Sunday, September 19

Turning her hobby into business

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Eleanor shows some of her knitted items.

Single mum now has her own label of knitted products, aims to come out with more collections

WITH a strong love for beautiful handmade products, Eleanor Nandong has transformed her hobby in knitting into a growing business.

She established her label ‘Benang’ nearly three years ago, and has since persevered and earned her place amongst a handful of knitters in Sarawak.

“I have always dreamed of creating my own label.

“I found the opportunity upon coming back to settle down in Kuching about two and a half years ago,” she told thesundaypost.

Home-based enterprise

Her venture capitalised on her training at Sewtech Fashion Academy in Auckland, New Zealand, where she lived in for more than five years before returning to her home city.

She said in relation to her being a single mother, the idea behind Benang was to generate sustainable income while enjoying the flexibility to work at home, which would allow her to always be close to her young son.

These cute baby booties and beanie would keep your little one snug and warm.

“I started making baby blankets as gifts and later, more baby clothes and products after my son was born. Basically what you see in my shop are the things that I would personally wear or use,” said Eleanor, 35, whose son is now aged five.

Adding on, she said her knitted collections had always been based on ‘comfort, timelessness and wearability’.

“I started by selling knitted headbands, which I first created for myself to wear on ‘bad hair’ days, or on days when I would be rushing about and having no time to fix my hair,” she chuckled.

Asked about the trend and the art of knitting in Kuching, Eleanor described it as being ‘a rather small community’ if compared with those overseas.

The different types of knitted headbands designed by Eleanor.

She added that in the future, her goal would be to set up and run a local knitting class after the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions.

“That (class) is definitely in the pipeline, where I am able to conduct a class for knitting and crocheting,” said Eleanor, who is of Iban-Kayan parentage.

She believed that knitting could also be beneficial to a person’s mental health, in that its repetitive and rhythmic motions could help reduce stress.

Mastering the basics

Knitting needles and yarn – the most basic tools for knitting.

For those wishing to pick up knitting, having a pair of chopsticks and a roll of yarn ready would be a good way to start, said Eleanor.

She then advised the newbies to learn the basics from various tutorials that could be found on YouTube.

“On YouTube, you can learn the basics such as ‘casting on’ and the ‘knit stitch’. That’s actually how I learned to knit,” she said, pointing out that the most basic steps that one should learn would be ‘casting on’, the basic ‘knit stitch’ and then, ‘casting off’.

“Once you’ve acquired these skills, it’s easier to learn other stuff.”

According to Eleanor, once the basics have been covered, only then the guide-books would become handy to further sharpen one’s knitting skills.

The next step, she said, would be to invest in a pair of proper knitting needles or a crochet hook – both could be easily found at many local crafts shops, or via online.

“Also, you need to have a pair of scissors and some rolls of yarn. There are actually a few shops at Kenyalang Park Commercial Centre that sell these items,” she added.

Not without its challenges

Eleanor said she acquired knitting skills mostly through self-learning and continuous practice.

When she first run her business, gauging the time to finish an order was one of her biggest concerns because knitting a product by hand would take a long time; thus, making it very challenging to hit a certain target on time.

She said for a typical adult beanie, it would take two to four days to complete a piece, depending on the intricacy of its design and typically, such order would use one to two skeins of yarn.

Two of Eleanor’s slouch beanie designs.

On the types of yarns being used, Eleanor said if the cost of raw material was not an issue, organic materials such as the wool from merino, alpaca and possum are the best options as they give the final product ‘that amazing texture and feel’.

However, her personal preference for now are bamboo viscose and cotton yarn, which are more suitable for a hotter climate.

She said most of her pieces had been made using basic techniques such as ‘continental knitting’.

“A more advanced or special technique that I have been using is double-knitting, where both sides of a product are mirror images of a pattern,” she added.

“Currently, I have produced headbands, beanies for adults and babies, bags and shawls; the products to be released soon are lanyards.

“I will, most probably, add in more (items) in the near future because I love designing new things, especially beanies – my favourite (thing) to knit.”

For custom orders or unique designs, she said each could take up to a week to be completed as she would have to design every item beforehand.

“There bound to be some trials and errors during the knitting process,” she said, disclosing that a big bulk of her products had actually been custom-made to customers’ requests and preferences.

Every one of these customers, she pointed out, would provide her with some rough ideas about the requirements for their orders, including the colour preferences.

“After the product is packed and sold, I feel extremely proud because tons of time, effort and love have been poured into a single item, and to see someone wearing what I love creates this amazing feeling,” she said.

Photo shows Benang’s first-ever hippie tote bag.

Capitalising on social media

For those keen on setting up a knitting business, Eleanor assured them that it was normal to not know where to start, or how to convince people to buy the niche products.

She admitted that promoting Benang was a challenge in the beginning; however, she also knew that this was a normal process for any new brand.

“Thankfully, social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have helped a lot in promoting my shop and my products. These platforms should be fully taken advantage by aspiring knitters who want to turn their hobby into a trade,” she added.

Nonetheless, not all was business to Eleanor.

In June, Benang became part of a food-bank drive organised and run by an eatery in Kuching, of which this initiative was meant to ease the burden of those affected by the lockdown.

“I felt the urge to give back to the community by giving a portion of Benang’s sales into aiding food banks and food aid drives in Kuching as many people are facing hardships at the moment.

“I believe this is how I can contribute,” she pointed out.

Eleanor said she would continue looking out for more organisations that could use some help through small-scale funding.

“I believe that every bit of contribution counts,” she said.

To know more about Benang, go to https://www.facebook.com/benang.by.ellenandong.