Monday, April 6, 2009

Lion Brand

Once again, I stand corrected. Initially, I thought I might skip Lion Brand Studio (34 W. 15th StreetNew York, NY 10011 Phone: 212-243-9070 altogether, given that it is not really a “yarn store”, but a company that produces yarn, and--I thought--a chain of some sort. I was expecting a kind of “Woolworth quality”, which in Germany means acrylics and other plastics in garish colors. The window, a knitted New York cityscape designed by Robyn Love--complete with pigeons, taxis, and a crocheted King Kong--finally drew me in, and I decided to get over myself and step into the studio.

(Mayor Bloomberg knitting)

(NYC skyskape)
I was in for a shock. Right behind the entrance was a beautiful display crocheted and knitted out of organic cotton (the yarn of the month). The theme was spring showers. Blue crocheted rain was dripping off of umbrellas into a knitted stream, onto amigurumi birds in a wash basin.

I asked for the manager and met Patty Lyons. She told me that the studio does carry acrylics, but that most of its inventory is natural. In fact, the store itself is made of replenishable (bamboo floor) or recycled (the counter) materials. It is lit only by low-energy light bulbs. “David insisted on being eco- friendly,” she said.

Patty introduced me to David Blumenthal, the current CEO and third generation of Blumenthals to operate the business. The company has been around since 1878 and started on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. Originally it produced yarns and shipped them out to other stores. After many years on the Lower East Side, the office moved to 15th street, where it is today. The CEO office used to be on the ground floor, but as more space became available in the building, the family bought one floor, then another, and finally the entire building. Today it houses the CEO offices, the design team, and the studio, which opened November 2008. Some of the company, including sales (if I wrote that down right), is now in NJ.

After David went back upstairs, Patty showed me around the store some more. She brought me to a corner with two computers, where customers can download free knitting patterns. The archives are extensive and can be accessed by any computer from their website as well (there are also some patterns that are not free, such as some beautiful Nicky Epstein items). We walked by a table where one of the instructors was teaching a beginners amigurumi class. “This,” Patty said, “Is our new LB Collection.”

I was looking at boxes filled with cashmere, stainless steel, cotton-bamboo, organic wool, and merino. There were no mixed colors, but the palette was quite beautiful. “It took two years to get the cashmere made,” Patty explained. “It’s Italian cashmere, not the cheaper one from China.” Given that, the low price was impressive! “It’s the Lion Brand philosophy,” Patty said, “to keep things affordable but to produce good quality at the same time.” She told me that there were over 50 yarns produced by Lion Brand, but only about 25 in the store. “The rest can be seen on these paper sticks over here,” she said. “You can order them and we will ship them straight to your house, even if you order just one ball.”

Another thing that was unusual, and is I guess the luxury of a company that produces its own yarn, was the Sample Wall.

The sample wall was also thought up by David, who wanted his customers to be able to try out the product before they buy it. Any customer can come in and wrap up a sample of any yarn they want. They can borrow a pair of knitting needles and sit and knit a swatch to find the right size needle and to try out the yarn. The store offers an extensive class schedule, including weaving and knitting with a machine. In addition to classes taught in-house, the website has free online instructions.

Once a month (at the beginning of the month) Lion Brand hosts Knit Flicks: a movie and knitting/crocheting night. Each movie that is screened has to contain at least one scene where someone knits. At the end of each month, the store is closed to women for Men’s Night. No women, not even women staff are allowed in the store...

“David loves fiber artists,” Patty continued. Aside from allowing artists such as Robyn to show their work in the window, the store gives over a large red brick wall to a different fiber artist ever couple of months. Well-known knitters such as Nicky Epstein are invited to talk about their craft (and their lives), and to show their designs. Martha Stuart has worked with the store a number of times, and the night before I came, Vogue Knitting held its Spring Fashion show at the studio.

Before I left, I asked Patty my seven questions:

Me: When did the store open?

Patty: Last November (2008).

Me: How was the location chosen?

Patty: The company was in the building already.

Me: Who is your staff?

Patty: David Blumenthal is the CEO. I am the manager, James is the assistant manager, Will teaches, and Tracy helps out with the store and teaches crocheting. Claire and Michelle knit samples and sell yarn, and are available for pattern questions. Anyone who works here has to know how to knit and crochet. Since it is a large company, there are designers and various other departments, including sales and advertising.

Me: What is important to LB when they make yarns?

Patty: We are definitely very concerned with the environment. Quality and a good value is important to us. We will always offer acrylics, but the newer yarns are more and more natural. It allows a large price range although we try to keep the entire line affordable.

Me: What kinds of classes do you teach?

Patty: We have an online tutorial that is free, and we teach a great number of classes here. Our schedule can be found online.

Me: Who makes the store samples?

Patty: The design team and some of the floor staff.

Me: I guess “What got you into yarns?” is not a necessary question since the company has been around for so many years… Well, what got YOU into yarns?

Patty: I was a stage manager. There’s a lot of downtime, so it lent itself to knitting. At some point I realized I liked knitting more than theater.

Me: Do you think things have changed because of the economy?

Patty: I think they have changed a lot, particularly here, because our yarn is so reasonable. I think people feel a connection to their family and it is something that is relaxing. When you make something with your own hands, it just is much more personal.

Me: Thanks, I’ve got to run!

I grabbed some beautiful buttons, some cashmere, and my umbrella, and headed back uptown. I felt very small (at 6 foot 1, that is quite an accomplishment), and from now on I will watch my cynical brain and gather a little bit more information before I form my opinions :-)


Susie said...

Once again you perfectly capture the feel of the store and the environment. I love how you can cast aside preconceived notions, go in with an open mind and write up a great and informative review.

She Crafty said...

Thanks so much for this post! I, too, was skeptical about what their retail store would bring to teh table but am now totally excited to go and check it out. And maybe take a class or two. It sounds fantastic.