• The Thread & Maple Difference: Q&A with Olga

July 29, 2022

A real highlight for us over the last 18 months has been getting to know Olga & Sam at Thread & Maple and collaborating with them on some wonderful fundraising initiatives. 

These talented ladies are the brains and designers behind some of the most classically beautiful and functional crafting tools & organisers available for makers, which we are proud to stock at Louie & Lola Yarns.

We recently sat down with them to find out a little more about running their growing business from different sides of the globe, their product design process and how they came to be!

 

 

How did Thread & Maple come about?

Thread & Maple was born in the wee hours of the night during a particularly serendipidous phone call between long-time friends Sam & Olga.

Olga was determined not to go back to her corporate life after her maternity leave was over and Sam was looking for a new challenge as her Scrumptious Purl yarn dyeing business reached maturity.

Being a die-hard knitter for most of her life, Sam wished she could get her hands on more elegant knitting organizers that just didn't seem to be out there.

Olga, being naturally drawn to design and problem-solving prompted Sam to elaborate, which produced a series of scrappy doodles of what is now the Notions Clutch, On the Go and other favourites from our collection.

We combined our love of fibre and all things Canadian to land on the name Thread & Maple and off we went!

 

Can you tell us a little about your product design process?

Our ethos is creating products that we would love and use ourselves. We tend to start with something like, "I wish I had a ____ that could ____ and ____ and looked _____ and fit into my ____ for when I need to _____".

Once we land on the raisons d'être of whatever we're envisaging, we ideate a dozen different designs as simple doodles, which we send to each other as pictures over the phone.

Since we don't live in the same city, we've developed creative ways of describing what we mean to each other. We create prototypes of our designs using paper cutouts, scraps of cardboard, ad hoc household objects taped together (true masterpieces as you can imagine) and have video calls hoping the Frankenstein will hold while we explain to each other how it would work in theory.

Once we land on the design, Olga creates a more formal file to send across to our lovely production partners, be it our leather studio in Ukraine, our woodworking husband/wife duo in Ontario, or our cork artisans in Portugal.

There are always tweaks and adjustments that come back to us, as these talented folks often come up with brilliant ideas to improve the design. One or two prototype rounds and we're off to the races!

 

What advice would you give to others looking to start their own creative business?

A big challenge in starting a business is getting started and staying motivated through those nebulous early stages. There are so many considerations, doubts, questions, unknowns, it can often feel overwhelming.

Think about what value your creative talent can deliver to others, and equally as important, to yourself. The big 'why'. It's so important to make this clear to yourself and others, write it down and always keep it in mind.

The 'how' will inevitably sprout a long to-do list, some of which you have no idea how to do.

Take comfort in knowing that many have been where you are, and most of your unknowns have answers. It's just a matter of looking - search the web, talk to friends, ask your family. Break it down into bite-sized tasks, prioritize them, and tackle them one at a time. The momentum of ticking boxes, solving little problems is imperative and addictive.

There has never been a time when information and resources for starting a business have been so available and abundant at your fingertips. There are online courses, supplier networks, tech platforms and like-minded communities like you've never imagined. Oftentimes, a well-formed Google query will get you over the hump!

 

What are your top tips on how to work successfully as co-owners who live in different locations? 
We genuinely like each other and enjoy chatting and spending time together, so staying in touch comes naturally.
The key is agreeing who is responsible for what ahead of time, so that we don't end up dropping the ball, assuming the other person is on it.
Harness a suite of tools to help you stay organized, like Google Docs or Trello, where you can keep notes and files that are important. ​
Have video chats often, as a brief call can go a long way vs writing something down in a file or system somewhere!
What Thread & Maple products are you most proud of? 

We are most proud of the Needle Binder, as it's something we've been envisaging for T&M's entire first year of existence.

It's so complex to solve the problem of a needle organizer that can work for all the different combinations of needle sets knitters may have.

After many months of research, sketches, trials and errors, we are really pleased with the final product and it brings us great joy to see fellow makers using it.

The On the Go is probably our second pick, as it's not only useful but also so darn cute!

 

What has been the biggest challenge for the business and how have you tackled it?

We've definitely had our share of challenges in our first 2 years!

The biggest one for us recently, has been managing the impact of the war in Ukraine on our business.

We work with a group of incredibly talented young leather workers there to bring our creations to life. We couldn't believe our eyes, watching the events unfold on the news and receiving photos of our leather workshop, re-purposed into a Molotov cocktail production factory.

We are constantly inspired by our team's bravery and resilience, always showing strength, hope, and courage in the face of such a terrifying situation. They quickly mobilized to provide help to battled regions and we were glad to be able to help by sending funds and equipment to various local aid groups on their behalf.

They found comfort and stability in being able to continue working, crafting needle binders, clutches and totes as they listened to music to momentarily distract from the events around them.

When the war broke out, all commercial shipping routes to and from Ukraine were closed due to air space safety concerns. As a result, we've been unable to receive any of the finished goods they'd been producing all these months.

Thanks to their resourcefulness and commitment, we have at last managed to secure a reliable shipping route just a few weeks ago through a neighbouring country and are now at last flooded with leather stock!

Now we are managing the challenge of organizing piles of boxes in our tiny office and processing a queue of backorders for needle binders heading to shops worldwide. We are grateful to them and most of all to our customers, who supported us throughout this difficult period.

 

Any sneak peaks or hints as to what's next for Thread & Maple?

We are not very good at planning ahead!

"Create a marketing calendar" has been on our to-do list from day 1 and it's still not there 2 years later!

Our two favourite things about this business is creating new products and connecting with fellow makers in the fibre community to raise funds for causes close to our hearts.

Look forward to more fun knitty accessories from us and collaborations with like-minded makers keen to make a difference :)

 




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