Fiber Arts Interviews

How This Entrepreneur Went From a Healthcare Career to Yarn Business Owner

Jake Kenyon, founder of Kenyarn.
Photo courtesy of Jake Kenyon/Kenyarn.

Jake Kenyon is the founder of Kenyarn, which produces hand-dyed, small-batch wool fiber for knitting, crocheting, weaving, macramé and embroidery. He began selling his hand-dyed yarn in 2018 as a side hustle. As the pandemic lockdowns of 2020 inspired many of us to take up hobbies, including knitting and crocheting, demand for Jake’s hand-dyed yarn increased. The maker left his job as a speech language pathologist to pursue Kenyarn full-time in early 2021. Like the brand’s fans, we adore Kenyarn’s bold color stories. We caught up with Jake to learn more about him and his craft.

Artisan Joy: How did you begin dyeing yarn?

Jake Kenyon: Since I can remember, I have been deeply invested in the visual arts and, as a child, was thoroughly enamored with color. I loved sidewalk chalk, face painting and was always enrolled in an art class. In 2017 I began crocheting out of necessity during a particularly anxiety-inducing period of graduate school. After learning to crochet, I discovered through Instagram the world of hand-dyed yarn. After purchasing a few books and some small jars of dye, I began dyeing my own yarn in the comfort of my kitchen.

Skeins of hand-dyed yarn from Kenyarn.
Photo courtesy of Jake Kenyon/Kenyarn.

AJ: When did you realize that you could turn yarn dyeing into a full-time business?

JK: I first released a small batch of yarn to an Etsy shop in 2018 and made a very limited amount of income that year. Since that time, sales have grown steadily, and in February of 2021, I left my job as a speech language pathologist to pursue Kenyarn full-time.

AJ: Where do you find inspiration for your creations?

JK: I find inspiration from everywhere—nature, magic, astrology, my favorite cartoon villains and even some of my favorite films. It’s such a fun experience to bring characters or concepts to life in a color palette on bare wool

AJ: How do you apply that inspiration to your work?

JK: I really only dye from themes that deeply inspire me. If the inspiration is not there, it will not translate well to my yarn.

AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

JK: I think folks often assume I have been doing this my entire life. I received my master’s in speech language pathology in 2015. Then, from 2015 to 2021, I worked full-time in an acute care hospital setting.

Woman wearing a multi-colored scarf/shawl made with yarn from Kenyarn.
Photo courtesy of Jake Kenyon/Kenyarn.

AJ: As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?

JK: Yarn dyeing is very fickle. Often times a planned experiment can go completely awry. In many cases, some of my “worst” mistakes have actually produced my most popular colourways! I struggled with perfectionism a lot when I first started this business but have realized that my audience appreciates my authentic self and the “colorful chaos” style of dyeing and visual marketing. I try to be myself 100 percent of the time, from every interaction on social media to greeting customers at in-person events!

AJ: When it comes to running a creative business, what keeps you going through the ups and downs?

JK: I think checking in with my body regularly, both physically and emotionally, is very important. I also take periodic days of rest where I completely log off social sites to really have time for myself in my own home without my business pinging in the background. I have seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows but trusting in your art and allowing those moments to shape you keeps me moving forward. I would be lying if I said everything I’ve ever done is a wild success! I have had some terrible failures, but I’ve learned from every one of them!

AJ: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in putting their work out into the world but feels vulnerable about it?

JK:  I say “screw the world”! Haha, I jest. But in some ways, I’m serious. If your work brings you joy and makes you feel alive—it will have the same effect on a customer or patron. Believe me, take the risk. No one ever discovered greatness by playing it safe.

Skeins of hand-dyed yarn from Kenyarn.
Photo courtesy of Jake Kenyon/Kenyarn.

AJ: Has someone ever criticized your work? How did you handle it?

JK: I tend to get criticism at in-person markets from the ‘Debbie Downers’ who ‘would never buy expensive yarn like that.’ When, in fact, they are deeply unaware of how much more eco-conscious buying sustainably sourced wool is and just how much more quality is in merino wool than the acrylic yarn you buy at a craft store. I often try to approach those moments with education rather than just convincing someone to buy my yarn. Also, if someone truly doesn’t see the value in my art, I don’t necessarily want them to have it!

AJ: Creatives are often very in tune with what’s happening in the world. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. If this happens to you, how do you cope?

JK: I try to stay engaged in the world and the political climate. I do often get very overwhelmed, but I try every day to use my platform to enact change and to educate folks. I am a huge supporter of civil rights, trans rights, and women’s reproductive health. Each year I try to host multiple raffles for various products in my shop. Since the start of my business, I have donated over $12,000 to various charities, including Black Lives Matter, Rainbow Railroad and Trans Lifeline. Although I can’t change the entire world, I can certainly try and change my small corner of it.

Skeins of hand-dyed yarn from Kenyarn.
Photo courtesy of Jake Kenyon/Kenyarn.

AJ: And, of course, we have to ask you this: What brings you joy?

JK: There are so many things that bring me joy. Inside of my business, I find joy in interactions with my employees, selling someone their first skein of yarn, seeing the creations people make with their Kenyarn. Outside of my business, I find joy in spending time with my partner, my best friends and my doggy niece and nephew. I love reading, knitting, using my Tarot deck and walking on the bike path!

Thanks, Jake! Kenyarn hand-dyed yarn, knitting patterns and more can be found at kenyarn.com. You can also follow the brand on Instagram and Facebook.

This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.

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