SEBEC, Maine — A darn good yarn is probably nothing new in Sebec, but Darn Good Yarn is.
Entrepreneur Nicole Mikkelsen Snow, 30, moved to Sebec in July 2011, bringing her online business, Darn Good Yarn, which provides jobs for 300 women in Bhagalpur, India, where levels of poverty are high. The women spin yarn from reclaimed silk left over as part of the manufacture of saris, curtains and other items. “I stay focused on my business. It’s so much of who I am. It doesn’t feel like work to me. I get to play with yarn all day,” Snow said.
Running her own business was not a career Snow envisioned when she graduated with a degree in business and technology management from Clarkson University in 2004. As a member of the Air Force ROTC, she thought she’d be a pilot.
“I was active duty Air Force, then I got out, got married and needed to work,” she said. When her husband Michael’s work as an engineer took them to California, Snow reactivated her lifelong interest in art and craft, made friends with a woman from India and began sewing garments from recycled silk she acquired through her new friend’s contacts in India. “But women’s fashion wasn’t my passion,” Snow said of that phase of her life.
Through her contact with members of the Indian community in California, Snow soon found herself involved with co-ops in India that manufacture yarn made from reclaimed silk. “The family mills in India take the silk and teach women how to spin it into yarn at home. And then I import it,” she said. If a woman wants to work but cannot afford a spinning wheel, Snow often will provide one.
The bottom line for Snow is that her business is “green.” Last year, it saved 6,000 pounds of waste silk fabric from going to a landfill. The business also serves Snow’s need to be involved in art and craft and to aid impoverished women who otherwise would have little to live on. The women who spin the reclaimed silk into yarn, she said, earn $10-16 a day in a place where the usual wage is $2 a day. One worker, she said, was living on $16 a month from the government of India because her husband has leprosy and cannot work. The woman also has a disabled son and five other children to support. “Not only do the women deal with gender discrimination, they also deal with caste discrimination,” Snow said.
We only do business with co-ops that provide fair trade and wages to the people who create Darn Good Yarn’s yarns, according to information at Snow’s website.
Snow, who grew up in Jackson, N.J., said her parents owned a family business. “I’ve always been around small business. I’ve been working since I was 14. I often met people in need and I saw that even in the toughest of times, people would rather work than just get a handout. My business is an expression of that feeling. It’s the big picture, giving women the opportunity to support themselves, to be able to provide for their families with food, clothing and shelter,” Snow said.
Snow pointed out that Darn Good Yarn is 100-percent self-funded. “I saved for several years so I could open the business. I had faith in what I was doing,” she said. “I give high quality, reasonably priced yarn and help others in the world at the same time. This is the way the new economy is turning.”
Basing her business in Sebec came about because “we had moved 10 times in five years — California, Alaska, Utah — because of my husband’s work,” Snow said. She was tired of moving and wanted a permanent home. It didn’t matter where — she could conduct her business anywhere. Her husband’s parents live in Beaver Cove, so Snow searched online for a house in the Greenville area. “I found this house in Sebec. We bought it without seeing it and moved,” Snow said.
These days the daylight cellar — which has 13-foot-high ceilings — of Snow’s house has become the warehouse for the products she sells online: silk ribbon yarn, cotton ribbon yarn, silk yarn, chiffon ribbon yarn, banana fiber yarn (good for vegans, Snow said, because no trees are harmed in the process), chunky wool from New Zealand which is spun and dyed near Kathmandu, Nepal, and hemp and nettle yarns.
“It more than doubles every year,” Snow said of the success of her business. “It’s amazing, but that means I am helping that many more people.”
Tia Tondreau, a Foxcroft Academy student, helps Snow once a week. “She’s my right-hand gal here … she has a great eye for style and organization. She’s so smart and such a hard worker,” Snow wrote in an email.
Snow’s website offers free knitting and crochet patterns for scarves, purses, bags, hats and other items and links to knitting and crochet websites.
For information, visit darngoodyarn.com or call Snow at 564-2822 or 888-747-4592.