by Stella Shepard
Sisters Kim Doherty-Smith and Jennifer Doherty started Fleece & Harmony Woolen Mill with a passion to raise their own animals and handcraft every batch of fiber produced on site on the Garfield Road in Belfast.
“We raise our own flock of Corriedale and Border Leicester cross sheep and source all the fibre for our yarns right here on PEI,” says Kim.
“We also carry our own brand of roving fiber, and showcase several local Island artists, potters, felting artists, and knitwear designers.” They also sell ChiaoGoo knitting needles, Rowan yarns, and Cocoknits notions.
The business is an entrepreneurial success story despite a global pandemic. Sales have actually increased during COVID-19 because of global demand.
In 2016, the sisters began their entrepreneurial journey in rural PEI when Kim moved from Montreal and Jennifer moved from Toronto.
“We are always thinking about the next step in business and willing to take a researched risk,” says Kim. “Before we opened the business, we did our research and realized we could not rely solely on local sales,” says Jennifer. “The on-site retail shop became a tourist destination, but we could not depend on the shop as the main marketing source.
“The first risk we took after we opened was to invest a lot of money in an e-commerce website that ships internationally and has marketing platforms that work for us.”
It took four years for the business to become well established on the e-commerce website, and then COVID-19 struck. Sales for their products increased as more people stayed at home because of the pandemic.
“The website developer told us not to think of our business as being local because we are selling to the world,” says Jennifer. “It does not matter where your business is located. You can sell globally and be successful if you have a high quality product.
“Photography is key in selling on-line. We invested in a professional photographer and I enrolled in photography courses. I can now photograph a ball of yarn as well as a professional.
“A partnership with Rowan provides a destination where people can find yarn of any colour and quantity on our e-commerce website.
“Rowan collaborates with some of the most famous designers of hand-knit patterns in the world. We were successful in our pitch to host a virtual event with two of the most famous global designers in the business.
“We had 260 people from around the globe join virtually and we sold local tickets and practiced social distancing. We are having the best sales all year as a result of investing in this event and other events which provide exposure and credibility.”
Kim and Jennifer host a popular bi-weekly video podcast on YouTube, which is building a global community of followers and has increased sales.
The sisters also invested in designing labels for blankets made by other companies from their wool which wasn’t suitable for spinning in their mill. They sold 80 blankets in 24 hours as a result of partnering and promoting the company on their label.
“We would be just a little retail shop in Belfast if we had not invested in a top-class e-commerce website,” says Kim. “We would be out of business if we didn’t pitch ideas, do our research, and be willing to take risks,” adds Jennifer.
Advice to entrepreneurs
• Reach out and connect with partners and pitch ideas
• Work collaboratively instead of competing with other businesses
• Be willing to take researched risks
• Invest in an e-commerce website
• Invest in hiring professionals such as photographers.
The business employs one full-time and two part-time staff members. Kim and Jennifer plan to increase staff hours and hire more people in the future as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
For more information about Fleece & Harmony, contact Kim or Jennifer at 902-659-2550.
View their YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/c/FleeceHarmony