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Charlotte Yarn owner Remi Haygood, 47, is from a small town in Virginia and went to college at Radford University. She moved to Charlotte essentially on a whim in the mid-1990s, and took a job at NationsBank, which became Bank of America. She’d always liked knitting, and transitioned from corporate America to retail when she bought Charlotte Yarn.
As a single mother and a Black woman in a predominantly white industry, Haygood says she works to debunk preconceived notions and incorporate minority representation into the store. Charlotte Yarn is a place that normally thrives on classes and an in-person shopping experience; on any given weekend you can find regulars who sit at the store working on knitting or crochet projects for hours on end. Coronavirus has upended that, so Haygood has found ways to keep her shop humming during the pandemic — from private lessons to kitting kits to new hours.
(The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.)
What brought you down to Charlotte?
An advertising internship, soon after I graduated college in 1995. After that, I got a job at NationsBank which as you know turned into Bank of America. I worked at the bank for several years in different departments, including as a project manager, before I left in 2005. Around then, people were unfortunately starting to get laid off. I don’t know what my career would have been like if I’d stayed.
How did you move from banking into retail?
At that time I was married, and I had helped my husband start his business. So I thought, let me find something that I want to do. Around 2004, we heard that the owner of Charlotte Yarn, which was at the time on Selwyn Avenue, was selling the store. We looked at that as an opportunity for me to start my business.
My husband knew about contracts and sales. And he had some family members who were accountants. And that’s how we got some of the money up front, through family members.
What were your early days like as a new store owner?
My daughter was born in 2007. Then, unfortunately, I got separated in 2008. And while we were separating, moved the store from Selwyn Avenue to the location it is, now off East Boulevard. So I was going through divorce, I had a young daughter, and I was moving the yarn store. It really was a lot.
How would you describe the yarn industry to readers who might not be familiar with it?
Yarn is like clothing. What was popular last season is not necessarily going to be popular again. Different yarns, textures, and types change over the years. So that’s the one thing, just making sure you stay on track.
How would you describe minority representation in the yarn community?
If you look at the industry as a whole, there are definitely more white people than Black people. That’s not to say Black people don’t knit or crochet because they do.
But there has been more awareness in the knitting and crochet community about race. There has been this surge of highlighting Black designers, indie dyers, because they’re out there, but they’re just not seen.
You’ve mentioned customers don’t always realize you’re the owner of the store. What is that like?
People have preconceived notions that the industry is for older white women. So they assume the person who owns the store is white, too. A lot of the times they’ll think Sandy, who’s my instructor, owns the store, or Julie, who works for me in the store. They’ll say, ‘Oh that nice owner helped me the other day.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s good that you had a great experience, but I’m the owner.’ And you can see this look on their face.
They’re not being rude or mean. It’s just something that they just didn’t expect.
People have taken up all kinds of new hobbies during quarantine, like baking bread and painting. Have you noticed an increased interest in knitting?
Yeah. What’s helped us a lot was the beginner knit kits that we put online. As soon as those went up, we got a lot of orders, and I was going into the shop every day by myself, pulling yarns and mailing those to people. I think that a lot of people are like, OK I wanted to learn, so this is a good time to learn.
Overall we’ve definitely seen a decrease in sales. But there have been lots of first-time customers. This is a good time to give it a try. It’s good for your mind and your health. People knit to de-stress, and this is a stressful time for all of us.
Did you get a Paycheck Protection Program loan?
I did. It was for $5,000. It really wasn’t an easy process because there are a lot of unknowns. You have to report to the bank what you use it for, then they will determine whether it’s forgivable or not.
If you could give one piece of advice to 22-year-old Remi what would it be?
Always have faith, never give up. And just surround yourself with people that believe in you and can support you. Support doesn’t mean need to mean financial; more like emotional support. Find people that believe in you.
What is your No. 1 piece of financial advice?
Save. I think that’s one of the reasons why I have been OK. Things are challenging. I don’t want to sugarcoat anything, but I think I’m a little better off because I’ve always been a saver. I bought my first house when I was 24. So you always want to have enough saved for a rainy day.
Want to read more about personal finance? Find our Cash Confessional series here.