Ellen Kegels of LN Beanies and LN Andes
Interview by Editor/Founder of Butter Lauren Nicole Foot
Back in 2007 a very determined young woman from Belgium; Ellen Kegels discovered her love for knitting could become her ticket to success. The increasing demand for her coveted knitwear triggered the realization that her knitted beanies had the potential to generate a profit. Ellen seized this opportunity and thus LN Beanies was born. Her line of laid back knitwear and accessories are composed of 100% Alpaca yarn from Peru. Ellen has already received a great deal of recognition in regards to her product line. Her achievements with LN Beanies at such a young age make her a true inspiration for anyone who aspires to start their own company. Her kindness is reflected through her words and her company’s image. Ellen’s line of knitwear provides consumers with a product they will cherish and more importantly LN Andes proudly provides single mothers the opportunity to work in humane conditions. Knowing your investment in LN products is helping out single mothers makes the purchase so much more enjoyable.
I was lucky enough to be introduced to Ellen’s line of knitwear and accessories after a Belgian friend of mine suggested we review her collection for a friend’s upcoming birthday. In Canada oversized scarves have become a staple item in every women’s closet. Ellen’s sincerity and friendly business approach make doing business with her as easy as falling in love with her cozy collection.
It appears I was not the only one taken by Ellen’s knitwear as LN Beanies was born out of high demand for her products. “About 7-8 years ago I crocheted my very first LN|Beanie. At that time I was a very motivated snowboarder and crocheting or knitting your own beanie was a ‘must’ in that scene. The first year, I just crocheted beanies for family and friends, but the word started to spread fast so I continued to crochet beanies every winter, on demand. The first year I made about 30, Winter 2010 300…”
It is no surprise that there was great demand for her beanies. Ellen had to learn the ins and outs of going into business, as she had never known anyone else who had gone through the process. “I don’t know a lot of people who have started their own brand, and that would have helped or could help me with my current developments of LN. Unfortunately my family works in the Insurance field, so far, far away from anything to do with fashion! But, my father is an entrepreneur. As well. I do get a lot of help from friends when it gets really busy during winter months. Than they come and help me during LN| ‘beanie wares’ event etc… “
Ellen never studied design, despite her obvious love for creating unique and wearable knitted garments and accessories. ”First I got my bachelor degree in Communication Management or ‘advertising’. After that I went to University to do my Masters in Communication Science. No fashion background whatsoever! But good marketing, communication and customer service is as important as the designs of the collection. Without a network there is no selling. There is no profit. There is no brand…” Although Ellen’s history in marketing and communications was short lived she attributes a great deal of her success to what she learned through her experience in the industry. Before starting her company, she studied and worked in the marketing field, “I graduated from University Summer 2010. I studied Communication Management and Communication Science. Straight after that I started working in advertising as an account executive in Brussels, London and Antwerp. It wasn’t until I decided to quit my job in advertising that I became ‘full-time independent’ with my LN| companies in October 2011. Before that I was only knitting ‘unofficially’”
Ellen currently has two brands; LN Beanies and LN Andes. “I have two beautiful knit brands, all hand made with love. LN|Beanies is the brand that already exists for 7-8 years. I used to do all the knitting myself but now I have a team of lovely grannies who help me knit and crochet. LN|Beanies is a really exclusive, limited edition, so you can only buy your unique scarf, beanie, pair of mittens, … on my web shop www.lnbeanies.com or on ‘private selling nights’ that I organize regularly or on some creative markets where I participate, such as the ‘Sunday Market’ in Amsterdam.
LN|Andes, my second love knit brand, stands for Luxury Alpaca Knitwear, and is all made by hand by young mothers in Peru, Ayacucho. It’s a good cause project where a great part of my profit goes straight to the organization 'Solid International' whom I work with. I sell the LN|Andes collection, which consists of beautiful,100% baby Alpaca scarves and beanies in 13 different colors and scarves in 3 different sizes. You can find the collection in luxury shops in Belgium such as Rue Blanche, Bluepoint, Baby Beluga, … But, no worries, from the beginning of this Summer the web shop will be on-line as well! And we do ship to Canada … ;-)!”
LN l Beanies offers customers the opportunity to purchase their knitwear or have a product custom made. Ellen’s collection of winter and summer knitwear accessories provide customers with a cozy line of basic knits that will get you through just about any day. The collection includes accessories ranging from baggy beanies and headbands to mittens, scarves, collars and her most unique product, cotton bikinis. When it comes to the future of LN Beanies, Ellen spoke about how she would like to expand her company and how she would love to begin selling her products in stores “It’s only the first year that I have been really working full time on my beloved two brands. Last Winter I have taken the time to learn, not taking too many risks. Next Winter I will have invested quite a bit, taking some extra risks. But it is important to grow gradually. Take it easy, learn the process of creating a collection, the process of selling, etc etc…"
"I plan to have a genuine ‘knit brand’ with 4 collections a year when I turn 30. Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Not only scarves and beanies, but also heavy knitted cardigans, sweaters, even light knitted pants, … for winter, and cute cotton bikinis, shorts, bags, etc… in summer.
