Creating an ethical company: Interview with Nicole Snow

Nicole Snow

When Nicole Snow, a former US Air Force veteran and an American entrepreneur, established Darn Good Yarn back in 2008, nobody could predict that she would change face of modern female entrepreneurship scene. While combining her passion for art and the will to help those who are in need, she managed to turn traditional skills into economically viable, sustainable entrepreneurial idea.

We’ve managed to get the hold of Nicole for a brief interview and she has told us a little bit more about her road to success and the way she affected the lives of many women and their families on the other side of the globe.

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When was the first time you realized you wanted to join the US Air Force and was it difficult for you to handle all the challenges that were set upon you?

I dreamt of joining the US Air Force since I was in the 7th grade. Actually, my biggest wish was to fly KC10’s, so I started taking flying lessons when I was 13. Needless to say I was thrilled when, years later, I was granted full US Air Force Scholarship at Clarkson University. I was so proud of myself – only about 30% of the US Air Force officers were female and I managed to become one of them.

And yes, it was hard at the beginning, however, not once did I regret my decision to join the US Air Force. At times, the training was exhausting and getting used to the severe schedule was quite difficult, but I was quick to adapt. After such strict regime, every other challenge I encountered in life was much easier to deal with.

Still, after two years of loyal service, you left the US Air Force. What was the real reason behind this decision?

The US Air Force is actually where I met my spouse, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. But due to the nature of his job, he had to move quite a lot, so I made a decision to stay by his side and follow him. And even though his job was the initial reason for leaving the US Air Force, I too felt like it was the time for me to move on. That career offered me job security, but I was not quite happy, so I felt like I should take a different road in my life. Yes, it was my childhood dream, but after serving two years of active duty I realized it did not fit who I was at that time and who I was starting to become as a woman.

What is it that you appreciate the most from your time spent in the US Air Force?

When I look back in the end, I am grateful to have been a part of such great organisation. It was truly an unforgettable experience. Since I was a resident advisor, I had the opportunity to gain some valuable leadership skills, learn how to organize my time better, and most importantly, I learned to trust my gut. I can say with absolute certainty that the US Air Force has made me a better CEO. If I hadn’t been so confident in myself, I wouldn’t be where I am today, both when it comes to my personal and professional life.

You went from a military class pilot to yarn business pioneer. Can you tell us more about how that happened?

When I started knitting, it was nothing more than a hobby. A way to unwind and relax from work. It was my mother-in-law who taught me some of the basics and then I perfected my technique by watching online videos. As the time passed I noticed that it is impossible to get the hold of a quality yarn, so I decided to dig deeper into the problem. Soon I realized that the companies which sold recycled silk failed to provide quality one, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

At the time, my husband and I lived in California. That’s where I made friends with a woman from India with whom I was sewing garments from recycled silk. She was the one who introduced me to the members of Indian community in California who manufactured yarn from recycled silk, and if it hadn’t been for them, I would have probably never started Darn Good Yarn.

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Initially, I wanted to provide people who do arts and crafts with world-class material. Eventually, this idea took me around the globe, all the way to Nepal and India. When I saw just how talented those women are and how underestimated their work is, I knew I had to do something about it. It was obvious that they possess highly valuable skills and I wanted the entire world to see that and appreciate the work they were doing. I also noticed that there was a lack to basic supply in the poorest regions of these two countries. That’s when I started to provide spinning wheels for those who were willing to work but could not afford one.

People refer to 08 as a triple bottom line business as it helps people, environment and makes profit. However, the ways in which you affected the lives of women in India is outstanding. Would you tell us more about it?

Before I established Darn Good Yarn, even though they were extremely hard-working, many Indian and Nepalese women were unemployed. The ones that had only about 3 months of work a year were considered the lucky ones, what was obviously not enough to support their families, especially with salaries lower than $2 a day.

Today, craftswomen from Nepal and India distribute quality yarn and goods worldwide. They have an all-year round jobs and earn between $13 and $16 a day. We at Darn Good Yarn are all really proud to have helped those women become autonomous and self-reliant. They’ve gained economic independence and are able to provide for their families, get food and proper medical care, as well as educate their children.

I understand that you’ve also traveled a lot over the years. Would you be able to select one trip as your favorite or the one that had the most influence on you?

I’ve visited India and Nepal on numerous occasions, and even though trips were mostly business-related, I had the opportunity to see how Darn Good Yarn changes the lives of working women and their families for the better. But I will never forget the 17-year old girl I met a couple of years ago. She was spinning banana fibers and told me how she was saving to go to medical school. She had to work because of her family’s poor financial state and there was the time she thought she will never get the chance of getting proper education. We spoke about the effect of Darn Good Yarn on a multitude of occasions, but the conversation with this girl is what made it real and what motivates me to keep moving forward.

For the end, is there any advice you would like to give young women who are only at the beginning of their career?

Well, I know this is going to sound cheesy, but I always emphasize that doing what you love and not giving up on your dreams will lead you to success. If I had given up after I was fired and told that I wasn’t a good fit for small businesses, I would’ve never got to where I am now. I was disappointed, but not discouraged.
As I already said, trusting my gut is what got me where I am today. Find your focus and believe in yourself, but remember that your business is not all about you. It’s important to know that your family is on board with you and that you can always count on them. And in the end, believe me when I say it – getting a paycheck and earning a lot of money is not something that should be your primary goal, but the will to do greater good.