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. In this post, the fifth post in the series, we meet Melina Gingras from OMG Yarns who says, “The road to change is paved with yarn.”
How My Yarn Business More Than Just A Yarn Business
Every time I got a lecture from my folks as a teenager, it usually contained the phrase, “Whenever you leave this house, you represent this family and you need to represent it well.” I had to be perfect: not just because I was the oldest child and I needed to set the example, but also because our little family of four had integrated our suburban Milwaukee neighborhood and I represented peoples’ view of my perceived race.
On the outside, you may guess that I am African American and some people may even correctly identify my Latina heritage, but there’s so much more bubbling beneath the surface. With many family members studying our genealogy on both sides these days, I can proudly proclaim that I am a Jamaican, Costa Rican, Native American, French, German, Irish, Swiss, Chinese American with a hint of African American in there. That’s a LOT of representing to do, right?
But why is outlining my heritage so important?
The socio-political climate these days has made existing as a minority female a little bit more…precarious. In the fiber arts industry, especially, terms like cultural appropriation get thrown around in order to defend underrepresented groups (and rightly so).
I’m also starting to see more and more women of color (WOC) knit and crochet designers and business owners and we ALL silently get the task of becoming role models for the next generation of young women that look like us who never thought they’d see so many WOC succeeding in the fiber arts industry.
So, as a first generation daughter of a man who grew up in Jamaica, my business represents an idea that my grandparents had for themselves. They wanted better lives for their children and grandchildren, did the unthinkable, and moved to Wisconsin from Jamaica during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
My Business Honors My Father’s Hard Work
My father is a pioneer in his industry, one of the first few black commercial airline pilots. He went from a home in Jamaica that had no hot water, to life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he met my mother. Then, against all odds, he successfully graduated with a business degree from the University of Minnesota, joined the military where he learned how to fly, and later became a pilot for American Airlines.
None of it was easy. None of his struggles stopped him from being so much more than a Milwaukee statistic AND my mother’s hard work at home with my brother and I in tow kept us all afloat while he was off flying the not-so-friendly skies.
My Yarn Business Honors My Hard Work
I was always taught to be humble about my accomplishments, so I don’t often recognize how hard I’ve worked to get to a point where I can work from home to be with my children. I learned discipline from being a classical musician for many years. When I wanted to prove that I was capable of doing more than just playing music, I used that determination, ability to focus, and complete everything I start to get a college degree (and then an MBA).
I worked in health care and learned more about business, law, respectfully leading others, and myself, finally deciding that I could better help others owning my own business. When I finally opened a yarn shop in 2012, I had found my calling. I also noticed that I did not need to hire an accountant or retain a business attorney. Fighting with doctors and other administrators like myself gave me the perseverance I needed to advocate for my business in a so-called man’s world (and continue to speak out for women’s health and rights).
From Here I Choose Change through Fiber Arts
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, “The road to change is paved with yarn.” I choose craftivism to help make change. I choose yarn to help show my appreciation for my various cultures and educating others on the origins of those arts by making things my own, a true celebration of the melting pot that is my in blood and the country I was born in.
I choose to support small businesses while growing my own. I started from day one using suppliers that reflect that dedication to small, boutique fiber arts enterprise. Whenever I make profit, I use that to help others in need where I can through donation and being a patron to local businesses.
I choose to help represent WOC well and hope to pass on the fiber arts tradition to future generations while creating a safe environment for EVERYONE to express themselves through yarn and fiber. If my children want to join me, they are welcome – in fact, they have always been involved in the process, helping choose colors, accompanying me to the yarn shop when it was open, and showing great appreciation for handmade items, especially ones that I make for them, because they see how much work and love goes into it.
My oldest son has finally started to master the chain stitch in crochet and my two youngest are already taking an interest in the fiber arts as well. My three year old son was delighted to see how I dyed yarn with coffee.
I hope I gave you readers a little bit more insight into what motivates OMG Yarn to continue moving forward. I will never regret diving in head first into the fiber arts industry that has always welcomed me with open arms, sassy-mouthed, nerd brain and all.
Learn more about Melina and OMG Yarn here: