As the Solar Flare MKAL winds down, I had the opportunity to interview Laurel Hill, our final prize donor. From production in a socially responsible manner in relation to man and materials, to ergonomic styling, Laurel Hill Fiber Arts Tools embodies many eco properties. At the heart of these initiatives is the founder, Rick, and the passions he holds dear.
1. How did Rick get into knitting needles & crochet hooks? Is he a knitter/ crocheter?
Rick does not knit or crochet but is fascinated that no two people seem to knit or crochet exactly the same way. Working at trade shows and displaying Laurel Hill tools at various Hand Knitting events over the years, Rick became obsessed with designing fiber arts tools that would be the most comfortable for the largest number of people in the hand knitting and crochet community.
To get started in this business, Rick has a friend who distributes yarn accessories and during a very successful business cycle needed to purchase more knitting needles and crochet hooks in order to keep up with his customer’s demands. Rick said, ‘I can do that’ and after two years of hard work and research was able to manufacture a line of Fiber Arts Tools he could be proud of.
2. Why Vietnam? Was that a condition of Portland State University? Or did Rick have ties to Vietnam prior to this?
Prior to Vietnam, Rick had proven innovative manufacturing experience in the US and China and was invited to a conference at Portland State University where Nike officials were making plans with the Vietnamese to expand their manufacturing operations into their country. As a condition Nike wanted Portland State University to develop a MBA program sending American students to Vietnam to promote cultural understanding, as a free market system at that time was a new concept to Vietnam.
In the course of these meetings a question was asked, ‘What if economic conditions change over time and Nike decides to leave Vietnam to explore lower labor costs. Where does this leave Vietnam?’ Rick raised his hand and asked why don’t we help the Vietnamese start up new businesses in the regions that are not related to the Nike project.
Rick was then a part of the Vietnam Resource Group that went to Vietnam to help find and develop free market projects and Fiber Arts Tools seemed to be a good fit.
3. Recycling precious exotics woods from furniture and musical instrument factories is a brilliant idea. How did Rick come up with such a concept?
Actually the idea comes from the director of the manufacturing facility where the Laurel Hill tools are made. This man is one of the most capable and reliable handicraft manufacturers in Vietnam. Fiber Arts Tools is a small part of his business as the company has four workshops and employs an estimated 150 farmers in the area to assist them with additional income besides seasonal farm works. More importantly, the director has also invested a great deal in providing his workers with adequate training, housing assistance if needed and a fair wage standard according to the local laws and regulations including contributing to the Social Security Fund to local government on his workers’ behalf. Nothing is wasted within the organization and everything that can be used is repurposed.
4. In addition to eco practices in material sourcing, you also include socially responsible initiatives in manufacturing. After reading more about your product line, I see this extends beyond just treating the facility workers with dignity and respect to also treating the end users with the same dignity and respect. Was this an intentional extension of your business principles or did it arise from another avenue? Tell us more about the ergonomic aspects you enveloped in your crochet and knitting needles specifically to enable arthritic crafters to enjoy fiber crafts.
Rick has a social service background, working for four years as the Business Development Director for a non-profit parenting education program in Eugene Oregon called Parenting Now! I feel it is safe to say that some of these principles apply and have helped shape the philosophy and business culture at Laurel Hill.
The ergonomic aspect of our crochet hooks comes directly from suggestions from end-users and members of The Crochet Guild of America. At trade shows we would ask people to crochet with our tools and made suggestions. In the course of listening we made improvements, sent them back for review, and finally we got a design that was most comfortable for most of the people. Of course you can’t make everybody happy but Rick feels it’s our job to keep trying.
5. Thank you so much for your donations. Your prizes look amazing! Tell us more about the Forest Palm wood and what makes it eco and what makes it special.
We source all our exotic woods (Ebony, Nam Oc, and Trai) from furniture and musical instrument factories. We take only the small pieces of wood and reuse this recycled material to create beautiful crochet tools. Our Forest Palm used for our Tunisian Hooks comes from the lower part of the old branches of palm trees and is 100% recycled material. We hope your readers enjoy our products and we are excited to reach out to your audience. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity!
You can find Laurel Hill both on-line and in stores. Connect with them on these social media platforms:
Laurel Hill website
Laurel Hill blog
Ravelry Group: Laurel Hill Knitting Crochet Company