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Nicole Snow: “Yarn? It’s Much More Than That!”

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The thread running through the 36 years of Nicole Snow’s life has been entwined and strengthened with her creative spirit and desire to be a responsible human. Specifically, that’s to help other women rise above whatever circumstance they may have been born into. Her company, Darn Good Yarn, is a direct reflection of her workhorse mentality and tenacity.

Darn Good Yarn is ethical yarn and more. Upcycled sari skirts, purses, scarves, skirts, dresses, kimonos, pants, jewelry, home goods and much more are all available on their online shop. Ethical yarn means they commit to doing good in the world by operating a business with a foundation in the tenets of the triple bottom line framework, which is to support sustainable and fair jobs around the globe by using ethical sourcing and working with producers and organizations that have similar goals.

Creating Opportunities
The company sources products that promote job creation for individuals who are marginalized and under-served so that they can provide food, education and healthcare for their families. They also comply with warehousing and distribution models that provide safe employment to disadvantaged populations, including adults with developmental disabilities. They work with suppliers, producer and organizations to find all opportunities to serve the workers and artisans involved in the company and to continually improve their safe and humane working environments.

“We focus on sourcing products and developing supply chains that benefit disadvantaged populations, including people groups that face issues of gender, caste, racial discrimination. We also seek to employ disabled individuals and veterans,” Nicole noted. “We will do things the harder way, not just with machinery, but we want human hands to touch our products. By doing this, our business will grow and have sustainability on all accounts.”

This vivacious entrepreneur grew up creating. Her mom created a special spot in Nicole’s bedroom to do that creating, since she kept messing up the house with her gumption. When that little table was placed in her space, it gave her the freedom to let herself go. “I think I always liked to create, and I don’t really follow directions all that well,” she smiled. “So, for example, if I got a Lego set it never resonated with me. Doing arts and crafts is a very free-flowing way for me to have fun, and my mom set up the craft area because it resonated with me. Between that and an affinity for science experiments, it was great. I wanted to marry Bill Nye the Science Guy one day!”

She earned her bachelor of science degree with honors in business and technology management from Clarkson University, where she played varsity tennis and was a resident advisor. “I met my husband, Mike, there when we were both resident advisors. He asked me to help him decorate his bulletin board in his hall, and I didn’t realize he actually liked me,” she smiled. “He asked me to go to dinner, and I thought we would just meet in the cafeteria. When he showed up in a tie, I realized it was my first real date!” 

Nicole joined the Air Force and was stationed in California, so they did the long-distance thing for two years and married in November 2005. Mike, an engineer, worked for General Electric and other companies before joining the company full time last summer. With his previous job, he traveled a lot and their young daughter, Anna, now two, noticed. Now that he is working at the company, he has an amazing relationship with her. 

Nicole’s business model supports veterans; she is one herself. Nicole found her calling when she joined the ROTC at Jackson Memorial High School in Jackson, New Jersey, where she grew up. She chose the Air Force because she felt it had the best job placement program following military service. She graduated in 2000 and was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as a contract officer.

“I started flying at 14, before I could drive a car, through the auxiliary of the Air Force Civil Air Patrol. I was able to interact with active duty people at an Air Force base in central New Jersey,” she explained. “I was very heavily involved with that program. I never wanted to be a drag on my parents, so I earned a scholarship. When serving, we did a lot of humanitarian work before 9/11, and helping others succeed resonated with me.” 

Knit and Purl and More
She founded Darn Good Yarn in 2008 to combine her passion for creating and her dedication to helping others. The company has grown to #599 on Inc. Magazine’s Top 5,000 Fastest Growing Companies in 2017, and the company was named #12 on Inc’s Top 26 Coolest Products then as well. Nicole’s passion, tenacity and success were recognized as she was named Inc’s Top 5 Most Influential Entrepreneurs that year.

Prior to moving to their 12,000-square-foot facility in Clifton Park, Darn Good Yarn was the first business in Schenectady’s ARC Development facilities, a non-profit dedicated to providing employment for adults with developmental disabilities, which has a work space for job development in Scotia, New York. 

“We pioneered their incubator program, and stayed there two and a half years in 4,000 square feet; when we started, we had maybe 500 square feet. Our connection to them is strong. We are truly committed to giving jobs to individuals who don’t get a fair voice in economy. In India, we provide jobs and locally, we work with disabled people and veterans.”

One of her biggest challenges has been finding how to be taken seriously as a business owner. “People see yarn and say that’s adorable. It is so much more than that. We have an infrastructure, over 70 vendors internationally and our numbers are great. I think the challenge for me has been allowing myself to not be so humble. More women than men work for me. We had eight employees last summer and we have 21 now! We are on a hyper-growth track and in 2017 we did $5.4 million in revenue. I firmly believe that if more women wishing to start a business followed the triple bottom line framework, they would find it is a valuable tool that can be easily applied. It is a holistic look at the world and can bring businesses to that next place.” 

The Pregnancy Leadership Strategy
Her advice to women desiring to realize their dreams is very personal. She confided she has never been a lovey-dovey person, but she discovered a new side of herself when she got pregnant. “This advice will be a very unexpected answer from me. I was a very reluctant mom, and that masculine environment in business says you can’t have it both ways. When I got pregnant, I thought I was the best leader. My midwife told me that fast pace can affect the fetus, so I had to think about the fact that I had a human being growing in me. I was like this plane going downhill pushing everything off of it. It naturally forced me to give my team more responsibility. I had a hard labor and birth, so I took some time off. 

“That year my business grew 40 percent! So, my advice to you? I think you need to pretend that whatever you are doing, you are always pregnant. Women are so capable and say yes to a lot of things. We need to pretend we have something growing inside so we can’t have all that stress. This means work six, not ten, hours and make those hours productive. My leadership has gotten better, and I’ve seen my staff blossom. I don’t want to cram everything down their throats. I’ve seen real movement in my life.”

Reflect on this point. Nicole is talking about finding rebirth in life and career, every day of our lives. It’s such a pure concept that can apply to every part of our world.

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