Mt. Airy fabric business Wild Hand has thrived during pandemic

by Len Lear
Posted 2/26/21

Not too many businesses can say that their sales in December, 2020, when the pandemic was spiraling out of control, were twice as high as they were in December, 2019, four months before the pandemic had even begun.

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Mt. Airy fabric business Wild Hand has thrived during pandemic

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Not too many businesses can say that their sales in December, 2020, when the pandemic was spiraling out of control, were twice as high as they were in December, 2019, four months before the pandemic had even begun. But Liz (Schuster) Sytsma, 39, owner of Wild Hand, 606 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy, next to Weavers Way Across the Way, can make that impressive claim. (The name Wild Hand is an homage to the natural world and to the “free, uninhibited feeling that goes hand-in-hand with being creative.”)

Wild Hand, which opened in April of 2019, is basically a one-stop-shop that offers materials, education and community to encourage curiosity for fiber crafts — weaving, crocheting, knitting, felting, spinning, dyeing, stitching, fleece processing and more. Judging by the many laudatory comments on social media, it is obvious that Wild Hand had developed a loyal neighborhood following until the pandemic closed them down for six months starting last March.

For example, Susan M. posted on yelp.com: “I love yarn with a conscience! And that's exactly what I found from the beautiful purveyors of Wild Hand. They don't just sell yarn but really use the joy of fiber arts to raise awareness of social issues close to their heart and bring people together ... Kudos to Wild Hand for using their craft for the greater good!”

“In September we were able to reopen,” Sytsma told us recently, “and re-hire the team. A lot of the delay had to do with getting childcare sorted out for myself and the team. A significant silver lining has been that folks are at home, inside and looking for things to do, so the fiber craft industry has really grown in these months, and we have welcomed with open arms many new fiber crafters of all ages.

“We have a lot of multi-generational families that shop together at Wild Hand, and we have also seen seasoned fiber crafters learn new crafts that we carry supplies for. In December our sales were twice what they were in December of 2019. I am so grateful for that, and I attribute a dedicated local community for so much of that success.”

Liz grew up in Southern Chester County, went to Bucknell University, graduating in 2004 with a dual major in Fine Art and Business Management, worked for a few years and then earned an MBA at Cornell University.

Before Wild Hand, Sytsma was in the nonprofit arts and culture sector. Most recently she helped create and was the Executive Director for a nonprofit called CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia. It is a management commons for the city's arts and culture sector, operating as a fiscal sponsor and working with hundreds of organizations to provide support like legal, insurance, bookkeeping, etc.

“I had never worked in a yarn shop, but … I have always been a fiber tinkerer. With the help of a nudge from the universe, I decided to apply those business-making skills to my own creative community endeavor. I'm certainly on a learning curve and grateful for the massive privilege of pursuing a dream.”

Sytsma's family stumbled upon Mt. Airy after six months living downtown, having moved from Brooklyn to Philadelphia in 2011. “We started visiting the Wissahickon with our dog, followed by outings to Weavers Way and other shops in Mt. Airy Village ... I had no idea that eight years later I'd end up opening a yarn shop right where our Philly life really began.

“I'm incredibly happy to be here, raising kiddos and starting a new career with the support of a neighborhood that loves shopping locally and making things with yarn. I live near the shop, and my two girls will go to school across the street from here at our neighborhood school, C.W. Henry. My oldest starts kindergarten in the fall.”

Sytsma has three fiber artists on her staff and at any given time another 10-15 teaching artists. In addition to selling supplies, Wild Hand offers workshops for many fiber crafts. Before the pandemic, these workshops were held in the shop, but now they are done via Zoom.

“As I was preparing to open Wild Hand,” said Sytsma, “Meg Hagele, owner of High Point Cafe then, told me that the business was a marathon, not a sprint. I think about this advice at least once a week, especially when the ideas and opportunities feel well beyond my capacity. I try to remember I'm in it for the long haul and that every good idea will have its time to shine.”

Liz' family consists of husband Chris, daughters Joni, 3, and Faye, 5, and dog Mavis.

For more information, visit wild-hand.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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