We had the good fortune of connecting with Ali Osterholz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ali, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
“HA! Balance?!?” was my first reaction to this question, and I’m sure it would have been my husband’s reaction as well. It has been just over a year since I took my business full time, and I can honestly say I am just now beginning to learn what work-life balance is. When I announced I would be taking EK+F full-time to friends and family I was met with concerned looks, quiet whispers about whether it was a ‘smart’ idea, and usually, a follow-up question that went something like “ok, but, what else are you going to do to make money?”. So, as you can imagine, I put a LOT of pressure on myself to succeed and prove everyone wrong. I worked harder than I ever have in this last year and I regret not one second of it. Balance is important, don’t get me wrong, but the love I have for my business and its success carried me through this last year like I never imagined it could. I proved to myself that I can do this, and now that I know it, I can breathe a little easier. Weekends are spent adventuring around the Rockies and weekdays are spent working hard and planning for the future. I am constantly reminding myself, “work to live, not live to work, Ali”.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Believe it or not, the knitting community is a lot bigger than you may think – seriously, I bet you have a lot of knitters in your life and they are some of the most patient, persistent people you will ever know. Creating beautiful hand-dyed yarn for these knitters has been one of the most fulfilling and challenging creative paths I have ever taken in my life. Going from growing up without any background in art to now running a business where I have finally begun to consider myself an ‘artist’ has not only been difficult for me to wrap my head around but also one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had. How am I one of the lucky ones who get to be creative for a living?! One of the most important decisions I made early on with Explorer Knits and Fibers, and one that I believe has contributed to the success of my business, is that I will only create the work that I want to create. If you have one take anything away from my story, let it be this. In the beginning, the pressure to create what you see is popular or what you see selling well for others is immense. But then, a few weeks (months?) in, you realize, it’s popular and doing well for them because it is what they LOVE! They are creating their art with so much passion behind it and people can feel that. So, that’s when I started creating colorways and hand-dyed yarn inspired by things that I truly love: National Parks (I donate 5% of my sales to the National Park Foundation every year), good coffee and beer, travel experiences, etc. etc. and I haven’t looked back since! It has been just over a year since I took my business full time, and while it was one of the most stressful years of my life, I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing. I am a more responsible, knowledgeable, and flexible person because of it and I finally feel like I can take a second to step back and be proud of what I’ve built with my own two hands. Let’s be honest, as a small business owner, it can sometimes feel like you are always holding your breath, waiting for something to go wrong, or something to go right, because that is the rollercoaster ride that is owning a small business. I know that it may not last forever, but in the end, I want people to know that, for me, this has always been about more than creating art. It was about using my following, my community, and my brand to help lift others up. Whether it was for lifting the voices of other small businesses in my industry, social justice issues, or raising money for the National Park Foundation – that in the end, it was always more than just yarn.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
favorite breweries/taphouses: Black Project Brewing Cerebral Brewing Great Divide Brewing Falling Rock Taphouse restaurants: Hop Alley Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Bar Dough things to do: Denver Zoo picnic in Cheesman Park window shopping along Colfax Avenue walk around Confluence Park favorite coffee shop: Jubilee Coffee Roasters favorite breakfast spots: Voodoo Doughnut Denver Biscuit Company Rosenberg’s Bagels Lula Rose General Store favorite places to shop: Fancy Tiger Crafts REI favorite hikes: James Peak via Saint Mary’s Glacier Quandary Peak (14er) Herman Gulch Trail Mountain Lion Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Why did you pursue an artistic or creative career?
I started my business while I was in the midst of pursuing a master’s degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology (hindsight: not the best idea). While I thoroughly enjoyed my research, I was in desperate need of a creative outlet from the world of academia (re: highly stressful, highly competitive environment) and knitting brought me the comfort and stress relief I needed. Eventually, I realized that dyeing yarn accommodated my schedule much better than knitting, as dropping bare wool into a pot for two hours while writing a page or two of my thesis created a nice symbiotic relationship. As I approached the end of my graduate degree, it became very clear to me that my itch to pursue my business full time was much greater than any desire I had to continue to pursue my education as a scientist. One year and four months later, I’m so glad I trusted my gut.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I owe my success to so many people, first and foremost the knitting community, for their constant words of encouragement, support, and love, especially during the chaotic year that is 2020. Outside of my knitting world, I have to thank my husband, Zach, for his constant support, honesty, and nurturing while I attempt to get comfortable with the growth of Explorer Knits + Fibers. Also, to my mom, my biggest cheerleader and supporter in every endeavor I’ve ever pursued. Finally, to my Chief Barketing Officer, Frank, for being the best shop dog and always knowing how to boost morale in the studio.