AHA! A House for Arts

S4 E34 | FULL EPISODE

Darn Good Yarn

Darn. Good. Yarn. This creative e-commerce company is a force to be reckoned with. Learn what the secret sauce is behind their success. The Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay provides its community with strength through the power of art. See how Coco Cat Bakery makes a wide array of delectable creations with some strange flavor combinations. Visit the studio of modern violinmaker, Samuel Zygmuntowicz.

AIRED: March 19, 2019 | 0:26:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

(cheerful music)

- On this episode of AHA,

Darn Good Yarn.

- We are fueled by this concept that business

can be its own creative medium.

That's where the really fun stuff starts to happen.

- [Matt] Veterans heal through the arts.

- It relaxes you, it keeps your mind

off your personal problems.

- [Matt] Sugar and spice.

Perfecting playability.

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA.

- [Man] Funding for AHA

has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include

The Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka, Robert and Doris Fischer Malisardi,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank we understand that the vitality

of our community is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

(upbeat music)

- Hi, I'm Matt Rogowicz and this is AHA,

A House for Arts, a place for all things creative.

Darn Good Yarn.

This creative e-commerce company

is a force to be reckoned with.

Last summer it was named Albany's fastest growing business,

so we took a trip to their warehouse in Halfmoon, New York,

to chat with founder and CEO, Nicole Snow

to learn a little bit about what that secret sauce is

behind their success.

(upbeat music)

- Darn Good Yarn is a creative company.

We re fueled by this concept

that business can be its own creative medium

and I think that's important for anyone who's creative.

I think there's sometimes this, "Oh, I'm creative,

"I can be necessarily a business person."

I've seen that a lot and you go like,

"No you just have to kind of change the way

"you're approaching things."

You can be as creative as you want in business,

that's where the really fun stuff starts to happen.

My name's Nicole Snow and I'm the founder

and CEO of Darn Good Yarn.

Darn Good Yarn is an e-commerce business

located in Halfmoon, New York.

I started the business 11 years ago

and we were just named the fastest growing business

in the Capital Region.

My love of crafting came from when I was a little girl.

My mom, I think, realized early on

that I loved to make messes around the house

and I think she smartly put me down in the basement

in this corner and made a desk, and she said,

"This is you craft area."

And looking back as a mom now,

I'm like, that was just smart parenting

to keep all of my glitter in one corner of the house.

But I've always just loved to repurpose things,

repaint things, I've always been really crafty in that way.

My great grandmother was incredibly crafty,

I mean coming off of Ellis Island.

And then, as I got older, I was always told

art isn't the thing that makes you money.

It was like, go to school, go do business,

I was an officer in the Air Force,

and that passion got kind of pushed down.

But it, like, always came out in these little places

and then when I got out of the military,

I really wanted to explore

the creativity side a little bit more,

so I swung from on side to the other.

(upbeat music)

I started this business out of my guest bedroom in my house.

I was living in California and my husband's job

was moving us all over the nation.

I wanted to learn how to knit at the time

so I said, you know, let me try to marry

us moving around all the time and making a small business

and then my love for yarn and all things crafty.

I went to school at Clarkson University in upstate New York

and, the little bit of that business background

helped me to grow Darn Good Yarn.

I realized pretty quickly that,

while I'm a really creative person using paints

and metal and all that weird mediums in that way,

stuff I really have fun with,

I can actually use that same creativity in business itself.

And so, the business itself became my new medium

and once I sort of figured that out,

I went like, "Whoa, there's like the whole world here."

(traditional music)

Darn Good Yarn runs on a really cool concept

called the Triple Bottom Line Framework.

So, in most businesses you measure the success

of the business based on profitability,

with the Triple Bottom Line Framework,

you're actually measuring the success

of the business of off three Ps.

The first is profitability,

the second is what you're actually doing for the planet,

and then the third is the people

that interact with your supply chain.

So, when you sort of go in with that mindset,

you're able to apply that creativity

and you're able to make really cool things happen.

As the business started to grow,

I realized that the core product I was bringing in,

which was recycled silk yarn,

when I was bringing that in, I realized that the women

that were making this over in Nepal, in India,

it was a side hustle for them.

So I said, "Man, I think I can, like,

"Create a really cool sustainable job for them

"where they can work from home,

"they can be with their children."

