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Karida Collins, owner and founder of Neighborhood Fiber Co., said she was shocked that the conversation was happening, but added that it was inevitable.
“The first trade show I went to was in 2007 and from what I could tell I was the only black person there. I was also one of the youngest people there,” Collins said. “It was definitely a space that was older and whiter than my life normally included.”
She attributes it to people being more comfortable with expressing their political opinions in public spaces.
“I might have a black friend and we might say something about a shop, like, ‘Oh yeah, I went in there and the person ignored me, of course.’ But we wouldn’t necessarily share that information with a white person who asked about that store,” Collins said. “It’s like Pandora’s Box. All of a sudden all of these feelings and experiences that have been there for years, it’s not new. It’s not like just now people started being a little racist. Now I think the main difference is that … knitting has a much younger constituency. Younger in their 20s and 30s. These are people who statistically are much more progressive than the group that preceded them. So this is a group of people who has grown up with the idea that they are the ones who challenge the status quo.”
Another thing that makes it easier is that there are more women of color visible as knitters, designers and dyers, Collins included.
“It’s easier to raise your voice when you know that you’re not the only one,” she said. “I definitely feel like it’s not my responsibility to educate white people about racism. White people created it; white people can fix it.”
“I felt like it was upsetting the status quo a little bit … because the knitting community, especially when I was living in DC, the knitting community was almost entirely white. So I felt like just being who I was, was entirely unexpected,” she said. “I wanted to convey a distinctly urban aesthetic and idea — urban meaning ‘city’ and also meaning that like, with the connotation of being black.”
Sometimes the color names are based on aspects of a neighborhood, like the aforementioned Roland Park. And Canton is a Baltimore neighborhood with a lot of waterfront property, so the name fit a blue-green colorway. Other times they’re based on inside jokes, like a friend of Collins’ who suggested they needed a bright yellow — so they named their yellow after the neighborhood that friend lived in.
“My favorite is one that we’ve actually discontinued. It was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and I came up with it sort of inspired by Michelle Obama,” Collins said. “In the beginning of the Obama presidency everyone was really excited and hopeful. I was really kind of amped up of the idea of reaching across the aisle and collaborating to make America better for everyone. That color is a purple — it’s kind of an eggplant — but it’s got spots of red and spots of blue. There’s a lot of feeling in that yarn.”
Collins said she doesn’t expect every knitter or designer of color to take part in the discussion.
“Everyone has to act at their own comfort level, because it is emotional labor to engage in conversations and educate people about diversity and being inclusive and not even about overt racism, this is just about things that most people don’t notice or think about,” she said. “I would encourage everyone to own or embrace their identity, but whether or not you want to make your voice heard, that’s your business.”
and felt called to do something in the wake of Gray’s death. So they created a color and donated all of the money collected from the sale of those skeins.
“We were able to raise $10,000. It was the first time we did it and it far exceeded my expectation,” Collins said. “We donated it to a Baltimore charity foundation. I felt like it was something that no matter your politics, you could get behind rebuilding a city. … I was very careful to pick a fund that would be palatable to everyone. I didn’t donate the money to Black Lives Matter … and then eventually as time went on, our voice got a little louder. I started letting more of my own politics show through and it’s just part of who I am and it’s part of the ethos of this company.”
They’ve donated to causes of all sizes, but it’s the smaller or local ones where she feels the most good has been done.
“I really want to focus on helping the community in a really tangible way. When we donated $10,000 to Doctors Without Borders, that was amazing, but they’re a huge organization. Whereas we donated $10,000 to one of these gun safety advocate organizations and … they sent us the most gushing email that said, ‘Thank you so much! We can now hire this person we’ve been trying to find the money for.’ It was just really overwhelming,” Collins said.