The home that Amanda Cohen shared with 8 other gurls during her senior year of college was affectionately known as the Retirement House. More often than not on a Friday night, the residents were to be found sitting on their couches knitting. What started as a way for broke students to pass the time and provide cheap and chic holiday gifts for their families has not only become a booming little business, but also a way for Amanda and her 2 sisters to become closer than ever.
When Amanda came home to Chicago over the 2011 winter break, her 2 younger sisters, Liza and Lily, were jealous of her new skill and stylish scarves and begged her to teach them.
“Our grandma was an avid knitter, and unfortunately no matter how many times she tried to pass this skill onto us when we were younger we never caught on” Liza says.
As adults with their elder sister as their teacher, they quickly picked up the basic knit stitch required and were hooked. While they all enjoyed the process, they soon realized that knitting scarves is a time consuming and repetitive activity with seemingly little pay off; a single piece taking weeks to complete. Lily, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the youngest of the 3, decided to try her luck with a quicker pattern – a simple, stylish knit headband. They had hit gold – a way for all of them to practice as many new patterns and colour schemes they could think of, hone their stitching skills and to enjoy the buzz that comes with having a finished product to wear and show off. The sisters were all attending college in different cities, and each went off after the break with a collection of their creations.
“We were making so many headbands, but we had nothing to do with them … As soon as we went back to our respective schools after winter break, I began getting compliments on my scarves and headbands,” Liza, who is studying at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, says. “When I told my friends, who had no clue I knew how to knit that I had made them they were shocked. I was even more shocked that they liked them. I didn’t bring any yarn with me back to school (it’s a little embarrassing to be known as the 19 year old who knits in her free time), and I regretted that decision, wishing I could make products for my friends.”
Amanda and Lily were attracting attention at their schools as well, and each began selling their wares individually, generating attention through word of mouth, Facebook and Etsy. The summer after that first very successful winter, they decided to join forces to avoid competing with each other for business, combined their pages and created their Etsy business. After sorting out the logistics, the next important step was to pick a moniker.
“Picking a name was a big debacle with us but we like the play on words we used and that our name incorporates Amanda, Liza and Lily (ALL),” Lily says.
Their store boasts an impressive variety of colours, patterns and styles, with buttons, twists and faux-bows to liven up these cozy cold weather staples. Each sister spends a few hours a night knitting, especially as winter fast approaches. They are all looking forward to this coming season as every indication shows it will be a busy one. College students make up a huge part of their buying demographic and headbands in school colours are a popular request.
The Cohen sisters credit their success so far to their policy of personalized and excellent customer service, and enthusiastic use of social media to promote their product.
“We used a lot of social media to [get the word out], inviting people to ‘like’ us on Facebook and Instagram, and then urging them to check out our Etsy page. Anytime someone would purchase a headband, we made sure to tell them to tell all their friends about it and were thrilled to discover that they really would! We were very aggressive with our online presence, being sure to constantly update the Facebook, Instagram and Etsy page, working to bring our products to consumers rather than wait for them to come to us,” Liza says. “When people would casually mention that they loved our headbands, I would go out of my way to send them the link to the Etsy page, or make a headband in their favourite colour, and urge them to buy it.”
This promotional strategy is paying off in spades, and the long term goal of the A.L.L. Ears ladies is to see their products in stores. For this winter, they’re hoping to sell over 300 headbands and continue to see their enterprise grow.
The gurls’ knitting schedules are flexible, depending on what is going on in their lives and how much time they can devote, but each makes an effort to pull her own weight and they all strive to keep the lines of communication open.
“It’s fun working with my sisters because I can be super honest with them and we are all good about doing our fair share of the work,” Amanda says.
As their business grows, it has also helped the girls to maintain their relationship across state lines. “I love working together because it is keeping us really close even though we now all live in different places … Working with my sisters has taught me how to deal with others and manage people,” Amanda says.
They’ve come a long way since knitting half scarves in 2011. Although A.L.L. Ears is expanding rapidly, the sisters seem focused on enjoying their relationship, opened lined of communication and link to their family history. It’s clear they feel a sense of well-deserved pride in what they are doing.
“My grandma was a big knitter before she passed away a year ago, so it has also allowed me to feel this connection with something that she loved so much,” Lily says. “I know she would be very proud of us and the work we’re doing.“