Despite the amount of time I've spent in Italy, I've never really got involved in anyway with the Italian yarn industry. I know a few designers and knitters online and have met a few knitters in person, but my experience is limited. Part of this is the language barrier - I can't speak Italian - and part of this is logistics - my business is very much British based, despite our travels. That said, the internet has made our industry more global, especially from a publishing and community point of view, and I was really excited to be invited to be part of a panel to discuss this very development last week.
The yarn industry in Italy is where say the US was 15 years or so ago, and the UK 10 to 15 years ago, and it felt exciting to be there at the point where the online side of things is starting to develop. And for me, knowing very little about how Italy fares locally and internationally within our global industry, it was absolutely fascinating to hear points of view from so many different corners.
From right to left in the image above, we have:
Sara Maternini (who organised the event), Gaia Segattini (who also knows an old member of the Mutoids and SweaterSpotter - small world!), Maria Cinzia Bellerio (successful Italian online shop owner), Elbert Espeleta (indie dyer, whose yarn I've been sharing this week on Instagram), me (!), and Alice Twain (whom I've met many times at events in the UK, and was my translator for the panel)
Much of the discussion - about sharing skills, connecting with a worldwide community, bridging a generation gap within the craft, access to designs and patterns, relationships between business owners and the customers, digital publishing - won't be news to most of the online English speaking part of the knitting community. But it is news in Italy, and it was wonderful that we all shared that common ground. That it comes back to community - to support, to sharing, to access and relationships. To not feeling isolated and disconnected and the empowerment that brings.
I learnt a LOT. I learnt that although Italy is known as a big yarn producing country, and fine yarns at that, much of it is exported - many of these yarns are not available locally, and the business is dominated by large companies (much like Rowan et al). On the publishing side, there are the main publishing houses (e.g. Mani di Fata) who again dominate. Independent designers, dyers and yarn shop owners are few and far between, and as a culture, there seems to be a greater mistrust towards the internet than I'm familiar with, or lack of awareness beyond Facebook.
But that's changing.
For my input I was able to offer how publishing, and offering patterns, books and tutorials in digital format has helped knitters by increasing their choice. Independent designers would struggle to exist in most of the markets I've encountered (particularly in the UK and continental Europe) and the fact that we are now able to run businesses independently can only be a good thing. I talked about the relationship between a designer and a yarn or publishing company has changed and is slowly becoming more balanced.
And we also talked a lot outside of the panel. I don't think I could express just how amazing I found the evening and being able to talk to other members of the industry! Part of the arrangement for being on the panel was a courtesy hotel room in Rimini, and throughout dinner that evening (Aran stayed with a friend) I think Tom got a tad bored of my verbal processing of it all.
And I'm still processing. I didn't take notes throughout the panel (Alice Twain did a brilliant job at translating and helping me keep up; it would have been too much to ask Tom to take notes as well as take photos) so I'm not able to expand on the finer points of the discussion as much as I'd like, although I'm told there will be a video of the discussion (albeit in Italian). That said, the business tips shared and ideas around language, translation and presence were invaluable, and I hope to develop lots of these further.
Most of all though, I appreciate having made these new connections.