Johanna Miller is a lifelong knitter. Starting at age 6, Miller took a break from the craft before returning to it at 19.
“I like it because I get really fidgety when I don’t have something to do,” she said.
These days, Miller has plenty to keep her busy—working as a full-time hairstylist and running Potion Yarns, her own hand-dyed yarn business. Miller started her company in 2016 with the encouragement of her husband, Brek Miller, a graphic artist with a local law firm.
“He wanted a specific project and he wanted it to match a painting I did, so I went online and couldn’t match the colors,” Miller said. “He asked, ‘Can’t you just paint yarn like you paint hair?’ And I was intrigued enough that I started Googling it to learn how to do it and decided to try it.”
Interweaving skills with business
Miller fell in love with the process. Two months later, she was using multiple colors to dye yarn in the kitchen of her 110-year-old home in the historic Northeast District of Kansas City. About a year later, Miller decided to make her passion into a legitimate business, offering her hand-dyed yarn skeins (loosely coiled lengths of yarn) online.
Miller took several business courses offered through the Internet to help her with various aspects of operating a business. She also got help from KCSourceLink.
Today, Potion Yarns offers 100 different colors of hand-dyed yarns. The yarns are animal fiber wool and wool blends. Skeins run from $28 to $34 each. Miller uses a variety of techniques to dye the yarn, but one thing is certain — there is a lot of color in her product.
“The key is about using more than one color and get dimension,” she said. “I dye yarns using layers of rich, saturated colors and put lots of layers into them. … I use professional high-quality acid dyes and nontoxic, GMO-free citric acid on my skeins.”
Miller runs all aspects of Potion Yarns out of her home.
“It is a little bit of an ordeal,” Miller said. “I pick dye days when I am there from morning to night.”
The actual dyeing takes a couple of hours, but it is a full day to complete the entire process. Her dyeing technique includes setting the color so it will not bleed or fade over time.
Miller offers ready-to-ship yarn, and she has a large inventory on hand at all time.
Increasing her audience
The customer base for Potion Yarns is diverse, Miller said.
“I have teenagers to grandmothers,” she said. “It’s a great way to unite the generations.”
Business is growing for Potion Yarns.
“I have set myself a sales goals in number, volume or product launch. I set a sales goal for every quarter, and I have met or exceeded my sale goals every quarter,” Miller said.
She gives credit to her Internet exposure and use of social media for increased business.
“I build relationships there and take part as a seller and interact with the community. That is really key to getting customers in this situation,” she said.
Miller also does a podcast to connect with the public, providing a personal touch.
“My podcast has really helped. I have a weekly video and talk about everything from tricky knitting techniques to different type of wools. … I educate my customers, and it also lets people see into my life a little bit.”
She’s even shared her business experience as part of last year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, talking about e-commerce.
Casting on a new market
Miller said there is increasing competition in the hand-dyed yarn arena; she said that’s a good thing.
“It is a really hot commodity these days, which means more demand,” Miller said. “I think it can be easy to get lost in the crowd. That’s why it is really important to build a social media presence.”
Miller said her point of differentiation in the hand-dyed yarn industry is the rich array of colors she uses.
Recently, Miller took a big step by entering the wholesale arena.
“There are minimums they have to meet, but they can sell them in their shop,” she said. “It’s a test for me and to see if it is right for my business. I prefer that direct customer contact, but when customers can see my yarn and hold it their hands they will purchase more of it, and I can sell more.”
Potion Yarns has been scaling up its inventory as Miller is traveling more out of state to craft and trunk shows and festivals to sell yarn. She spends about 60 to 70 hours weekly — outside of her hairstylist job — on various aspects of Potion Yarns.
“The future is to keep trying to make this my full-time gig, and I have high hopes to do this in the future, but I don’t want to leave the hair salon,” Miller said.
“I think my background being a colorist honed my experience and eye and helped me understand and achieve really unique color blends.”