Kohl Crecelius is a young man of many hats: a social entrepreneur, a dedicated practitioner of crocheting and CEO and co-founder of Krochet Kids, a company that sells “headwear.” He’s even somewhat of a media celebrity, appearing on a national TV ad for Bing that ran during the fall kick-off week on major networks.The concept for the company was an unlikely combination of activities. Kohl and his surfer, high school friends loved to crochet and enjoyed summers volunteering in developing countries. How to combine the two?
With a mission and the passion to empower people to rise above poverty and “stand on their own two feet,” Krochet Kids was born in 2007. The plan was to teach women to crochet hats and pay them a living wage for their work. While students at the University of Washington and Whitworth College, the three friends formed a non-profit organization and targeted a chronically poor, war-torn province in Northern Uganda. From a small group of workers they taught to crochet in 2008, the work force has expanded to 122 women today. Earning a sustainable wage means that these women can provide food, water, clothes and education for up to six dependents. Customer appeal is clear: “buy a hat, save a life.” Each hat comes with the personal story of the woman who crocheted it.
Since winning the “Best Social Idea” at the UW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition in 2008, the company has been growing to the healthy tune of about 250% a year. “The BPC instilled confidence in our model,” says Crecelius. “We had judges buying our hats during the event, and winning the competition gave us the validation and encouragement we needed.”
Since the competition, Krochet Kids has attracted the attention of Nordstrom which now carries their hats; partnered with Seattle’s One Day’s Wages, a group dedicated to alleviating extreme world-wide poverty; and won $2,000 in the Chase Community Giving Competition, a program where fans on Facebook vote for their favorite charities.
Company founders believe the model used in Uganda can be applied anywhere. Recently, they expanded to Lima, Peru, employing 10 women working with some “amazing yarns.” Introduced in mid-September, the Kids’ fall line of hats and the shirts they recently added sold out within a week.
One of Krochet Kids’ advisors, P. Scott Cummins, a Seattle-based social venture expert, recently made a bold prediction: “Kohl Crecelius is among the 100 most important graduates of UW Business School. But mark my words, even five years from now, that will be considered an understatement.”