This week's Ms New Brunswick is another double feature. Amy & Alyson are sisters who co-own Legacy Lane Fiber Mill in Sussex. They are the only female-run mill in the Province, since milling is typically a male-dominated industry. The two are a seemingly perfect match for this industry, as Alyson is the Production Manager, a textile artist by trade and one of the businesses key knitters, weavers and creatives for the business, while Amy, the Business Manager, runs most things from the office. She has the business background and an interest in agriculture and farming. They married their interests in order to pursue this business, and in doing so established themselves as one of only a few small fiber mills in the country.
As an avid knitter myself, Amy and Alyson weren't unknown to me. These two hard-working women make some of the most gorgeous yarn around. If you knit, their Kitchen Sink Lopi is a must-have.
Tell me about Legacy Lane?
Amy: We are a fiber processing mill, which means we take raw animal fiber (mostly alpaca but some sheep wool as well), and we transform it into yarns, felts and finished products like weavings or knitwear. If a client sends us raw fiber they can get whatever they want back, yarn or finished goods. We also produce our own yarn, which we wholesale and sell on site along with, weavings and knitwear in the little retail section of our building.
How did you get started?
Amy: We knew that we wanted to go into business together, but I have a background in business and Alyson is in textiles. We researched fiber related farming to find something that appealed to both of us. We first started investigating alpaca farming and fiber processing, but we quickly realized that no facility could process our fiber in a timely manner (under two years), and there were none that worked on specialty fibers (non-sheep wool) in our province at all. At that point it became obvious that we should get into fiber processing, especially alpaca wool, and offer it here in New Brunswick. We entered a business plan competition with the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF) with the idea that we would be a new way to support fiber farmers in New Brunswick, and we won. First Prize was $20,000 and was exactly what we needed to get the ball rolling. We started in the basement of my home and we were there for the first 4.5 years of the business.
What made you want to go into business together?
Alyson: We grew up in a really small community so we were always close growing up. It was just a relationship that developed early on in our lives and so it was natural to go into business together. We just always wanted to.
Amy: We’ve always been close and we contribute very different things to the business, suited to our individual needs, and it just really works. Even when I think back to the beginning, when things were a lot harder – I don’t know if working with anyone else would have worked. I don’t think anyone else would have stuck it out the way we did for each other. We don’t work well in spite of being sisters, we work well because we are sisters.
So when did you move out of the basement of Amy’s house?
Amy: About 7 years ago we had grown to the point that we couldn’t stay in my basement anymore so we moved to Sussex. We’ve been expanding ever since then, and now we are sort of bursting at the seams again.
Alyson: We were able to really hire some help at that point too because we finally had the room. And now we have the absolute best staff you can imagine. Truly, the last 5 years of our growth has been due to their loyalty and leadership. A lot of peace of mind comes from the fact that we know the work continues even if we can’t be there for the odd sick day, or afternoon out with our kids. Most people who run their own business will tell you that it’s hard to find people you can trust, who love your business as much as you do, and we are so lucky to have that. We’re a family.
Has the community been supportive?
Amy: Oh yes very much so.
Alyson: Especially in the early years. We are able to afford more help now, but when we were getting started and things were tight we definitely wouldn’t have made it without family and friends.
Amy: The fiber farming community has also been great to us, especially as we’ve established ourselves in the field. Milling is an interesting business, and most small mills like ours close. We are really one of the longest lasting mills of our kind in Canada.
Alyson: Because we’re tough!
Amy: Well yeah, that plus, we are always innovating new products and ways to keep our customers happy and attract new customers. We’re always learning, working, striving to be unique and listening to what people want.
How can we support you better?
Amy: Help us spread the word! And definitely support local! When you buy yarn from us, you really are creating jobs right here in New Brunswick. Every dollar stays local, and we want to continue to grow and bring new people on board with us.
What is the biggest difficulty in your business?
Alyson: Having enough hours in the day. Keeping current with trends and ideas and always needing to be on top of things. There is no slacking off.
How do you balance work and personal life?
Alyson: We mush it all together, and we do what you love.
Amy: It’s a lot better than it was when in my home. When you have kids and a business you don’t have a normal 9-5 anymore, and that’s ok because that is not the life we want. We are free now to take an afternoon here or there when either of us needs to be with our kids, or if we’re sick.
Alyson: We’re at the point now where we can take a vacation here and there as well, but for the most part we are doing what we want to be doing, and our families are involved and everything sort of all blends together.
What piece of advice would you offer other women starting their own business?
Amy: Don’t be intimidated. When you walk into some meetings or try to get funding remember that you are important and that you should be respected and listened to. Everyone deserves recognition and a seat at the table. Also, use your government and seek the opportunities that are available to you. You will find some really great people and some great programs. And try to remember, don’t be too hard on yourself, and take a bubble bath once in awhile.
How can we get in touch with you?
What 3 books are you reading now?
The Ms New Brunswick project is about taking a title back for all the women who really embody the heart and soul of our province through creative endeavours and entrepreneurship. The makers and doers who are sharing with us their time, energy and talents, and carrying us forward. Full-time or side hustle. Big or small. At home or in an office. Products or service. Crafters, moms, entrepreneurs, shop owners, consultants. Whatever. If there is a woman in our province giving life to an idea or product, I want to know about it.
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