"Once there, I plan to open my own little shop. Not an ordinary shop though, it is going to be more like a ‘place to come home to’. I want to call it ‘Hélaine’ (as in LN-Hélène and yarn-laine) and it will be sort of my living room where everybody is welcome to have a look at my LN collection, but also has the possibility to have a lovely piece of pie, homemade cupcakes, or healthy freshly made soup with bread straight out of the oven… It will be a place where you will also be able to shop your own unique Peruvian yarn and get lessons on how to ‘knit and crochet’ by my amazing grannies who will also be running the place. “
Having already achieved so much success with her company at such a young age, Ellen offered some advice for young entrepreneurs aspiring to start up their own companies. “If you are extremely passionate about something, such as I am about knitwear, and you really feel the urge to do something with it, every single day, you should really give it a go! But… start off small! I only became independent after 7 years of knitting and after 7 years of creating a ‘network’. You need this network of loyal clients and fans in order to survive and in order to grow. As I said before, it is important to grow gradually. Start off small during the first years, make sure you don’t invest ‘too’ much and that you aren’t stuck with too much ‘left stock’. Once you start growing there is a time when you will have to invest. If not, you will stay on the level where it is just ‘fun’. If you want to make a living out of your hobby you will have to take it to the next level, and that is by investing and taking a few (not too many) financial risks.”
However glamorous the idea of starting your own company may sound, it is very difficult and there is a lot to learn. “I’ve learned that the state in Belgium are thieves! Haha! Yes… It is quite expensive to start off your own company… It’s insane how much we have to hand over to the state. It makes it very difficult for young people to first of all, start their own company and to have it survive the first years! You need a good accountant who helps you out with everything, but as an entrepreneur you need to have a good knowledge of financial ‘stuff’.”
Although building your own company is not always easy there are a lot of highlights and benefits. “Seems like every day has its highlights, it’s all so very exciting! But I must say, the highlight of this year was definitely my 3 week trip to Peru. Together with a good friend, and item ditto photographer I went to explore Peru, the country where my LN|Andes collection is made. We shaved Alpaca’s, and met all the lovely teenage mothers that knit & crochet for LN Andes, I taught them how to knit the perfect LN|Beanies, etc etc … Amazing experience that I will never ever forget! Will go back next year April, counting the days already!”
As Ellen and LN Beanies moves into the future she has hopes of expanding her product assortment “I’m really planning on having 4 collections a year. I want to become a genuine knit brand, offering gorgeous collections of pure knit & crochet wear, all made by hands, with love, from the best material there is to find!”
Ellen is certainly a busy woman on the go. Although her days are full she manages to make the experience enjoyable and truly makes work fun “I usually wake up around 7AM, go to the gym 3 or 4 times a week for a morning work-out session, hit the shower and start the day with a healthy fruit & yoghurt breakfast. Straight after I check my work e-mails, update my Facebook- & Twitter account and blog (www.lnknits.wordpress.com).
During the day, orders start to come in, so most of the day I’m answering e-mails and making packages. During the busy winter months I have about one private selling a week, a typical ‘beanie ware’ and 1 or 2 creative markets I attend to (mostly in the weekend).
The market days, always on Saturday or Sunday are quite heavy, meaning: getting up at 6 AM, driving towards the market, putting up my little ‘stall’, selling all day, collecting all my stuff again and driving back at around 7 to 8 PM.
In between I visit my grannies to collect the latest orders, have a chat with them and enjoy some sweet delights (good break!). Around 5PM I go to the post-office to send all the orders of the day.
If I don’t have to work late I try to catch up with some friends after that! Drinks, sushi, hm… But not too late though, because during winter months I need to be focused!
From mid January on I start to go out more often, but between October and end of December I’m pretty much working 24/7. But I absolutely adore every single second of it!”
Ellen hopes to explore many opportunities as she moves forward “As you know my collections are all made in humane conditions, LN|Beanies in Belgium by a team of grannies and LN|Andes in Peru by young mothers. Well, I hope to become an even more humane brand by also having my 100% baby Alpaca yarn made ‘from scratch’ in Peru; meaning… my very own Alpaca farm!
Imagine a team of local Peruvians earning good money by herding Alpaca’s, shaving them and spinning the yarn. After washing and coloring, the yarn can go straight to the young girls for production. In that way there is no ‘major yarn manufacturer’ in between 2 players… It’s a real dream of mine and hopefully me and Solid International (organization in Peru), will be able to make it come true in a few years!”