And from there, that's when the business started to grow

because I treated the business like a conduit

to create sustainable employment,

versus just selling product on the internet.

The jobs that we're creating are really based on

focusing on individuals that have been effected most

by gender and caste discrimination in these countries.

I'm not trying to go in and rework anyone's

history or countries, or anything like this,

I realize that that's very much

a part of the cultures that we're dealing with,

but what I do wanna do is provide a way

for people to work for themselves.

A lot of times it's women who are illiterate,

they usually have had an issue

where their husband has gotten really sick

or he can't work and provide for their families.

So when you lose the main breadwinner,

that's a significant deal.

And when you're dealing with this caste discrimination,

you're not dealing with the social safety nets

like that we have in this country, even, to fall back on.

So, what I'm trying to do is create products

that need a lot of people working on them,

even if they are low skill, and I believe that,

and we're seeing progress of this,

is that when you provide that skill,

especially to women, that money is staying in the homes

and it's being reinvested back into the next generation.

(cheerful music)

The positivity component is really important

to what we do here, it just,

it keeps us creative,

it keeps us trying to do things a little bit better,

with a little bit more innovation

and that's really what I think small business is all about.

We like to also think of ourselves

as a technology company and as an R and D lab.

We let people go experiment and try something,

if it doesn't work, it's not big deal.

When you look at our stats,

we just posted an amazing year on top of,

the year before we closed out 2018 at $7.1 million,

and that was with a business size,

in terms of employees, of eight people.

We've now grown to 21 employees this year,

and we're looking to post an even larger,

I think we're definitely going to surpass

10 million this year in sales.

The thing that's always really surprised me, though,

is that I was never taken seriously,

until I started talking about my revenue numbers,

until people come here,

people thought that we just sat around and knit all day.

And that's not what's going on here

and it's been so often that it's been pushed to the side

and then as we started posting our revenue numbers,

then when we started blasting the, sort of,

big guys out of the water,

your healthcare, your technology industries,

out of the water and people are seeing

that this creative company is making

this sort of traction, and scalable traction.

We've been growing, at least, by 40%

every single year since I started the business 11 years ago.

We are definitely a force to be reckoned with.

- The veterans in Tampa Bay, Florida

are on a mission to heal,

by providing military, veterans,

first responders, and their families

access to resources at the Veterans Art Center,

this organization is striving to provide its community

with strength through the power of art.

- I'm Mack Macksam and I'm a United States Army

Retired Major, and I am the founder and Executive Director

for the Veterans Art Center, Tampa Bay.

(cheerful music)

This is Florida's first center

and it's dedicated for our military,

veterans, first responders, and families,

and we provide therapy, healing, wellness,

and educational programming.

When I started the program at USF St Petersburg,

the Officers Training Program,

literally running in downtown St Petersburg

at 5:30 in the morning with our guys and gals,

our cadets, and it just hit me like an epiphany.

And I thought, where is there a place

for military and veteran artists?

There has to be military artists

and veteran artists out there.

And so, since 2014, we stared the programs,

we started the foundation

of the Veterans Art Center, Tampa Bay.

And this is about mental health and healing,

it's suicide prevention through the arts,

i.e alternate therapies.

We currently have 10 programs right now and we're growing.

We're doing things like Veteran Art Bootcamp,

how to do drawing.

Last year we done a program called Amplify

where we brought in eight veterans,

together they created lyrics, a song,

and a production, and a performance called Coming Together.

- I don't sing, I don't play any instruments, I don't dance,

but I thought, well why not?

So we came together and we wrote a song

and we made a music video.

It was just enjoyable to do something

completely out of my comfort zone.

(sad music)

- While I was in the service, years ago,

while we were waiting to be assigned to an aircraft

to go out on our various patrols,

I started sketching fellow pilots

as they were sitting around the table, ready to go.

And during these sketching,

I would occasionally throw one in the basket

and the pilot would jump in over and say,

"Don't do that Pete, I wanna send that home to my mother."

So I realized that, perhaps, some of my talents

could be devoted to another way of expressing

people as I saw them

and also, just giving them something to remember.

It's enjoyable, I find it normal because it relaxes you,

it keeps your mind off your personal problems

and your physical problems

better than taking any of the opioids or pain relievers

that are present on the market today.

- Since 2017, we've reached out to 332 veterans,

military and first responders,

and now we have prevented two suicides

so we're very, very quietly doing things.

