Ditching the Corporate Life

This co-founder quit corporate life in her early 20s. Now she’s running her own online knitting store

We Are Knitters co-founder Pepita Marin.
We Are Knitters

More than a decade ago Pepita Marin left her job at audit firm PwC to focus on her fledgling online knitting retail business.

Called We Are Knitters, the company is now turning over nearly 20 million euros ($23.8 million) a year.

Marin co-founded We Are Knitters with her colleague at PwC, Alberto Bravo. She left her job in auditing after the pair won a 10,000 euro grant for their business pitch in a competition for entrepreneurs, run by a university in Spain.

Marin told CNBC via email that she was able to leave her corporate job because she felt the "opportunity was real" with We Are Knitters.

"I knew someday I (would) be my (own) boss," Marin said, although she admittedly thought she would be older when it happened, but she felt she needed to take the opportunity when it came.

Marin also said she would "always be grateful" for the fact that she as able to live with her parents while she wasn't earning money and was trying to get the business off the ground, acknowledging that "not everybody can do that."

But even with the freedom that being a CEO has given her, Marin recognized that she would still always be answerable to someone, whether that be an investor, business partner or her employees. On the plus side, however, heading up her own business has enabled Marin to balance her work and private life "without asking permission."

Marin said that people assume that her previous job in auditing at PwC would have nothing to do with starting an online knitting retailer. But she said that the experience was "super, super useful to start up," in terms of managing the financial side of the business and dealing with banks. 

If Marin had to give one piece of advice to any budding entrepreneurs it would be "don't do it alone because the journey is long." 

"The journey's not easy and it is very good to have someone (there) to share the successes," she added.

Pandemic boom in crafts

Marin and Bravo's idea for We Are Knitters originated on a trip to visit a colleague in New York, when they saw a "cool, hipster girl on the subway knitting," she recalled. 

Neither of them knew how to knit at time, she said, so decided to try it out of curiosity. Marin said she found it both relaxing and rewarding to create something with her own hands. 

And being a co-founder who doesn't necessarily have an existing passion for the product being sold can actually be beneficial, she said, because it allows for a "little bit of distance" to focus on the actual business. 

They noticed that this trend hadn't yet taken off in Europe and so spotted a business opportunity to revive a hobby that was still considered "old fashioned" in Spain. 

So they were well ahead of the resurgence that crafts, like knitting, has seen in recent years and the growth in popularity among younger people.

Research by U.K. charity the Crafts Council, published in June but mainly carried out prior to the coronavirus pandemic, found 73% of England's population were buying crafts in 2020, up from 17% in 2006. It also found the proportion of people under 35 buying crafts had risen to 32% from 17% in that time. 

And crafts have seen even more of a boom during the pandemic, as people have been forced to spend much more time at home due to public health restrictions.

U.K. craft retailer Hobbycraft saw its online like-for-like sales rocket by 200% during Britain's first national lockdown.

In the U.S., online sales for crafts retailer Michaels doubled in the third quarter of 2020, compared to the previous year, and its overall sales rose 15% year-on-year, to $1.4 billion. 

We Are Knitters primarily sells knitting kits and is completely online, unlike some traditional craft retailers. So it wasn't forced to shut any physical shops when the coronavirus pandemic led to the introduction of public health restrictions across the globe. 

The business has actually seen "a lot of growth" since the onset of the pandemic, Marin said, with people finding it "therapeutic" to spend time on hobbies like knitting during lockdown. Indeed, We Are Knitters saw sales increase over 300% in the U.K. alone in 2020, compared to the previous year.

Marin said the business has even seen growth in Spain, where the company is based but hadn't previously been one of its big markets, given that people spend less time inside due to the warmer weather. But Spain had one of Europe's strictest lockdowns, evidentially prompting more people to take up "indoor" hobbies, like knitting.