You can address anyone that you know who knits (or crochets) and ask them “why do you knit (or crochet)?” or some variation thereof, and the response you'll get is something like:
“For my mental health.” “It's meditative.” “It gives me something to do with my hands.” “It helps me with stress.”
“It relaxes me.”
These responses aren't inherently untrue - of course many of us find the calming/de-stressing elements of crafting to be a huge benefit.
In many cases, hearing about these benefits are the reason why we started knitting or crocheting in the first place.
But is that the reason we keep knitting? I mean, maybe. But probably not.
The point I want to start with here is that we typically don't make purchases for the reasons we think we do. Our subconscious is always deeper at work than we realize.
The Social Dynamics of Knitting
Earlier this year, in the Fiber Business Collective, our book club read - Alchemy: The Curious Science & Dark Art of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life by Rory Sutherland (btw, that's an affiliate link). In addition to his British quips and great sense of humor, there's one takeaway that's sitting really heavy with me…
We are deeply social creatures. Yes, even if you're an introvert, you're social.
In flock species, such as birds or sheep, animals will avoid showing signs of illness until they really can't help it anymore (aka when it's too late for intervention). This is because the flock will leave them behind or intentionally push them out if they sense illness. Both of these things are survival instincts - the flock doesn't want the illness to spread and impact everyone, but also the individual needs the protection of the flock for itself.
Our own social instincts are similar. Inclusion in our own society or culture is what our brain translates as “safety”. So, many of the decisions we make (especially in making purchases) are for the purposes of signaling something to others around us.
Unveiling the Unconscious Signaling in Knitting Choices
Think back to how the world opened up once you found the great wide world of knitting. The social world of knitting. Local knitting groups, yarn stores, Ravelry, Instagram…
All of a sudden, the game changed. What used to be a trip to Wal*Mart for some Red Heart to make a free pattern we found on a random blog becomes a hunt for the perfect fiber from the perfect indie dyer to drape the perfect way for the perfect pattern from a well-known designer that always shows up in the “Hot Right Now” section of Ravelry.
For further illustration, consider all the things that impact our choices in knitting and what those things could mean to everyone else in this hobby industry:
A choice to knit with only non-superwash yarns may signal to others that you prioritize sustainability.
Knitting Andrea Mowry's most recent pattern as your Rhinebeck sweater may tell others that you know what's trendy & cool (and maybe she'll notice and talk to you if you see her!).
Opting to use only plant-based fibers may connect you to other vegan makers.
Only buying patterns from size-inclusive or BIPOC designers is a signal that you care about body positivity and social justice.
Buying a ticket to fly out and go shop Explorer Knits's winter market is a way to show that you are part of that exclusive group (and you can subtly give everyone else on the internet FOMO).
Attending (or, formerly attending) SQUAM is a signal to others of your financial stability as well as your earthy ethos.
Are you starting to see what I'm getting at here? Many times, we do these things 1,000% unconsciously. But there's something deeper at work within us that says “I want to belong/I want to be noticed/I want to show others my financial means/I want to communicate my values/I want to show I'm relevant”.
When we talked about some of these things in our book club, and why we buy certain things, there was some giggling because it feels so silly to say “I wanted to buy that because I thought it would make me look cool".
I'm here to tell you that it's OKAY to say “I wanted to buy that because I thought it would make me look cool”.
Everybody does it! It's not selfish - it's signaling. It's an attempt to stay connected to our communities and those whose opinions matter to us.
Basically, I don't think we knit for our mental health - we knit because it communicates something to those around us or because we want it to communicate something to those around us.
If you dig deep, what are some of the reasons that you knit/crochet/make?
For myself, I'm super happy to wear my handknits in exchange for lavish praise from those around me. I'm also pretty picky about certain patterns and yarn because of certain values (but also because of the “cool” factor). I am not afraid to say that out loud.
So, here's the thing - our consumers largely are not going to be aware of their own reasons for making purchases. And even moreso, they aren't really going to want someone to say something like “Buy this because you know you want to look cool” (though I think that would be entertaining).
Rather, it's important for us to draw in our customers with what they think they want, but deliver what we know they actually need from our products/services.
Marketing Insights from the World of Yarn
When I talk about the FBC, for instance, I think a lot of people come into the group thinking they need to learn something new about marketing in order to make sales… but they end up realizing how badly they needed the bolstering community and accountability that the membership truly delivers. Yeah, you still learn stuff, but that's just the cherry on top.
Reflecting on YOUR Yarn Business
As you navigate the knitting and marketing landscape with a yarn business, design business, or otherwise, I want you to consider these questions:
What do your customers think they want?
What do your customers subconsciously want?
What can you do to communicate both their perceived needs and true needs will be met?
Feel free to share your thoughts! The intersection of knitting, consumer psychology, and marketing is incredibly fascinating.
Let’s continue unraveling the threads that connect our passions and our businesses - together. Come check out the Fiber Business Collective and join a group of dedicated peers who are working to create profitable businesses for themselves, while lifting up each other with their experience and knowledge!