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California Revival Knits: Interview with Carl Koop of Bijou Basin

If you’ve not yet tried Bijou Basin yarns…this is your chance!

Carl & Eileen have been tremendously supportive of me from the beginning of my designing career.  I’ve used their yarn for Don’t Fence Me In and, most recently, for the Undersea Garden Cowl for California Revival Knits.  (I’m also using it for a hat for Hitch & for a design in the new book.)   I met Carl at Stitches West several years ago, and we chatted for probably close to an hour about yak yarn, veterinary work (Carl’s an equine vet tech), and more.

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Stephannie:  How did you get started in this business?  How long have you been producing yarn?

Carl:  A few years ago my wife and I were looking for an agriculture based business to do an “early retirement” into. At the time I was working as a veterinary technician for an equine vet and while on a ranch call I came across some yaks.

I looked into the species, found that no one was doing a serious business with yak fiber and the next thing you know, here we are! In just two months from when I saw my first yak we had our starter herd of four animals on the ranch, a young bull and three heifers.

So far this has been a very interesting, fun and exciting business to run. It is a lot of work with a lot of hours to put in between running the ranch, and the day to day business as well as traveling to all of the shows, be are constantly learning new things, meeting new people and generally having a lot of fun.  We have been producing and selling our yarns for over five years now.

Why yaks?

We looked into a number of animals before settling on the yaks, such as sheep, alpacas, etc., but we wanted something new and different.  But different was not the only or most important aspect; we also wanted an animal that could provide a high quality product for fiber fanatics.

After I stumbled upon the yaks and began looking into their possible uses I found that the downy undercoat of the yak was considered to be as soft as cashmere, warmer than wool, and yet more breathable than wool.  It also had a number of other qualities that we thought would be appreciated by the knitting & crocheting world.

Yaks were appealing from an animal husbandry standpoint as well.  They are easy keepers, typically very disease resistant, have very little issues with calving, and are smarter than domestic cattle and each one has it’s own unique personality.

How do you choose your yarn bases and blends?

We know the wonderful characteristics of the Yak fiber and look for other fibers that complement and/or enhance them.

For example, bamboo fiber has a wonderful sheen and drape to it, however, it does not have memory and as such can be difficult or somewhat uninteresting to knit with.  When we combine 75% Yak and 25% bamboo together we end up with a wonderfully soft, and warm yarn that is a pleasure to knit with and results in garments that have exquisite drape and a natural sheen that lights up in sunlight.

What inspires your colorways?

We typically look for more natural colors.  While we appreciate and do have a number of bright and exciting colors such as our “Blush” which is a bright pink, the majority of our colors have a rich natural look such as our light blue called “Sky” or our deep green shade called “Hunter”.

The actual process of new colors starts with us collaborating with the folks at Lorna’s Laces who do all of our dying.  We give them some idea of what the new palette or palette addition should be and they then send us a number of samples.  We than have three of us, myself, my wife Eileen, and our Creative Director Marly Bird, individually review them and then select based on common likes and dislikes.  It actually is quite the process for a small company, but it is one that is very important to us so we think it is worth the time and energy

What festivals or conferences do you go to as a vendor?

This year we attended 12 different shows across the country.  Starting with Vogue Knitting Live in NYC last January to Stitches Midwest, Maryland Sheep & Wool, Rhinebeck, and ending at Stitches East at the end of October!

For a full list of the shows and where we plan to be next year your readers and look at our Events Page and they should look at it regularly as we are always adding to the list.  Currently we are planning 15 shows for 2012.  We really enjoy the shows because we get to meet our customers one on one, talk to them about their uses of our yarn, their likes and dislikes, and see their finished projects!

Shows are a lot of work, but at the same time they are a lot of fun.

How do you utilize the internet and social media as yarnie?  I notice for shows you guys do a lot of Tweeting, contests, etc.

We try to utilize social media, and the Internet as much as we can.  We have our own website, a bimonthly eMail newsletter, as well as a Facebook, Twitter and Ravelry presence, and in all of them we let our customers and friends know what is happening at the ranch, what show we will be next, what new products are coming, and most importantly when we are having sales, discounts, giveaways, etc.

We have also done some real fun things such as QR (quick response) Codes (those square blob like UPC codes) on our ads that take customers to special pages that have info on products as well as special sales and discounts.

As you noted, we also have used Twitter at shows to post “Yak Faks” randomly during the day and the first person to tell us the Yak Fak wins a prize!

Finally, we do a fair amount of advertising online as well through various blogs, eZines, etc.  We really think that the social media world is a great place for small companies like us to reach a large number of consumers.

What sort of designs are you looking for with your yarn?

We always look for classic designs that have a twist to them that will keep the design fresh and modern.  We want designs that not only look good, but are fun to knit and when the knitting is done are truly wearable garments.  We also are very aware of the characteristics of the yak yarn, such as fantastic stitch definition, softness and warmth, and always keep an eye out for designs that understand and take advantage of that.  And finally, we also try to find designs that help the customer get the most out of each skein of yarn.

What’s a typical day for you?

Here comes my only short answer: there is no typical day!  Every day can be a combination of shipping yarn, talking with retailers, working with suppliers, preparing for shows, interacting with dyers &/or designers, and of course working the ranch which sometimes takes several days in a row all by itself!

I guess the real answer to the question is “Busy, exciting, tedious, and fun!”.

What’s your favorite thing about producing yarn?  Least favorite?  I’m including all things ancillary to actual dyeing as well – so feel free to address marketing, website design, vending, etc, etc.

