University News

Tink Knit aids low-income single parents

Knitting venture’s handmade goods provide skills, income to participants

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2015

In its pilot phase, Tink Knit sold all 250 of its hats in the Brown Bookstore, raising over $6,000. All participants were able to find permanent housing.

Some single parents in Providence now have a source of steady income and economic opportunities through the venture Tink Knit, launched this semester and co-founded by Julia Xu ’17 and Julia Xu ’15.

Tink Knit teaches single mothers how to knit products like hats and then sells those products, returning 50 percent of the profits to the mothers and reinvesting the remainder back into the program. The program enables single mothers to earn a steady income without having to leave their children, Xu ’17 said.

The venture recruits participants primarily through local shelters, Xu ’17 said. At the beginning of the program, participants are taught to loom knit hats, scarves and cozies in workshops conducted by Brown students while volunteers babysit their children. The mothers are then periodically supplied with raw materials, tools and designs to work from home. Products are sold at the Brown Bookstore and by Brown Student Agencies.

“We are not a business,” Xu ’17 said. “We evaluate impact by how much goes back to the moms.”

Tink Knit was originally designed for the Enactus United States National Competition, a social entrepreneurship contest that entails launching a successful social venture. Xu ’17, Xu ’15 and the Enactus@Brown team, collected data last year to identify vulnerable populations in the Providence community. “We saw that single moms’ unemployment rate is three times more than normal,” Xu ’17 said. “There is minimal support for them.”

With a $500 Explore Grant from the Brown Venture Launch Fund, Xu ’17 and her team of 40 volunteers started a pilot program that spanned from January to May and focused on helping eight single mothers and their families.

The pilot program was positively received, despite concerns of dwindling demand for winter gear with the onset of spring said Steven Souza, director of the Brown Bookstore. “When alums and the general public grasp the cause, it’s an easy sell,” said Souza.

All 250 hats from the pilot period sold, raising over $6,000, Xu ’17 said.

All participants in the pilot found permanent housing, and the average income of knitters rose by 30 percent, according to Tink Knit’s website.

Mandy, who asked to be identified by her first name because she is currently going through divorce proceedings, participated in the pilot as a recently separated mother of three who had previously been a stay-at-home parent. Mandy contacted Tink Knit through social media in hopes of participating in the program, she said.

“They had me fill out a goal form about what I wanted,” Mandy said. “I think I said I wanted to keep my house.”

The extra income from Tink Knit eased her financial transition to sole breadwinner for her family, and she was able to find a job after participating, Mandy said.

Alan Harlam, director of innovation and social entrepreneurship at the Swearer Center for Public Service, attributed the success of the program to Tink Knit’s consideration of social dynamics and business strategy. “Their number one commitment is to the women, and the cost of making that happen has been challenging. They are creative about solving these problems,” Harlam said.

One of the ways Tink Knit has sought to remain financially viable is by forming partnerships with Lion Brand Yarn and Flatbread Company, Xu ’17 said.

With a $1,000 award as the winner of BSA’s Inspire Week contest, Tink Knit kicks off in earnest with an expected 30 participants this semester, including the program’s first single father. “We say single mothers because there are so many more single-mother families than single-father families. But it is not a gender thing,” Xu ’17 said. “We have guys on our team who knit.”

Tink Knit may expand in the future to locations like the Rhode Island School of Design Store, Xu ’17 said.

The Stephen Robert Campus Center ’62 information desk may also sell Tink Knit products in the future, and the Underground will offer discounts for students who bring in cups with Tink Knit cozies, said Simran Vazirani ’15 GS, director of business development at BSA.

Tink Knit is also looking to work with RISD textile design students on new knit patterns.

The venture will also provide a resume building and job search workshop this month for its participants led by Jim Amspacher, career adviser for Careers in the Common Good at CareerLAB, Amspacher wrote in an email to The Herald.

Tink Knit has also reached out to former knitters to help this semester. Mandy said she was asked to serve as a mentor for the new set of knitters and an ambassador for the program. “I am definitely interested, but I don’t know if I’ll have the time with my job. I guess that’s a good thing!”

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