7. Any of you guys spin? Just sayin, but the distribution of mixed-fiber batts can vary a bit. My 50% wool 25%silk 25% cotton yarn might be 50/20/30 in spots. I dont know how yarn testers do their samples but I would think multiple samples would be the thing to do, and then average the results, to determine content.
    Insofar as DNA testing I am sure that dyeing and bleaching would throw the results but what about the untreated fiber?

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