One of the huge perks in this buisness is that we get to meet a lot of people who are passionate about yarns and fashion, and some are fortunate enough to have made a career out of it. One of the best in this category is a yarn representative named Antonia Shankland. Her background is steeped in sales, retailing and, recently, designing. Antonia represents some of the finest yarn providers in the industry, including Madeline Tosh, Woolfolk,The Fiber Company, Shibui Yarn, and Manos del Uruguay. It's always a pleasure to sit and talk with her during one of her frequent trips to NYC. With that in mind, we asked her to be a guest blogger so that she could share with our customers how and why she's in the business. Here's her story, in her own words:
I come from a long line of merchants so becoming a yarn shop owner and a sales rep was a natural thing to do. My family is from Holland and my mother's sister ran a delicatessen shop in Amsterdam. When I was a kid I used to love to go visit her and would follow her into the shop when customers came in. When I was five years old, I wanted to own a candy shop, and, in the 80's, that dream became a reality -- only instead of a candy shop I owned a yarn shop, which is a candy shop of sorts.
I learned how to knit, crochet, embroider, sew - all the needle arts - while in primary and high school. (It's part of the curriculum in Holland). My first knitting project was a dish cloth. I can't tell you how many times the teacher ripped out my work, so this is probably NOT where my love of knitting started.
However, my affair with it did take root when I owned my own yarn shop. By then I had married and moved from Holland to the US. When an opportunity arose, I took over a fledgling yarn shop in Montclair, New Jersey. It was the 80's and Kaffe Fassett was the guru of the knitting world. My shop had everything Rowan, and it was a happy time for me. After 8 years, I had to give it all up because we moved to Europe. We lived there for 10 years, and while in Paris, I took up a variety of arts. I call those years my retirement, but perhaps they laid some foundation for my later work as a designer.
When our time abroad was over, we moved back to the States and an old friend in the business called me and said that I should consider becoming a sales rep. It did seem like a natural segue for me since the companies I wound up working for knew me from my time as a shop owner. That was 15 years ago, and I have never looked back.
At that time, the boom in the yarn industry had started and, in one year, I tripled my customer base. New stores were sprouting up everywhere! However, one of the important things to know about the yarn business is that it's a cyclical one. So when people ask me about a career selling yarns, that is something I always mention. You have to prepare for the lean years as well as the good ones. A successful rep knows that it's important to keep that in mind and plan accordingly. At present, knitting is popular but the retail business is not booming, and, in my territory, the number of stores have gone from 150 to 75.
I love being a rep and I have been very fortunate to have worked with some wonderful companies. I try to work with those that don't compete with one other. I tend to enjoy smaller firms where the passion for fiber and knitting is strong and brand image is well maintained. I'm never bored since the industry changes all the time. After all these years it still excites me and I consider myself very lucky to be part of this world.
Recently, spurred on by the beautiful yarns I handle daily, I began to create my own designs, My very first design started when I became the rep for Madeline Tosh. I bought a couple of skeins of Tosh DK and started to look for pattern stitches. I checked out the variety of stitches in the Barbara Walker books and quickly found my inspiration. I knitted up a swatch, figured out how to translate the rows to accommodate knitting in the round and, voila, my "honey cowl" came into being.
I sent the cowl to Amy at Tosh and she put it up on Ravelry. It was amazing to see how quickly this project shot up. After 8 years, it still is very popular and I have many knitters who tell me that they have made multiple honey cowls in all kinds of different yarns. I am very flattered.
Needless to say, it got me off and running. My pieces are straight forward rectangles: scarves, shawls and cowls - no shaping required. I like interesting stitches and sophisticated color combinations. The first company who paid me for my designs was Shibui Knits. Many of them are up on Ravelry and are free with purchase of yarn. Recently, Woolfolk became another customer and my designs for them can be found on Ravelry, as well.
Some of my personal favorite knitwear designers include Olga Jazzy, Melanie Berg, Julie Hoover, and Michele Wang. There are many more but that would take another whole page to list. Much of my inspiration comes from architecture, weaving, and the collections from the Paris, London, Milan, New York, and Stockholm shows. I do have the app "Vogue Runway" on my phone to keep up with all the latest catwalks Some of the clothing designers I admire are Proenza Schouler, Helmut Lang, Issey Miyake, Prabal Gurung, and Belstaff. I also have a secret Pinterest board, where I store images that intrigue me, and sometimes they make their way into one of my patterns.
Designs like this continue to Inspire Me
I consider myself very fortunate to work in an industry that I love. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for my life in yarn.