The Innocence of Knitting Hats for Smoothies
“Hey have you read about this?” over and over people drew my attention to Innocent Drinks hat knitting campaign – the big knit. They know I am an avid knitter with a sense of fun and that this might be right up my alley. Not quite though. I have a very complicated relationship to charity knitting with the essence being; I will knit items to be directly distributed to needy persons by a charity and I will not knit items to be sold and the proceeds donated to the charity. But lets postpone that post for next week. Right now I want to write about Innocents hat campaign for the German Red Cross (DRK). You knit hats and send them to Innocent and they donate 30 cent per hat to the DRK and put the hats on bottles for sale in January.
After I had gotten ranty to the sixth person telling me about it I decided to look up some actual facts, my friend Jan encouraged me to write about it too.
First I looked at patterns and yarn requirements. The pattern posted on Innocents Web site and distributed in stores was not forthcoming on yarn requirements. So I checked on Ravelry, the pattern suggests 25m of DK or fingering weight yarn knit with 3mm needles.
Then I checked cheap yarn prices. Our cheapest option in Stuttgart is Wolle Rödel, a big chain that sells yarn and knitting notions. Their cheap acrylic yarn “Universal” costs 1,49 € per 125 m. That comes to five hats and 1,50 € donation, so just the price of the yarn. I figured it would be simpler to just donate the money directly to the DRK.
But from their whole get-up Innocent present themselves as a whimsical and socially ecologically conscious company, so I decided to contact them directly for statements. And here I was surprised. I sent an email requesting a phone conversation and nearly immediately I had a response to call their “Banana-phone”1 and ask for Alexandra. So I did and then I asked my questions and even the critical ones and I got answers, real and friendly ones.
The idea for the Big Knit came from an english employee who’s wife is an avid knitter and who wanted to do something positive. The company took him up on it and launched the first Big Knit in the UK. This was nine years ago. Last year Innocent ported the idea to Germany. They approached the DRK and got together a campaign for helping especially elder people.
Last year Innocent collected more than 190 000 hats and donated more than 57 000 €. With a total donation volume of 68 Million this is not an insignificant number. This year they collected more than 200 000 hats.
This project, probably not accidentally, references street art, in particular knit graffiti and it does so in a commercial context for commercial interests. This reeks very strongly of corporate appropriation. And of a sad trend of mainstreaming radical practices. I don’t like it and I feel sad about this. I want the act of retaking public space with domestic arts to be radical, it is essentially a radical act as so much seemingly public space is actually privately owned. Very conflicty.
Yet Innocent support this campaign with such earnest delight. There is no sense of hipster irony, or cool detachment. They actually believe in and love this project. And I can’t help having warm fuzzies against my will.
Why Overall I give this Project Thumbs Up
When I talked to Alexandra I asked about the relationship between yarn price and donation. I also asked about this campaign in a marketing context. They know that in most cases the material will be more expensive than the actual donation. Yet the campaign needs to be realistic and actionable. She was almost apologetic that they did not donate more, explaining that in any case they donate 10% of their profits to an ecological trust. This trust is an essential part of company culture as is giving back to community.
And this is where the project is really strong. Hat knitting is a social event. School classes finally have a useful project to learn knitting with. Senior citizens homes gather their inhabitants and create a social event. People with leftover yarns gladly donate them to the cause, happy to be rid of decades old stash. The first person who told me, Heike, also commented on how she had infected her colleagues last year and they had a friendly competition in hat knitting going. Frau Schöberl, the press referent at the DRK responsible for corporate cooperations, also reported of DRK youth groups getting together to knit, in fact the DRK is giving prizes to the most proficient hat knitters among their youth groups.
Of course sales rise when the hats are finally distributed, an effect that is surely intended. The DRK is also happy to create connection with people who prefer the more whimsical language of Innocent to their more serious communications.Young people was the expression Frau Schöberl used my mom, another Innocent enthusiast, will be happy to know.
When I think about knitting, the aspects that are really important to me, one is the worldwide community. The way we are all knit together like so many stitches and this project is an ideal way to bring this knitting community to non knitters or maybe casual knitters. And essentially this is why the project gets a thumbs up from me.
In this context the assessment of Betterplace-lab is interesting: They give the campaign 4,5 of 6 stars, only complaining that it is not clear what happens with the money that is donated.
Ok fine! Go do this. I’ll help you out too if you want, but I will continue drawing the line at knitting hats myself.
I want to thank both Innocent and the DRK for being so forthcoming with answers. Thanks.
- a hotline [↩]