Friday, June 23, 2017

An Interview with...Ash Alberg

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the knitting world.

You can find Ash here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

i'm a queer femme and fibre witch who seeks to create beautiful and practical knitwear designs using sustainable methods (working with indie dyers, fair-trade fibre co-operatives, natural dyes, raw local wools - there are so many ways to approach this, and the ways in which they intersect with environmental and social responsibility is incredibly nuanced). my work is almost always inspired by the natural world, and often by the rather broad concepts of remnants, lost stories, and decay. my larger collections usually have a geographic theme connecting the designs. i also find inspiration in the yarns that i use, tarot readings, solstices...pretty much everything has the potential to inspire me if it's rooted in the natural and magic
kal worlds. and i can't imagine a world without pinterest. it's my favourite. i'd be seriously lost without it.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
lace lace lace lace lace! and short rows haha.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? 

i definitely keep a pulse on what's happening in design trends - it would be silly of me not to do so. right now, i'm super busy with deadlines, so i don't get to ravelry very often, but i check instagram a few times a day and i'm friends with a lot of designers. i also teach design, so i do my best to stay up to date with the latest publication releases and indie designer superstars to help my students find inspiration and other connections within the industry.

i think that narrowing your focus too much on your own work, or the work of only a few others, does a disservice to your practice and by extension to your audience. i also think it's kind of ridiculous to believe that an artist's work could be influenced by a single source of inspiration. we find inspiration from so many extraordinary and mundane things, all of which find their way into our designs. once you really settle into your style and brand, it doesn't matter how many others are doing similar work - you are attracting your audience (and repelling others) simply by being you. and that's a great thing.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself? 

i am currently employing a friend to knit two of the samples for my upcoming book. they're smaller designs that i'm not so worried about in terms of gauge and construction, and i trust my friend's abilities implicitly. that being said, these will be the only samples i've had knit by someone else, and i've released about six dozen individual designs so far.

i used to use test knitters, but don't anymore. my tech editor catches all the errors that my test knitters typically catch, and i work at a much faster pace than most knitters, so using test knitters can add an additional 2-6 weeks to a project release. before using my tech editor, i had (and still have) a solid bank of reliable test knitters who i trust, and garments are the one area where i still employ their help because of all the sizes. i do my best to reduce my reliance on others, because time management just for myself is difficult at the best of times. i also really, really, really enjoy the actual knitting in my design process, and would never want to give that up just for the sake of putting out a design. my book is an exception right now - the deadlines are closing in and my sanity is more important ha.

Did you do a formal business plan? 

nope. that being said, i also didn't start making money reliably until i actually started treating my business as a business, and started tracking all my finances. i set larger goals (1-year, 5-year, long-term planning), and then track my progress on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis to see how i'm doing at reaching those larger goals. then i readjust and pivot wherever necessary.

Do you have a mentor?

i've always had mentors all the way through my life in every area of my artistic and non-artistic practices. specifically for knitwear design right now, my two main mentors are my business coaches - my personal business coach, hanna lisa haferkamp, who i am very grateful to be working with thanks to her creative boss scholarship; and chelsea fitch, my fibre boss guru and the reason i finally got a hold of my brand after several years of not actually paying attention to it. i took chelsea's fiber boss college course last winter, and it has been the single catalyst for my business getting to the place it's currently at. chelsea's fiber boss collective is also how i met hanna, so i have a lot to be grateful for when it comes to fortuitous connections in this industry.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? not in design, but i do have a longer-term goal of operating a maker-space and shop that is inspired by a number of businesses i've seen over about a decade at this point. the original plan was to operate a theatre space in a similar business model - the overall feel and politics are still the same, i've just mentally shifted the activities in the space to fit what i do now.

Do you use a tech editor?

yes, i learned about tech editors around the time that i started writing my first book, flotsam & jetsam, and i would never consider releasing a pattern without tech editing now. i am forever grateful for my fabulous test knitters who were able to help me in this area before i got to a point of being able to afford a tech editor. honestly, though, even if i knew that a pattern wouldn't sell a single copy, i wouldn't consider releasing it without a tech editor's keen eye checking it over. 