We partnered with The Veterans History Project

with the Library of Congress

and today we are recording nine stories

of veterans from World War Two to today.

And they are being interviewed by volunteers,

and this has been a really, really special day.

For me, I think this is a very powerful day.

(trombone music)

- I was just getting out of high school,

and with my social background, so to speak, my race,

I was headed straight for a rice bag in Vietnam.

Straight for a rice bag in Vietnam, didn't do any of that.

This is what I did in the military.

I played in units with Filipino, Japanese, Karremans,

a couple of Nazis, people from all over the world,

but we all speak the same language which is music.

- So we're doing various things through the arts,

we're growing, we're gathering the data,

the surveys, the testimonials,

that the art is therapeutic, healing, wellness,

and add a little bit of unique niche for Tampa Bay.

We have funded the center through individual contributions

and individual fundraisers that we've had,

because we're not in the art sale business

but I give everybody the stage,

the opportunity to show, to sell their artwork,

and to bring the community together

through this thing called art and the power of art.

- Working in the veteran community

is very different than when you're working with civilians.

So, like, there's a certain type of attitude

and just, sort of, care that you need to have

when you working with that kind of community.

Because you don't know what they've been through,

you don't know how sensitive they are,

and when it comes to art, it's super personal.

So I think that was the big lesson for me,

is that whatever they have here, it's from their heart.

- I think that it depends on who comes in.

May it be female vets who've been sexually assaulted,

or Vietnam vets, or Korea vets,

or OEF and OIF veterans, it all depends.

And first responders too.

- I'm more crafty than artsy, I do jewelry,

I do wooden work, leather work, stuff like that.

Made these.

Patriotic angel earrings.

It's therapeutic, actually, for everybody.

You gotta get away from you TV and your video games

and your telephones and use your creative mind.

It takes your mind off your pain,

it takes your mind off your past.

It helps you take your mind off

of the bad stuff that's going on.

- Now we go to Coco Cat Bakery in Columbus, Ohio,

and learn how this family-run business

makes a wide array of delectable creations

with some strange flavor combinations.

- We are inside the North Market.

We've been here for a little over two and a half months.

Coco Cat was born out of the idea

that we would be raising money to help spay neuter cats

in and around our community.

I love to put really crazy spices and herbs into chocolate,

things that you would never, ever think go with chocolate.

Now, these are not your normal, ordinary strawberries

because they're dipped in white chocolate and dark chocolate

but then they topped with things

like toasted coconut with Jamaican curry,

we have fresh rosemary and pistachio

on top of dark chocolate,

and hibiscus and candied orange chopped up

and put onto a dark chocolate strawberry.

We also have our ginger, cardamom, lime truffles.

I kind of go with the flavors that I really like,

like curries and particularly herbs.

So, we grow a lot of our herbs on our farm

but then we also have a lot of our spice combination blended

or purchase them directly from North Market Spices,

here in the market.

Everything is very, very, very small batch

and very handcrafted, such attention to detail.

All the way to our Coco Kitty items,

like Lego bricks with Jelly Bellies in them

and little emoji poops.

- These are the emoji poops, the biggest seller.

They are made of solid chocolate.

My name is Tosh and I am nine years old.

Well, I told my mom that not all kids

like herbs and spices in their chocolate.

So, they are Lego bricks filled with Jelly Beans

and then just solid chocolate.

And these are the Lego bricks.

- Columbus is definitely ready for all of these

different combinations, and they're willing to try them.

That's the biggest thing,

are you willing to try my reckless abandon

and kind of go to the edge of what you really think

chocolate could be and should be?

A lot of people just want plain chocolate,

well we don't do that.

- Finally, we visit the Brooklyn, New York studio

of modern violin maker, Samuel Zygmuntowicz.

He discovered his craft as a teenager,

studied at the Violin Making School of America

in Salt Lake City

and has spent his career bring life to violins

for some of the world's most talented musicians.

(violin music)

- I was interested in sculpture and art

from as little as I can remember,

I was always doing sculpture.

I think I was good at it,

and everyone assumed that I would be a professional artist.

When I was 13, I read a book about a violin maker

and I kind of got interested in instrument making.

It uses all the attributes of art

but it's for a practical purpose

and it has a really clear metric,

it either performs well as a violin

for the musician or it doesn't.

