During Melbourne’s brutal lockdowns as the pandemic raged, a trip to the dog park was a real treat, and it was there that Cat Bloxsom and Morgan Collins got lots of great compliments.
But it wasn’t referring to their dogs, instead the duo had taken up a somewhat seedy habit during lockdown – knitting.
“By the time lockdown 2020 hit we were trying new things like everyone else and none of us are great in the kitchen and by that point we had already thrown half our clothes away and watched the whole of Netflix,” Ms Bloxsom told News .com.au.
“We were looking for something that would keep us connected, creative and calm down during stressful times, so we ordered some stuff online to try knitting.
“We jumped on YouTube and taught ourselves to knit and really loved it. We wore our creations to the dog park and got a lot of comments about how cool our sweaters are.”
But the journey to knitting wasn’t without its hilarious mistakes, as Ms Bloxsom created a sweater with sleeves that reached just below her elbows.
“I think for people who have never knitted, which is a lot, there’s a lot of knitting jargon and jargon and it feels like you’re trying to learn another language or read code,” she said.
“As a beginner, we knew there would be other people who had the same problems understanding patterns.”
A business idea began to form, especially as they also wanted to bring some modern style to the knitting world.
“For relatively young knitters, a lot of the styles and patterns that we saw were quite stark and neutral colors,” explained Ms. Bloxsom.
“We saw an opportunity to design things we wanted to wear and modernize a great craft that felt rather stuck in the past.”
It prompted the duo, both in their early thirties, to start their business called Cardigang, although the timing was far from perfect
Cardigang launched in the Australian summer of December 2020, six months after they first took up the ‘sticks’.
“It was actually the hottest day of the year that we launched,” added Ms. Collins.
The friends each donated $4000 to fund the business after making three to four jumpers.
From there they began writing their own patterns, sourcing 100% Australian coarse wool and creating their own custom colours.
They initially launched sweater knitting kits with five patterns and eight colors before expanding to cardigans, vests, tops, hats and scarves.
The chunky wool was a key element in attracting customers, according to Ms Collins.
“We’re pretty impatient and we didn’t want to knit something on tiny needles for six months,” she said.
“We wanted instant gratification and the wool and kits made it really easy to learn as there is less room for small mistakes.”
Depending on the style, it can take a beginner jumper as little as a weekend to create with about 12 to 16 hours on the poles, they said.
Their initial aim was to sell 40kg of wool that they had stored in the guest room at Mrs Collins’ home.
But since launch, the friends have sold over 5000 sets of knitting, including 5 tons of wool, equivalent to 10 million meters of wool.
“The wool sold so far is the weight of a full-grown elephant, which we’ve been quite excited about,” added Ms Bloxsom.
One of the most popular products was their Betty sweater, which features statement balloon sleeves with signature contrast ribbing and retails for $245, while they recently released a knit set called Olivia, which has an asymmetrical color block style.
“His pastel combo has come off and it looks quite individual. It’s not something you can buy off the rack and you can wear it really proud and say it’s the first thing I’ve knitted,” said Ms. Bloxsom.
“As far as colors go, we had over 30 colors when we started when we were six or eight and the greens and pinks are always very popular.
“So much of the brand is about an explosion of color and dopamine. Customers prefer bright colors, we have some neutral colors but they don’t sell the best.”
Beanies have become very popular, Ms Collins added, as they “can be a little less daunting than knitting a sweater” and can be made in just two to three hours.
Cardigang has been a resounding success so far. The friends made $500,000 in sales in year one and will double that to $1 million in year two.
But Ms Bloxsom said that success has forced her to take some massive risks.
“We put a 10 percent deposit on our next order because we knew we didn’t have the funds in the bank and had to work hard to make that money so we could keep buying stock,” she revealed. “The business grew at a rate where we kept selling out and had to go into pre-sales, but we had to embrace risk and uncertainty that allowed the business to grow really quickly.”
Despite “trepidation,” the women also quit their full-time marketing jobs in March of this year.
The friends are thankful for their “Cheer Squad” at the dog park, which made them think they could make Cardigang a success.
“We both had Covid puppies and couldn’t see family or friends as they didn’t live in our area so we became very familiar and friendly with our friends at the dog park,” Ms Bloxsom added.
“Everyone was head to toe in black and puffer jackets and we strutted into the park in statement bright knitwear and stuck out like a sore thumb. But we wanted to be asked about our sweaters so we could brag and be asked where we got them from.”
They said since then, one of the key factors in their success has been people sharing their masterpieces on social media.
Now they want to expand their brand beyond a “winter sport” by creating summer patterns with merino wool and also developing a chunky cotton option.
“We’re going to be releasing patterns that are more summer-friendly in terms of styles and we’re looking at other techniques; how many customers are crocheting and we want to see what that might look like,” Ms Collins said.
“We’re looking at knits that aren’t seasonal, like gifts for babies.”
Profiting from the winter market in both hemispheres will be decisive for their long-term growth strategy.
Since 5 percent of sales come from abroad, the focus is on further penetrating key markets such as the USA and Great Britain.
“We know a lot of people associate winter with knitting, but knitting isn’t just a winter sport. We think it’s really important to create offerings that show that anything is possible all year round,” added Ms Bloxsom.
“I think we have really big plans and aspirations to make Cardigang the most used and loved DIY fashion brand – not just in Australia but globally.”