During Melbourne’s brutal lockdowns as the pandemic raged, a trip to the dog park was a real treat and that’s where Cat Bloxsom and Morgan Collins got a lot of great compliments.
But it didn’t relate to their dogs, instead the duo had taken up a somewhat daggy habit during lockdown – knitting.
“When lockdown hit in 2020 like everyone else we were trying our hand at new things and neither of us are great in the kitchen and we had already thrown out half our clothes at that point and had watched all of Netflix,” Ms Bloxsom told news .com.au.
“We were looking for something to keep us connected, creative and something to calm us at a stressful time, so ordered some stuff online to give knitting a go.
“We jumped on YouTube and taught ourselves how to knit and really loved it and we would wear our creations to the dog park and get a lot of comments about how cool our jumpers were.”
But the journey into knitting wasn’t without its hilarious mistakes with Ms Bloxsom creating one jumper where its sleeves only reached her elbows.
“I guess for people that have never knitted, which is a lot, there is a lot of knitting jargon and lingo and it feels like you are trying to learn another language or read code,” she said.
“We knew as beginners that there would be other people who must have the same sort of troubles when understanding patterns.”
A business idea began to form especially as they also wanted to inject some modern style into the knitting world.
“To relatively young knitters a lot of styles and patterns we saw were quite daggy and neutral colours,” Ms Bloxsom explained.
“We saw the opportunity to design things we wanted to wear and modernize an awesome craft that did tend to feel stuck in the past.”
It led the duo, both in their early thirties, to start their business called Cardigang although the timing was less than perfect
Cardigang was launched in the Australian summer in December 2020, six months after they first picked up the “sticks”.
“It was actually the hottest day of the year that we launched,” added Ms Collins.
The friends tipped in $4000 each to fund the business after making three to four jumpers.
From there, they started writing their own patterns, sourcing 100 per cent Australian chunky wool and creating their own custom colours.
It saw them launching knitting kits initially for jumpers with five patterns and eight colors before expanding into cardigans, vests, tops, beanies and scarfs.
The chunky wool was a key part of attracting customers, according to Ms Collins.
“We are reasonably impatient and didn’t want to knit something for six months on tiny needles,” she said.
“We wanted instant gratification and the wool and kits made it really easy to learn as there is less room for fine errors.”
Depending on the style, a beginner jumper can take just a weekend to create with around 12 to 16 hours needed on the sticks, they said.
Their initial goal was to sell 40 kgs of wool they had stored in the spare room at Ms Collins’ house.
But since launching, the friends have sold over 5000 knit kits including 5 tonnes of wool which equates to 10 million meters worth of wool.
“The wool sold so far is the weight of an adult elephant, which we were pretty stoked about,” added Ms Bloxsom.
One of the most popular products has been their Betty jumper, which boasts a statement balloon sleeve with signature contrast ribbing and sells for $245, while they recently released a knit kit called the Olivia which is an asymmetric color block style.
“Its pastel combination has gone off and it looks quite custom. It’s not something you can buy off the shelf and you can wear it really proudly and say it’s the first thing I have knitted,” said Ms Bloxsom.
“Colour wise we have over 30 colors when we started off with six or eight and the greens and pinks are always very popular.
“So much of the brand is about an explosion of color and dopamine. Customers gravitate towards the bright colours, we have a few neutrals but they are not the ones that sell the best.”
Beanies have become hugely popular, Ms Collins added, as they can be a “little less daunting than knitting a jumper” and can be completed in just two to three hours.
Cardigan has been a smashing success so far. The friends made $500,000 in revenue in the first year and are set to double it to $1 million for their second year.
But Ms Bloxsom said that this success has required them to take some massive risks.
“We have put a 10 per cent deposit on our next order knowing we didn’t have the balance in the bank and had to hustle to make that money so we could continue to buy stock,” she revealed. “The business grew at rate where we kept selling out and had to go to pre sale, but we had to get comfortable with taking risks and ambiguity that allowed the business to grow really quickly.”
Despite feeling “trepidation”, the women also left their full time marketing jobs in March this year.
The friends are grateful for their “cheer squad” at the dog park that made them believe they could turn Cardigang into a success.
“We both had Covid puppies and we couldn’t see family or friends as they didn’t live in our perimeters so we got very familiar and friendly with our dog park friends,” Ms Bloxsom added.
“Everyone would be head to toe in black and in puffer jacker and we would strut into the park with bold bright knitware and we stood out like a sore thumb. But we wanted to be asked about our jumpers so we could brag and be asked where we got it from.”
They said since then people sharing their masterpieces on social media have been one of the key factors to their success.
Now, they are looking to expand their brand beyond a “winter sport” creating summer patterns with merino wool and are also developing a chunky cotton option.
“We will be releasing patterns that are more summer friendly in terms of styles and we are looking at other techniques; like a lot of customers crochet and we want to see what that might look like,” said Ms Collins.
“We are looking at knitting things that are not seasonally dependent like gifts for babies.”
Critical to their long-term growth strategy will be to capitalize on the winter market in both hemispheres.
With 5 per cent of sales already coming from overseas, their focus is further penetration in key markets like the US and UK.
“We know a lot of people associate winter with knitting but knitting is not just a winter sport. We think creating offerings showing anything can be done throughout the year is really important,” Ms Bloxsom added.
“I think for us we have really big plans and aspirations for Cardigang to become the most used and most loved DIY fashion brand – not just in Australia but globally.”