So it's dependent on knowledge and skill.

If someone comes to me to have a violin made,

there is kind of a process where I want to understand,

first of all, why did they come to me?

Presumably they've heard instruments of mine.

I want to see their violin.

I have to understand what they want.

Are they soloist or are they

a very aggressive, strong player?

Are they someone who is a more subtle player, softer?

Then I will go back to my shop

and then it's up to me to decide

what I will make for them that will serve their needs.

All around me here, here's my wood stock,

or some of my wood stock,

and it's kind of like a collection of wine or something.

Comes from all over Europe and I've been buying wood

from the beginning of my career.

It has to sit for a long time

but then I can go through that.

And I pick wood based, not just visually,

but on its density, its stiffness,

how I think it will behave in this model.

First, I have to make what's called the rib structure,

which is the sides.

And those are bent out of very thin wood

around a form which I've designed.

From the ribs, from the sides I've made,

I will then create the outline of the instrument.

Saw out the top and the back.

While the ribs are bent, the top and the back,

even though they have an arch, that's carved in

because it's a compound arch in one direction

whereas the ribs are just bent.

The arching is critical to the tone color.

Probably the most important part of the violin

is the front, the top.

That's the part that vibrates the most.

And that's made out of spruce,

which is, of the European woods,

it's the wood that is strongest per unit of weight.

What's challenging is while I'm making it,

I'm relating to it in a visual and a tactile way,

but when it's working as a violin,

it's going to be vibrating in a way that,

you know, is not visible to the eye

but that is very real.

It's like a long chess game.

I won't know if I've made the right calls

until the instrument's been strung up

and been played for a while.

It crosses the line from being

something that you've just made

like the same way you'd make a chest of drawers

or build a house,

to being something that is vibrating

in response to human interaction.

It's not alive exactly but it's like it's alive.

(violin music)

Every violin I make, I keep really exhaustive records on

every aspect about it that I can.

The wood choice, model, arching,

thicknesses, weights, tact tones,

varnishes, space bar dimensions.

If an instrument of mine comes back

and I really like it, I wanna make another one like that,

I have some record of what I did.

On the other hand, if someone comes in

and it's like, well it's just not

as open as it should be or it's not as focused,

I can look at my notes and I can see,

well, I may have been a little conservative on that

when I might have a little room to take a little wood out.

Or, that one might be a little too flexible,

maybe I should put in a little reinforcement.

You never really understand something

until you have to explain it to somebody else.

So, it puts me on the spot all the time when I teach.

Most of the great shops historically,

including Stradivari, were studios,

they weren't a single lone artist.

People working collaboratively

will ultimately work at higher level of development

than a single craftsperson or a single artist.

You could say on the one hand, I'm training my competition,

on the other hand, I feel that it's a tribute

to the system that I practice.

I'm not a magician, I build things

with a method and based on skill,

and if I can convey that then it's sort of,

you could say proof of concept.

Art never exists in a vacuum.

What are the sources of knowledge that go into it?

What are the quality of the people that enter the field?

And then it's pulled foreword by the demands

of the clientele or the audience.

I've had wonderful opportunities

working with great musicians.

I got contacted by Isaac Stern

to make a copy of his Guarneri Jay Astute.

To actually meet Isaac Stern, for me,

it's like, I don't know, meeting the pope or something.

It's legendary.

When the instrument was finally done,

I brought it to Mr Stern who was incredibly gracious.

When Mr Stern passed away,

the two instruments that I'd made for him

were part of his estate and they were auctioned off.

That violin was recently sold to Chad Hoopes,

who is a wonderful soloist in his 20's,

and I think it's a really fitting placement

and I think Mr Stern would be very pleased.

It was an odd feeling to see that my work

has now left my purview.

It has now entered the world where it lives its own life

and it has its own history.

And I feel like I've seen my own work

go from a decent alternative for a musician

to being something that it sought after,

that has a place in the history of violin making.

(violin music)

- And that wraps it up for this edition of AHA.

For more arts and culture, visit wmht.org/AHA,

where you'll find features about a creative world

in our backyards and across the country.

Until next time, I'm Matt Rogowicz, thanks for watching.

(upbeat music)

Funding for AHA has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include

The Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka, Robert and Doris Fischer Malisardi,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

At M&T Bank we understand that the vitality

of our community is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

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