To “empower people to rise above poverty,” is no small mission, but with a hook and yarn, Krochet Kids Intl. (KKi) is taking it on with a vengeance. Taking root in poverty-stricken communities in Uganda, founders Kohl Crecelius, Travis Hartanov, and Stewart Ramsey have found a way to give oppressed women the chance to earn an education, a living, and a brighter future.
Forming a strong bond based on their stoke for surf, skate, and snow, the group soon found another mutual passion in crocheting, and a lucrative one at that. The trio earned pocket money selling beanies around the high school that had dubbed them the Krochet Kids, hoping to earn money to impress their prom dates.
Throughout years spent away at different colleges, all three boys happened to get involved in missions and charity work- a golden opportunity arising for Ramsey after a friend opened up an orphanage in Uganda. After seeing first hand the crippling reliance that stifled and suffocated a group of Ugandan people born and raised in government camps, Ramsey returned to US soil with a hard-fixed determination to make a real change.
Crochet, in its utter simplicity, hardly seems like an instrument of change, but it is that simplicity which offers the trio an avenue to making a difference. Requiring minimal tools, and a skill easily acquired, crocheting is product manufacturing at an elementary level. Considering the vast array of obstacles and hurdles involved in sourcing from a land locked and impoverished African country, that simplicity is key.
With the summer of 2007 came a whirlwind of meetings with organizations in Uganda, and soon the boys were training groups of women to crochet. They soon formed a 501(c)(3) non –profit to imports the beanies and sell them here in the States, and voila: Krochet Kids International came to life.
In 2009, KKi sat down with TransWorld Businessto give insight as to the organization, its roots, and the line of seven beanies and four t-shirts that it had to show for all its efforts.
Fast-forward to 2012, and we're talking about an organization that has blossomed in its initial Northern Uganda location, to the point where it has branched out to HQ number two: Peru. In addition, KKi has made a quick and lasting mark on the action sports community that first brought this trio together. Movers, shakers, and brands have teamed up with KKi to support them with various creative collaborations– underscoring the idea that the organization's fashion core lays with shredders of all mediums, though their products undoubtedly fit in any and all markets.
TransWorld Business took the chance to catch up with one of the founders of Krochet Kids International, Kohl Crecelius, for a run-down on the inspiring and extensive progress that KKi has made.
Follow the jump to check out the full interview
How are things going in Uganda?
Our programs and operations in Northern Uganda continue to go very well. We have grown to supporting 150 women, and their families, through the production of our headwear and accessories line and it has been amazing to see their learning and transformation as we work alongside them.
What growth have you seen in the past three years specifically?
Aside from drastically growing our programs in Uganda and starting a new project in Peru, we have seen the awareness and support for our work increase significantly. It has been fun to see people not only interact with the product itself, but to also realize that each item is made by a person that is taking part in our programs in Uganda or Peru. Every hat or accessory is hand signed by the woman that made it and our customers can go online to view her profile and read about her story…
The excitement transcends beyond the individual level and has incorporated retail partners like Nordstrom who have helped to share our story to a growing audience. Selling more hats means that we get to employ more people and that's our goal.
How have you gained support and spread the word about your mission?
We have been really fortunate to have great friends and partners that help us to spread the word about what we do. Retailers across the country are selling our products and telling the story to their customers. We are working with other partners to create unique collaborative products that help us reach new audiences. And last fall we were even lucky enough to have a nationally televised TV commercial sponsored by Bing.com.
All in all, we would be nowhere without the support of the individuals who get behind our cause and share about the product online and offline. We like to think of ourselves as a part of a large community of people who care about doing good in our world and helping to provide opportunities to people who may not have any.
You have done some high-profile collaborations with Volcom and Vans, how did they come about?
We are grateful to be able to partner with such amazing veteran brands and have learned so much from each of our collaborations. They all came together through the alignment of a common vision to help individuals across the globe break the cycle of poverty. It's a shared goal that everyone can get behind and our partners were at the forefront of recognizing this.
How have these collabs contributed to KKi's growth and success?
In more ways than we probably know. One of the greatest contributions the collaborations have made is helping to establish our brand. The validation that comes with the partnerships we have had has helped us to both grow awareness and a positive reputation as a brand. It has helped people to realize that we're not just another non-profit, but we're an apparel company that's here to stay.
Any awesome projects on the horizon?
We just released a campaign this fall entitled #CHOICES. Each week we are highlighting a different aspect of Krochet Kids intl. and what you are choosing when you purchase our products. And how you're choice helps enable the #CHOICES of others around the globe.
We're really excited about it and think it's going to be a fun way to engage people in our brand story. You can learn more here… http://krochetkids.org/CHOICES
Tell us about your newest location…
We have setup a program just outside of Lima, Peru where we are working with marginalized populations of women. The new products are made using knitting and looming, so it adds a lot of depth to our line with non-crocheted items. It's grown the possibilities of what we can make and the materials in-country are amazing, i.e. alpaca.
When did KKi officially take root there?
We had staff on the ground since January 2011 laying the foundation for our org., but we officially started production Fall 2011.
First and foremost, we are in Peru to offer our model for empowerment to the disenfranchised individuals and communities living there. There is a lot of poverty around the capital city as people have flocked there looking for work. Without any formal education or experience working in more urban industries they are left without work and opportunities. We are excited to help!
A great benefit to working in Peru has been that it is home to some of the finest yarns on the planet. We have loved experimenting with new yarns blends, which has enabled us to continue to make unique and exclusive products.
How many women/families are a part of the newer program?
We are currently working with 23 women and their families as a part of our programs at Krochet Kids Peru. Stoked.
Is KKi using any different strategies or models in Peru as compared to the Uganda program?
Great question! As you might imagine, there are unique challenges to working in such different environments and cultures. In each country we operate within, and will operate in the future, we have to take a holistic view of the landscape and how we can have the most impact. Our model for change stays the same, but how we apply it to the communities we work with molds to fit their specific needs.
It's been three years since we last caught up with you guys; give us one big highlight- a moment, a project, an experience- of all you've done since 2009:
Where do I even begin?! In the Fall of 2011 we were approached by Bing.com to be a part of a national ad campaign they were going to run. They wanted to feature our story in a 30-second commercial to be aired on major networks and we said yes. The exposure created by this campaign was insane and crashed our website multiple times and helped us have a banner year for our organization. It was nothing short of jaw-dropping.
In a perfect world, where will KKi be at in another three years?
We will have expanded our programs to include new communities around the globe as well as offering a broader line of products to incorporate even more people into our model for change. We will be a leader in the social business movement and continue to help others understand the importance and amazing opportunity they have to leverage their businesses to impact our world.