We’re so excited about having Maggie Jackson join us at the beautiful Mary Johnson Center in Big Bear Lake for a full weekend of fun & fiber! Maggie is a wonderful instructor and incredibly entertaining to boot! I had so much fun when I went on her Irish Retreat a couple months ago and I know that we’ll have a wonderful time during our MaggiKnits Fashion Show and Classes Weekend here at Yarn Designers Boutique!
But who is Maggie Jackson you may ask?
With an internationally recognized line of yarn, a first-of-its-kind knit products showroom and a business that has managed to remain strong through the Great Recession, Maggie Jackson is what you could call a “rock star” in the knitting industry.
Jackson, 56, is owner and operator of wholesale yarn distributing company Maggiknits Inc., which sells a range of yarns and books in the United States and Europe, and which opened a product and design showroom at 177 Portage Road in Kalamazoo. Although Jackson’s yarn designs continue to find their way to fashion runways, she said, “I get more pleasure out of designing the yarn.”
“I choose the colors and consistency and put it in a book, and six months later, somebody is wearing it in a show,” she said during an interview.
Jackson has written 17 books on knitting, which are often sold with kits that allow knitters to create their own Maggiknits pieces. The book sales help continue Maggiknits’ success.
“It’s not your granny’s knitting,” Jackson said. “I’m trying to show people that no matter what size they are, they can be fashionable.”
The showroom is the first of its kind in the knitting industry because it doubles both as a display of Jackson’s unique knitted home décor — including art and furniture — and as a space to host fashion shows and group knitting activities. Jackson said she hopes to use it to host weekend knitting retreats for out-of-town knitters, as well as workshops and events for local knitters throughout the year.
“The work that I teach is unique and different,” she said. “I try to think outside the box. That’s the Maggiknits way.”
A knitwear designer who started knitting at age 6 and creating her own patterns and designs at age 12, Jackson started Maggiknits near Lisburn in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, in 1977, making ready-to-wear clothing. She grew up on a dairy farm watching her mother knit wool sweaters for her family. After rising in popularity, Jackson’s clothing was primarily sold in department stores like Nordstrom’s.
But Maggiknits is no longer a clothing company. Jackson stopped creating ready-to-wear products nearly 10 years ago, a time when a single Maggiknits sweater was being sold for $600 to $800. Now, Jackson designs her own yarn, which is created in Spain, Italy, England and Ireland.
More than 200 stores in the U.S. and Europe sell Maggiknits yarn, which is used to create fashions and other products.
Maggiknits is staffed by Jackson and six other knitters, four in Michigan and two in Ireland. About 45 knitters were employed when Maggiknits made ready-to-wear products in Ireland, Jackson said, but there is much less need for that many workers now. Jackson designs yarn and product samples herself. Her knitters help to create pieces to be modeled in magazines.
Jackson relocated to Kalamazoo about three years ago because she liked the city after visiting local resident Mary Bell, who is Maggiknits’ director of operations. Bell and Jackson met at a knitting convention a few years prior to Jackson’s move to Kalamazoo and became business partners. Bell’s knowledge of corporate America has been helpful to Maggiknits’ success in the United States, Jackson said.
Jackson said she loves the city because it’s “buzzing for a small town,” not unlike her hometown in Ireland.
“I think it’s great when you see everyone out in the streets,” Jackson said. “I hope to become much more involved and meet local business owners as well.”
Jackson said she can design from anywhere, but she expects to be here for “quite a while.”
Another reason for settling here and opening a showroom is an attempt to curb the amount of traveling Maggiknits demands.
“I do exhibitions from California to Florida to Oklahoma,” she said. “I’m lucky that I’ve built up a reputation in the industry so now people will come to see me.”
Jackson said she thinks the rising popularity of knitting in the U.S. has allowed Maggiknits to thrive throughout the recession. Although she would not cite numbers, she said her business is becoming more profitable.
“We have just expanded and expanded,” Jackson said. “Knitting is trendy again because people want crafts and things to do at home.”
Jackson said there are 55 million active knitters and crocheters across the nation, including celebrities like Julia Roberts and Russell Crowe.
“It’s a relaxation craft,” Jackson said. “People are excited to be doing something different.”
Early in her career, Jackson won a raft of design awards as well as accolades for her entrepreneurship. Over the years, the awards have included the “Guinness Special Award for Design Excellence,” second in the International Mohair Association Competition for the most innovative lady’s garment, being named “Young Business and Professional Woman of the Year” in Northern Ireland in 1989, and “Who’s Who in Textiles” in the United Kingdom.
Jackson’s personality has helped draw people to her. She is cheerful and approachable, and witty quips are a frequent part of her conversation. She is also rarely without a little smile or gleam in her eyes. “I’ve walked into a store and gotten ‘you’re Maggie Jackson!’ and seen jaws drop when I introduce myself,” she said. “I think it’s the romanticism about being Irish more than anything.”
Jackson’s philosophy is that “a glass or two of wine never hurts a piece because the squares don’t have to be the same size. Just call it European.”
BY JESS HERNDON
First Published in the Kalamazoo Gazette, on May 29, 2011
We are sponsoring our first Maggie Retreat June 20 – 22, 2013 in Big Bear Lake California. We are located in the Southern California Mountains and offer a four season resort environment. Since Maggie does not hold many of these private retreats, now is the time for you (and your knitting friends?) to attend. Reservations are limited and if you reserve and prepay by April 15th, you can save $20 on the package of the Fashion Show with 2 full days of workshop classes.
Share this post
- 0 comment
- Tags: Belfast, Classes, fashion design knitwear school blog, fashion knitwear, Fashion Show, Ireland, knitwear design, Maggi, Maggi Knits, Maggie Jackson, Retreats, Yarns