Gina Bonomo, owner of Wool Workshop, is a large part of a movement that is redefining the knitting community. Sewing, knitting, and crocheting are regaining popularity, and the influx of younger customers in the market is challenging the concept that these hobbies are exclusive to older generations. Her attention to detail, passion for creativity, and use of social media to promote and sell her products have made Wool Workshop the place to go for unique and trend-setting yarn and patterns. However, what keeps the customers coming back is not only the quality of the product they are getting, but the welcoming learning environment that the store offers.
What made you want to start a boutique yarn store?
I owned a shoe store called Sole Mate for over ten years. It was humming along really nicely, and it was very established. Then my best friend was diagnosed with lung cancer in Richmond. I felt like it was a good time to spend more time with him. I tried to look at the big picture of what was important. I wanted to open something there, so I decided to sell my shop to my manager. I also signed a non-compete agreement that said I could not sell any clothing, shoes, or accessories in the New River Valley or Roanoke area.
I was preparing to move up there and start a whole new business venture, and he died. I did not want to put down roots there if he wasn’t there anymore, so I had to rethink what I was going to do.
I had always been knitting things for people and enjoyed that creative side. This was at the same time that the scarf-craze was happening. Knitting was becoming mainstream. So I decided to open a knitting shop, and it was exactly what I needed. It was healing my soul from the loss of my friend and the business I didn’t have anymore.
Let’s talk about the name “Wool Workshop.” Why did you choose it?
Workshop implies a creative space. I don’t like to view this yarn shop as a brick and mortar retail location, but instead as sort of a think-tank, fashion-driven, garment-driven space. It fits with my fashion background and what I have been doing my whole life. I know when I first opened, people didn’t see the connection, but I still feel like I’m in the fashion industry. We are creating garments with sticks and string. I don’t feel like that is a stretch at all. In fact, it is more creative and fashion-driven than what I was in before.
Why do you think knitting is increasing in popularity now?
Sewing, knitting, and crocheting, and many other handiwork things got lost when women went to work. Leisure time went away, and in terms of the garment industry it became cheaper to buy a finished garment than it was to make one yourself like our mothers and grandmothers did.
We are so tech-driven now, and I think that is making us begin to move towards things that make us feel human again and less like machines. Knitting allows people to get back some of the things they have lost. It is about regaining some leisure time and things that have meaning.
How do you choose the yarn you offer to your customers?
Anything local is very appealing. We get something in from a local farmer, and people know the cotton was grown, picked, dyed, and processed in Virginia. Customers love that, because it makes us feel like we are looking out for each other.
I also stay on top of the trends just like clothing stores. There are things people want to knit with and things they don’t want to use. We pay attention to the Pantone colors of the year, and we also offer a lot of products from popular Indie dyers.
When you aren’t knitting or helping others work on their projects, how do you spend your time?
I like to read and spend time with my kids and my husband. I run file miles every day, and I have for the last thirty years. That’s really important to me. I like to keep moving—it makes me a more interesting person to get out of my little circle and see other shops. I am an entrepreneur first and foremost. Of all the other things I do, like designing, my main thing is I have an entrepreneurial spirit and I’m a retailer. I’m having the time of my life really. I could do other things that would make more money, but I just want to be fulfilled, live an authentic life, and be happy.
For more information on Wool Workshop, visit www.skeincocaine.com. Follow @skeincocaine on Instagram for special yarn auctions every Thursday and Friday! Finally, don’t miss Stephen West—the biggest name in knitwear design and knitting. He is coming to Roanoke and Wool Workshop on June 11-12.