This year we journey together to explore our knitting roots and learn more about knitters and designers of many different backgrounds. As part of this project, I’ve created a series of guest posts to introduce you to designers who are women of color. Enjoy this guest post by Fatimah Hinds about how being a person of color can negatively affect business and sales in the knitting world. Yes, in the knitting world.
Hi my name is Fatimah! I’ve been knitting for about 12 years now. (Where has the time gone!?!) I started designing because I have a problem with authority or so my friends and family say. Once I decided what to knit I would always be thinking of mods to make it look just so…I’ll just add a cable here…this should have short sleeves…why isn’t there ribbing here? Eventually those same friends and family mentioned above suggested that I may as well just write my own patterns. At the same time, I gave birth to one, then another beautiful boy who needed squishy hat to keep them warm. After being accosted on the street repeatedly my husband exclaimed ‘You need to sell these!’ and within a couple of years Handknit by Fatimah and Fatimah Hinds Designs were born.
Back in the day as I scrolled through hundreds, nay thousands, of patterns I noticed that very seldom was the smiling face one that looked like mine, no brown skin, no big, curly hair. It’s fairly common that only certain body types and certain skin tones are represented so it’s something that we’re accustomed to seeing (or not seeing, as it were). Independent published an article back in 2008 discussing the belief held by some fashion insiders that “black models don’t sell.” (gasp!) More recently in 2015, the Washington Post wrote an article summarizing a study asking if race affected eBay sales. Spoiler alert: the answer is yes. The study found that baseball cards being held by a lighter skinned hand in product photos sold at higher prices that those being held by a darker skinned hand. And that the darker the person on the card itself the less money the card fetched from buyers. Hmmmm… There is a lot to say about this but the gist is that if you want to sell something a white person should be the face…or hand…of it.
When I began to sell my own products the logistics of being my own model made it an obvious choice. I opened my Etsy shop back in 2012. To date I haven’t seen much success with sales coming almost exclusively from family and friends. When I began, I used mostly my black family to show off my products. Now I don’t claim that this is the sole reason as to why I’m not an Etsy millionaire (is that a thing?). Maybe it was because during my first few years I had terrible photos. No really, they were laughably bad. I can’t even look at them…okay that’s not true because my kids are adorable but you get the idea. Or because the ‘knit items’ section on Etsy has literally MILLIONS of entries. I mean how does anyone get noticed in a field that dense!?! But I do believe that race, mine and that of potential buyers, plays some role. How many people saw a black face and kept scrolling? I’ve since made some changes to my shop…better pictures, models that aren’t related to me, and I’m advertising more. If any and all of those things can contribute to boosting my sales, we shall see. I hope that it does.
My designs were another place where convenience placed me in front of the camera. Full disclosure: I love to be photographed. A good friend who is an awesome photographer/knitwear designer offered me a trade: she would photo my designs and I would model hers. At the start of the arrangement I was just grateful to have access to high quality photos to use to sell my designs.
But as race returned to the forefront of conversation I wanted to revisit the agreement. “You do know that there will be fewer people buying your designs with me modeling them, right?” I asked during a weekly knit night. “Yes, and I don’t care. Seeing different faces is important. If those people won’t buy from me because of that then I don’t want their business,” was her reply. I loved that she was literally putting her (potential) money where her mouth is.
Today, I’m seeing more and more faces of all colors in knitting magazines, on Ravelry searches, and in yarn catalogs. Black women and girls of different complexions are being featured throughout the knitting world, an evolution that I’ve enjoyed watching. But there is still work to be done! We all benefit from seeing people of all backgrounds, looks, abilities, genders represented in the things we buy because the knitting world includes all of those people! I’m willing to do my part if you need a ham—I mean model—I selflessly offer up my face. This offer has nothing to do with my love of photo taking…Totally unrelated…
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