Kerry Lord built a luxury yarn empire that only got bigger and better when she had a baby. Marie-Claire Chappet meets the woman making crochet cool.
If Kerry Lord is one thing it’s a hard worker. She found it so hard to stop working during pregnancy that she had to take up crocheting as a distraction. Little did she know it would spawn a whole new work project. Kerry is the head, heart and soul behind the Toft Alpaca Shop – a luxury yarn brand she created from scratch straight after university. Handily, she grew up on an alpaca farm – long before anyone even knew what an alpaca was. “You search for high quality and organic in your food… why not your apparel?” she reasons. “That’s what we make and I think people love it. It’s natural, it’s British and a high quality product to a new generation that are thirsty for it. There’s a real appetite for this.”
She’s right about that. Thanks to The Great British Bake Off and The Great British Sewing Bee, skills that were previously dismissed as ‘housewife’ activities are suddenly cool. There is a discernible craft revolution occurring and it’s being brought to life by a whole new younger generation. Kerry agrees wholeheartedly and couldn’t be happier: “I think there’s a growing trend for people wanting to make their own things – be that learning to bake or making their own scarf – and it’s not just the reserve of an older generation anymore”. She learned to knit herself when she started the brand in order to understand the product, but it was crocheting that became her passion. “I needed it as a distraction as I gave up working on my due date and my son Edward arrived 14 days later. I needed something to stop me working, to help me switch off. Crocheting is far better than knitting in that respect as it’s very rhythmic.”
She made Bridget the Elephant – the first animal in what is now a 53-strong menagerie of crocheted creatures called, fittingly, Edward’s Menagerie. It is now a hugely successful book with accompanying crochet starter packs and currently the most successful product at the Toft Alpaca Shop by a mile. Kerry designs all the animals herself and has written witty and adult descriptions for each. There’s Samuel the Koala, a “self-proclaimed artist… but he keeps losing track of his sketchbook” and Boris the Red Squirrel who “refuses to play Jerusalem due to bad memories of boarding school”. The original, Bridget, was created, much like her company: to fill a gap in the market. “It was great making something for my baby that I liked too. I hadn’t seen anything quite right so I made my own”, she explains. “Crocheting, unlike so many things in my busy life, gives me a very real sense of accomplishment. In my job so many things are ongoing. It feels good to make something permanent.”
Meanwhile the business is growing faster than ever. Kerry’s just had her best-selling book about the project translated into six European languages and the alpaca farm now boasts a teaching studio and a café, making it a great destination for families who want to learn to crochet or just see how it all works. The menagerie expands every six months and there are already more animals than in the book ranging from a kangaroo to a giant anteater Kerry has just completed. So does working from home make life easier as a working mother? “There is less flexibility working from home than you would think. Especially if you’re a very driven person like I am – you always feel like you want to be doing more at work but there’s the constant guilt. I feel very responsible for the brand. It’s hard to stop working.”
So why should people take up crocheting, I ask her: “It’s portable, it’s soothing and you can do it on your commute,” she tells me.
Oh and in case you hadn’t heard, it’s very trendy now.
Baby London Crochets: Did We Get Hooked?
Kerry Lord learned to crochet in 14 days while pregnant. Inspired, the Baby London office decided to pick up a hook and try our hands at crocheting some of Toft’s marvellous menagerie. After all, how hard could it be? It turns out we weren’t quite dab hands, but with a bit of determination and hard graft, we got there… or at least some of us did. Senior Editorial Assistant Marie-Claire Chappet was the brains behind the operation – bullying her colleagues into crocheting and ordering in enough Toft yarn to clothe a small alpaca. Bridget the Elephant now sits in pride of place on Marie-Claire’s desk. Commercial Director Vicki Gavin attempted to make Alexandre the Blue Russian Cat. As a nifty knitter we have every hope in Alexandre’s imminent arrival. Sub Editor Natalie Milner has yet to pick up her crochet hook. Due to Natalie’s meticulous attention to detail she’s still analysing the codes. But the winner has to be our Managing Editor Rebecca Moore, not for being a top crocheter, oh no, but for being a dazzling delegator. Rebecca just so happens to commute with Britain’s next top crocheter, Kirsty Nicholls, who was more than up for the challenge. Beginning the day in the banking world, Kirsty crochetted a few hours in the evenings. Taking roughly eight hours to complete, we couldn’t be more impressed with the outcome of Piotr the Polar Bear. Top job. [/quote_box_center]