As far as least favorite my wife and I are split.  Eileen dislikes the accounting and bookkeeping and all of the paperwork that goes with it while I dislike any and all of the business negotiations such as advertising, suppliers, etc.  But we both agree that the best part is the interaction with our friends and customers.  Whether online or in person we really enjoy all of the people that we have met doing this venture!

Any dyeing or yarn plans for the next year you care to discuss? New bases, colorways, etc?

We have released three new yarn blends this year and are very proud and happy with all three.  We stepped out of the Yak fiber world with the first two, but definitely stayed in the luxury exotic world with both.  They are “Seraphim”, an incredible Angora yarn, and “Roslyn”, an amazingly soft Cashmere/cotton blend.  They were released earlier this year and our customers simply love them.  And just this month we released the third, a 50/50 Yak/silk blend called “Shangri-La”  and it is flying off the shelves!

And without giving away any “corporate secrets” I can say that all of  the Yak down purists out there should keep a close watch on our web site/Facebook/Twitter pages as I think they will be happy and excited with our pending “sporty and colorful” announcement!

Rosyln & Seraphim are beautiful, and I can’t wait to see some Shangri-la!  Thank you, Carl, for taking the time to answer these questions!
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Want to win a skein of Lhasa Wilderness & a copy of the Undersea Garden pattern?  Please comment on this post, by midnight PST 3 September 2012, with your favorite Bijou Basin yarn & colorway, or with what color Lhasa Wilderness in which you’d like to do your Undersea Garden!  I’ll use  Random.org to pick a winner.
21 comments… add one
  • Bridie August 27, 2012, 1:05 am

    I’m loving the warmer colours at the moment- we are heading into summer and it’s so inspiring to see warmth again – so I’d choose Goldenrod

  • Linda August 27, 2012, 7:08 am

    I haven’t had a chance to see or try these yarns yet (due to living in rural Montana) so would love to win. My color choice would be Ruby.

  • Beth W August 27, 2012, 7:17 am

    Oh…I’d love to make the Undersea Garden out of the Lhasa Wilderness Hunter. Beautiful!

    Thanks.
    Yhime407 on Ravelry

  • Angie S. August 27, 2012, 9:20 am

    I just love this company. It doesn’t hurt that they are local for me.

  • Sheila August 27, 2012, 10:41 am

    It’s hard to pick just one of their yarns! I’d love to try so many of them, but I’d start with the Shangri-La yak/silk blend in lilac.

  • brenda August 27, 2012, 12:53 pm

    I’d make the Undersea Garden out of the Lhasa Wilderness in sky blue. So pretty!

  • Sharon M2 August 27, 2012, 1:45 pm

    I really think I would choose one of the natural colors, likely the cream, for this project to really show off the stitch details.

  • Rachelle August 27, 2012, 4:57 pm

    I love the Blueberry colourway, not had the chance to try the yarn, live in New Zealand

  • Rachel R. August 27, 2012, 7:52 pm

    I’ve always been intrigued by Bijou Basin yarn, and have never had the chance to use it! I’ve been wanting to knit something in yellow lately, so Goldenrod is appealing!

  • Kallie August 28, 2012, 9:38 am

    I’ve met Carl and his wife at Stitches Midwest and the Midwest Fiber Festival. They are wonderful people!

    I love the Wilderness yarn and have used it.

    I’m drawn to the Blueberry at the moment but I’m usually one for the natural colors. Such a pretty cowl.

  • Debbie H August 28, 2012, 10:22 am

    My favorite Lhasa Wilderness color is Blush. Thanks!

  • Christine Marie Chen August 28, 2012, 11:32 am

    I would love to try the Lhasa Wilderness in the Tristan colorway. What gorgeous yarns you have! 🙂

  • lindaran on Ravelry August 28, 2012, 7:38 pm

    I’m currently smitten with Shangri-la. I got a skein in gray at Stitches Midwest and am waiting for a project that calls out for it. But I’m always open to more yak! Nice interview – and thanks for the contest!

  • Mandi Yelland August 28, 2012, 10:47 pm

    My favorite yarn is thee Himalayan Trail in any color. If I were to win I’d love the light blue color or any neutral color! Thanks for the great giveaway!

  • Sara August 29, 2012, 6:42 am

    I am currently knitting Gradient Serendipity Shawl in Lhasa Wilderness Lohengrin and I love working with this yarn. I would love to knit Undersea Garden in Lhasa Wilderness Tristan. Thanks for the giveaway opportunity.

  • I.H August 29, 2012, 6:11 pm

    Oh, so hard to choose just one, when there are som many beautiful colors.
    But, I would go for brown, sage or steel maybe. It is so hard to choose!

  • Bjørg August 29, 2012, 7:23 pm

    Either blueberry or cadet.

  • Lynn August 30, 2012, 10:58 am

    I enjoyed learning about this yarn. My color choice would be the blueberry. Thanks for a chance!

  • Chelsey August 30, 2012, 11:43 am

    Yak yarn, I love it. The natural brown looks very pretty. Thanks for the great giveaway!

  • Kathy August 30, 2012, 10:15 pm

    Thanks so much for the great informative interview. I am going to Rhinebeck for the first time with my daughter and I will make sue we go to their booth. Thank you for the opportunity to win a lovely skein of Bijou Basin. I think ruby would be my choice.

  • Suzanne Shattuck September 3, 2012, 3:40 pm

    I would love to try the Bijou Spun Lhasa Wilderness, 75/25 Yak / Bamboo Blend. I am a sucker for bamboo, I love the sheen and the feel it adds.

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