Hartford native and Sassy Black Yarns Founder Lakisher Hurst is passionate about yarn dyeing, colors, and textures. Encouraged by a colleague, she opened an online store during the COVID-19 pandemic. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Lakisher about launching her business and her hopes for the future.
NAN PRICE: When and why were you encouraged to launch your business?
LAKISHER HURST: My yarn obsession began in 1998, when I was in the military and had the opportunity to tour a fabric mill in Seoul, Korea. Fast forward to 2009, when my first son was born and I took a crochet class to learn how to make him a blanket. I’ve been crocheting ever since.
About a year ago, a coworker told me, “You’re the sassiest black woman I know, you need to combine that sass with your yarn obsession and have your own yarn making company.”
I had been toying around with the idea for a while—and my husband had been telling me for years to just start my own business. There’s nothing like having your own, you can still work for other people, but there’s a sense of security and pride and ownership once you own your own company.
I’ve been fortunate enough to still be working during COVID-19 and I was I was able to work from home. I was thinking: There’s nothing stopping me from doing it. I have a little bit of free time during the day. Let me just do it. And, on June 4, I just said, you know what, I’m going to start my company today.
Honestly, I never wanted to own a business because I’ve worked at many places where I’ve seen the headaches that come with owning a business and all the responsibilities, especially if you have employees. I’ve always been perfectly fine working for somebody else. I love my full-time job. If I didn’t have a side business I was passionate about, I’d probably try to stay there forever.
But now I have a better appreciation of the business side from owning my own business. And at this point, I don’t have any other employees. I utilize my kids to do heavy lifting and help me name the yarns.
NAN: As you were starting your business, did you utilize any resources or did you just jump in?
LAKISHER: I jumped in probably headfirst—not even feet first! I didn’t have a business plan or a vision board. I just knew that I wanted to do it.
I did all the paperwork to start my business online. I had like 50 browser windows open, just trying to figure out everything on my own! Later, I discovered the Women’s Business Development Council, the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford, and Greater Hartford SCORE, which had a lot of resources I wish I had read up on before I actually launched the business. It would have made it more seamless. Those organizations have offered a wealth of knowledge since I’ve started.
They’ve helped me home in on who my target audience is, where I should do my marketing, and how I should do my marketing. I just started writing my business plan. Before it was just an idea, now I’m starting to actually put everything together.
NAN: Have you been able to network and make some connections with other business owners in the Hartford area?
LAKISHER: Locally I’ve been trying to attach myself to anybody I could try to work with—not necessarily to form collaborations, but just to get business ideas. Because business ownership is all new to me. Before I launched my business, I really didn’t know anything about legal structures, taxes, keeping the books, or anything like that.
I’ve also reached out to a couple of the local yarn stores to see if they’d be interested in carrying my yarns, and my yarns are being sold at Ewe & You Fiber Arts LLC in Windsor.
I’m hoping once COVID-19 is over, it will be easier to network and get to know people face-to-face.
NAN: How are you marketing? Who’s your target audience and how are they finding you?
LAKISHER: Marketing has been kind of fun but weird at the same time. I’ve only been in business less than a year. I don’t know the seasonality of marketing and when people want to buy yarn. So, right now, I’m marketing to everyone from those who are just starting to learn, which can include anyone from six years of age, all the way to people in their mid-40s.
I’m also targeting people who have been knitting and crocheting pretty much all their lives. I want to introduce them to a different style of yarn than what they’re accustomed to seeing. So, it’s a broad market right now because I’m new and I’m trying to get my name out there.
NAN: What makes your products different?
LAKISHER: I offer a boldness and a uniqueness you can’t necessarily find by walking into one of the big-box stores. My yarns are all hand-dyed and many are variations of each other or they could have five or six different colors in one skein.
NAN: What’s your future vision for Sassy Black Yarns?
LAKISHER: I would love to do some type of a class where I teach beginners, whether it’s kids or adults, how to crochet so they can learn to make something simple like a scarf or a washcloth.
My goal is to eventually have my own space where I can dye yarn, because right now I’m doing out of my home. My kitchen and my basement are my primary workplaces and trying to maneuver around four kids under 15 and my husband is sometimes a little challenging—but we make it work.
Having a space in the future would help with one of the challenges of being an online store, too. Yarn suppliers are a little different than other retailers because people like to touch yarn. They want to feel the textures and imagine what they could make with it. That’s kind of hard to do online. It’s still possible, but if you’re a fiber artist you like to touch and feel things.
NAN: Any advice for others who are starting out?
LAKISHER: For anybody even remotely thinking about getting into business for themselves, I would tell them just to do it. You never know what you can achieve once you actually put yourself out there. I didn’t expect to be where I am today with the company—it’s not like I’m making millions of dollars or anything! But I never expected to have a loyal following this fast into the game.
Just put yourself out there. You never know what’s going to happen. And even if you fail, that just means that you learned a whole bunch of lessons for your next venture.