Interview by Pia Kaipainen
According to Wikipedia the term "volunteering" translates as following: Volunteering is the practice of people working on behalf of others without being motivated by financial or material gain. Volunteering generally considered an altruistic activity, intended to promote good or improve human quality of life. The world of action sports has progressed inter alia to become more environmentally responsible but the kind of humanitarian work that Krochet Kids International does, is something fresh and different. It began from crocheting their own hats back in Spokane, Washington where the whole KKI crew grew up. Today the same crew runs a non-profit company that employs women in poor countries and has taught them i.a. to crochet those same hats in order to provide hope, education and jobs. All proceeds from the product sales are infused back into the communities from which they came. Hats CAN truly make a difference in the world - when you go about it like Krochet Kids International has done.
These guys certainly deserve to voice out what the brand is about and what the story behind it is. Please meet Kohl Crecelius, one of the two the Executive Directors of Krochet Kids International who also acts as a voice for people living in severe poverty, eg. in war-torn Uganda.
Hello Kohl; it's absolutely an honor to exchange a few words with you! After reading your brand profile I was absolutely mesmerized by your story! How wonderful to find someone really making a difference and a pro-humanitarian statement in the world of boardsports. Of whom does KKI consist of and how did you get started?
We are a group of friends and dreamers that have been brought together by our common interests and goals to see a brighter future for those in our world who may not have the opportunity. I’ve known Travis (co-founder) since pre-school, and we befriended Stewart (co-founder) in high school as we began crocheting beanies and selling them to our friends and teachers to raise money for prom. College introduced us to fellow visionaries Adam Thomson and Brad Holdgrafer. Along with other close friends we saw an opportunity to use a simple skill we all had (crochet) to offer hope to those in desperate situations. So, we traveled to Uganda in order to do that very thing…
Having experience doing volunteer work for organizations such as The Red Cross and Unicef I find it it deeply rewarding. Giving back is receiving back - the feeling of making a difference is such a positively humbling feeling. Did you have previous experience on volunteer work for e.g. charities or charity related events, before you kicked off KKI?
Definitely. It was these previous experiences we had volunteering abroad that allowed us to understand two important things: 1) the great need that was within developing nations, and 2) that it was possible for people like us to help greatly. I spent one summer volunteering with Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic. I taught English and Math, and I helped put on programs for the children living in migrant sugar cane villages. The experience broke my heart and encouraged me to live a life which helped and supported people in such great need.
Your biggest project so far has been helping out people in northern Uganda. What lead you to start there?
We did know some people that were working in the area, but ultimately what drew us to the area was the opportunity to help. Uganda is in a very unique situation; recently gaining stability after a 20-year civil war that tore their country apart. It left millions of people displaced from their homes and without any hope for employment or a stable income. It was in this environment that we saw our programs could have the greatest impact. So, we sought out to give hope and stable employment to a group of people that did not have such opportunities.
From business side of things; has there been obstacles in tackling with the bureaucracy in Uganda and/or US?
Yes. Working in a land-locked sub-Saharan African country has its challenges, as you can imagine. We clearly didn’t begin work in Uganda from purely a business standpoint, but we sought an area where we could truly make an impact with our programs.
When you visited Uganda to e.g. teach the women in your program to crochet - it must have been quite groundbreaking as an experience? From ideas & images in your head to reality?
It was really incredible to see all of our planning, our research, and our vision played out in real life. We were blown away the first day we sat down to train the group of women to crochet, and they began making nearly flawless beanies. Simply amazing.
How has the boardsports community responded to KKI so far? Open arms, skepticism or both? I'm mentioning skepticism as these days there are many companies looking for extra brand value by conveying an image of a socially/environmentally responsible image of themselves - without much substance.
They have definitely welcomed us with open arms. People have shown great interest and support of our organization. They have got behind the cause and the product for sure. At the root of it all, people like to give back and support others. While we [as humans] don’t always act this out, I believe that when given the opportunity people are stoked to get involved. At Krochet Kids intl. we wanted to make it easy for people to do their part in helping people in Uganda. Simply put, “Buy a hat. Change a life."
How have the retailers received you - has it been challenging to get them to take your products on the shelves?
It’s definitely been difficult stepping into the retail scene, as many stores are cutting back and not reaching out to as many new brands. However, those retailers that have taken the time to learn our story and see our product have been excited about partnering with us.
It's quite amazing what a huge difference you're doing in the lives of these underprivileged people. You're not only teaching them how to take care of themselves by teaching them entrepreneurial skills, but also helps the greater community. Please tell us about the overall effects of employing these women who are in the Krochet program?
Through the evaluation of our work we have found that by employing one woman in northern Uganda, we are directly impacting 6-8 others. In most cases, the women that are taking part in the Krochet Program are the ones in charge of the household. They are the breadwinners for the family so when we are able to provide a wage for a lady, we are in turn helping to empower her family. In Uganda this usually also includes neighbors and extended- family unable to provide for themselves. Our monitoring shows that through some of the women that are crocheting with us, as many as 5 kids are eating and being educated as a result of the wages they receive for making KKI products. We are helping to add years to one of our beneficiaries life by empowering Alice with the consistent income to purchase anti-retroviral medication to combat her HIV.
Another success that we hold as high as any is the fact that attitudes are being changed. When you see your kids eyes light up because you tell them that for the first time in years they are going to get to go to school, it effects you. Attitude change is what will change the world.
What kind of results can you see already generated by your actions and what's planned for the future?
We have seen amazing growth and transformation in the women that we work with in Uganda. Through their participation in our Krochet Program they are now able to meet the immediate needs of their families; clothing their children, sending them to school, and feeding everyone in their household. Moreover, since our programs also include education on savings and future planning, our beneficiaries are also pursuing their own personal ventures toward economic stability. One woman, Beatrice, is starting her own community store where she is using her savings to purchase materials and supplies, which she is reselling to the community for a profit. Another great example is that our beneficiary Doreen is near the end of her education to become a primary school teacher.
All members of Krochet Kids Intl have an active background in snowboarding, surfing and skating. How do you yourselves see the fit between action sports and humanitarian work - boardsports being strongly connected such attributes as image?
I believe there will need to be a subtle shift in the mentality of the action sports community, to thinking outside the box and thinking how their purchases can do a lot more than simply be an article of clothing. We have seen some sweet examples of companies getting involved with causes, such as Girl skateboards and the RED campaign, and I believe this will continue to happen more and more. And I’m excited about that.
Feel & share the love by visiting the Krochet Kids International website at www.krochetkids.org - and remember that by buying a hat you can change a life... Can anyone think of a better reason to spend a few bucks? Be the change you want to see in the world.
Also; Krochet Kids International are pursuing devoted sales reps to help spread the brand and passionate riders who want to represent more than an apparel company so if you recognize yourself from above; get in touch with Kohl at email@example.com