A soon to be published pattern

How do you maintain your life/work balance? 

ummmm, i don't. i'm not even being funny here - i work a 40-hour/week administration job that has absolutely nothing to do with my own business, then i go home and knit new designs, edit patterns, do photo shoots for new products, answer emails...i work an average of 16-18 hours/day on weekdays, and anywhere from 10-18 hours on weekend days, depending on how many chores and/or errands i have to do. luckily for me, i can knit pretty much anywhere, so it's easy enough to be multi-tasking when i'm out at social events, but those don't happen very often. i will say that living with a partner helps to force me out of my studio more often than not. it also encourages me to be more efficient with my time - if i want to spend time with my partner, i need to make sure i focus and deal with my paperwork quickly, then i can go upstairs and knit next to him while he reads or writes academic papers. like i said, i'm good at multi-tasking.

How do you deal with criticism? 

i think the first important point to acknowledge here is that i firmly identify as an emotional creature who feels all the feels all the time. so, with that said, it completely depends on how tired/stressed/sensitive i am when i receive the criticism. if i am exhausted, i can't control the big feels that are always there anyway, so even something that mildly resembles criticism can send me into an overly-analytical spiral, which can easily result in me crying in the shower or into a bowl of ice cream (definitely did that about a month ago).

but i also come from theatre world, where you learn to take criticism on a daily basis because it's how you refine your work to make it better. when i was doing my master's degree, i learned (in not the healthiest ways) how people don't always know, understand, or even care about the difference between constructive criticism, telling you what they want (even if it's not actually relevant), and just being a jerk. i love constructive criticism - it forces me to challenge myself and push myself outside of my comfort zone. any other kind of criticism stings and sticks around to varying degrees, and the question of whether i delete a comment without responding or shoot some sass right back (i am very much a fire sign) tends to depend on how much capacity i have at whatever moment i encounter the criticism. if the criticism is valid and helpful, i take it to heart and work to figure out how to adjust what i'm doing to incorporate solutions to whatever has been brought up. if it's not valid, i do my best to shake it off. i probably dwell on it personally for several years longer than i need to, but as far as my behaviour, i don't change who or what i am just because someone doesn't like me.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself? 

i don't, not yet at least. i'll have been designing for three years this august, and that's been full-time hours for almost the whole period. until recently, i wasn't even making reliable monthly sales. that's still definitely an inconsistent thing, but i have noticed a significant difference from when i'm releasing new designs every 2-3 weeks versus when i take even one month between releases. no pressure, right?

i'm trusting that with hanna's help, i will learn how to navigate the in-between periods and learn how to manage my time even more effectively. my goal is to be self-sufficient (which means continuing to not share finances with my partner/budget my life as though his money isn't a factor) with my knitwear designs, workshops and teaching, and physical products within 5 years. that means paying all my bills, having a comfortable amount of cushion to buy a new plant without having a cheque bounce, and also having a savings account that i can pay into regularly.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting? 

do it! but be aware that it is a lot of hard work, and one hit design does not a career make. you have to be resilient, committed, and ready for the long haul. and meanwhile still find the joy in your knitting. there is nothing worse than having a passion turn into a job. you want your passion to continue being your passion, and bring in money while you're at it. also, don't define your success based on someone else's definition. their life is not yours, and vice versa. figure out what success means to you, and plan your goals accordingly.

What’s next for you?

i'm heading to iceland in august! i'll be going with my dear friend, samson learn, to shoot my second book, which is in collaboration with yoth yarns. the book is called Ferðaskór, which translates to travelling shoes. we'll be travelling all over the country, interviewing local fibre folks and shooting the 11 new designs in the landscape that inspired the designs.

i'm also curating the inaugural pattern collection for my local fibre festival, manitoba fibre festival. the flatlands collection will be released on august 1, and it will feature a new design from me, as well as over a dozen other patterns from local emerging and established designers using yarns from our fibreshed. it's incredibly fulfilling for me to be able to foster those professional relationships for others, and it's a lot of fun for me as well! in fact, it's because of curating the group collection that i was able to confirm book #3...more on that at a later date though. let's get through the second one first.

No comments:

Post a Comment