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E35 | Meet Danielle Chiel: Changing Lives One Hand-Knitted Garment at a Time

Today’s guest is Danielle Chiel, an Australian entrepreneur who founded KOCO (Knit One Change One). Danielle, through KOCO, is seeking to change lives one hand-knitted garment at a time.

She currently employs 200 Indian ladies from various villages in India, to hand-knit garments for her; but her dream is to expand the business and employ 10,000 women.

KOCO hand-knits garments for global fashion brands – they produce fashions and homewares that customers love, by working with women in the rural villages in the south of Tamil Nadu.

At the same time as giving these ladies employment, KOCO provides them with an education and all the training they need, in order to become world-class handknitters.

On today’s podcast learn:

  • Where Danielle’s love for knitting came from.
  • How she is building a women’s only business which is hand-knitting the world together.
  • How she started after she swore never to go back to India after a disastrous holiday there.
  • Where you can find out more information about the lady that hand-knitted the jumper you are wearing.
  • Why consumers have to drive the necessary change in order to strip back the strict confidentiality agreements that brands insist on, to reveal where their clothing is made.
  • The trials and tribulations of getting a new business off the ground in a country that doesn’t speak your language.


How To Be A Successful Entrepreneur

If you had a love for knitting, and you’d started a business employing people to produce garments for you, but at the same time your country is going through PMs faster than a toddler eating something they shouldn’t be, and subsequently makes changes to businesses laws forcing you to produce your hand-knitted items offshore, most people would just give up.

Most people aren’t Danielle Chiel.

Danielle fell in love with knitting aged 10, so much so she asked her mother if she could switch schools from the private school she was attending to the local state school, where she could study fashion. The answer was a resounding no.

But that didn’t deter Danielle.

Fast forward to today and Danielle is an entrepreneur on a mission to join the world together through hand-knitting.

Entrepreneurs need to be resilient

Resilience. It doesn’t matter if you’re born with it, or you come into it later in life. The point is, if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you have to be able to bounce back. Because life isn’t plain sailing.

Danielle’s demonstrable resilience:

  • Australia changed its employment rules potentially putting an end to Danielle’s business; so she searched for a solution offshore.
  • She found a solution in India, where a few of the ladies could knit, but they couldn’t read or write and they didn’t speak English.
  • In order for her business to succeed, she had to teach her full time employees english and maths.

For every problem, there is a solution. It’s your job as the entrepreneur to figure it out.

Don’t expect huge levels of support

If you’re running a business that is for-profit, don’t expect huge levels of support, even if you are running it as a social enterprise too.

At the end of the day, your business’s success lies firmly and squarely at your feet. You have to be resilient and tenacious, and you have to be able to just get on with things.

Give your brand meaning and purpose

If you want people to buy into your brand, give it meaning and purpose. For KOCO, that is Knit One (garment), Change One (life).

Danielle was asked to define her business in three words. The three words she chose were: experience, connect, transform. The reason? KOCO connects the Indian hand knitter with the end user, and through this shared experience it transforms both their lives.

Have a goal to work towards

If you don’t have a set goal to work towards, how are you able to define success?

Set yourself a series of goals, break them down into smaller constituent parts to make them more attainable, then figure out how you’re going to achieve these goals.

For Danielle, her goal was to build a company that could employ 40,000 women. In the beginning (as she still does), she had lots of interest from brands wanting her ladies to hand-knit for them, but she couldn’t grow big enough, fast enough to accomodate all of these customers.

It initially took them one month to knit a jumper and each knitter had to attend a training course that took 7 months to complete. It just wasn’t sustainable as she couldn’t get the work done fast enough. Now they knit a jumper in 7 days, and the training course is just three days.

Danielle currently employs 200 women, but aims to grow that to 1,000, then 5,000, then 10,000.

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