AWE Conference Article in Asheville Citizen-Times


ASHEVILLE — At HandMade in America’s Appalachian Women Entrepreneurs conference Tuesday, the programming centered on hats.

Not that the 50-some participants all made hats — these artists from Western North Carolina explored mediums as varied as candles to films. These hats weren’t made; they were metaphor.

Greg Walker Wilson, the interim director of the Asheville nonprofit, dedicated to growing local economies through craft, said the organization aims to help the AWE members entrepreneur “hat fita little better.”

These efforts are “so that you can stand in your power and say, yes you are a business person,” he told the conference crowd Tuesday morning. “This is meant to be a supportive environment.”

For Linda La Belle, the Appalachian Women Entrepreneurs coordinator, the day-long conference — featuring networking and educational sessions — was also designed to “bring together all of these women and celebrate who they are.”

And part of who all of these women are, despite their differences in age, location and business experience, is that they all wear “a lot of hats.”

“They are creators and makers, but they are also their own PR rep and retail person,” for instance. “I hope the conference will help remove some of those hats or make them lighter on their head.”

AWE is a grant-controlled program of HandMade in America developed to support rural Western North Carolina women interested in creating or growing their small business. The AWE program connects these women with one another, with resources and markets, in a place where quality jobs are few, according to the HandMade in America website.

This year, the nonprofit became a member organization due to cutbacks in funding.

“The AWE program has 67 members, and there is about 300 members in HandMade,” La Belle said. In 2011, she joined the AWE program and took over as coordinator this year.

This group, she said, “is very brave.”

“In this economy, and in this culture, where there is so much craft going on, they still want to do something,” La Belle added.

La Belle is a fiber artist. She taught classes in the field at her store in New York City before moving to Asheville two years ago. She continues to teach: La Belle hosts monthly educational programs for AWE members throughout Western North Carolina.

The most recent session focused on how to create professional product shots; next month’s class centers on how to reach customers and handle difficult clients.

“They learn from each other; I learn from them,” she said. “They are an amazing group of women.”

Exciting News

I am so excited to share this news!

I have just been appointed to the position as coordinator of AWE – the Appalachian Women Entrepreneurs Program at HandMade in America. I will be working with women in four counties (soon to be five) in Western North Carolina.

I am replacing Yoko Morris, who has done a wonderful job with the program. She is much appreciated and will be sorely missed!

Appalachian Women Entrepreneurs Program

HandMade in America developed the Appalachian Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) program to support rural Western North Carolina women interested in creating or growing their small business.

The AWE program connects these women with one another, with resources and markets, in a place where quality jobs are few. The project stemmed from the understanding that the Appalachian counties of WNC are home to a higher percentage of small businesses and farms than any other area of the state. Many of these rural entrepreneurs are women who are creatively fashioning their livelihoods around sustainable, place-based enterprises.

To help entrepreneurs overcome obstacles often encountered in rural areas, the program has developed women’s business networks in several communities throughout the region. These networks connect women engaged in similar entrepreneurial efforts and provide access to business support services the women might not be able to find, afford, or access without such networks.

AWE – Appalachian Women Entrepreneurs

I recently joined AWE – Appalachian Women Entrepreneurs, an arm of HandMade in America. I was asked to write an article for their blog – here it is!

AWE member Linda LaBelle on Owning a Yarn Store-Online!


en·tre·pre·neur – Noun:
A person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk to do so.

I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. My father had a restaurant and my mother a pet shop. The businesses were next door to each other in Burlington, VT.

Growing up I saw how hard they worked and you might think that would discourage me from wanting to be my own boss – it didn’t. I like the idea that how I earn my living is mine – my gamble, mine to win or lose, mine to make it or break it – I enjoy the challenge. Don’t get me wrong I certainly have my moments when I think wouldn’t it be great to get a steady paycheck, have benefits, a paid vacation, less stress.

Being your own boss isn’t for everybody, especially today – with the advent of the Internet you really have to be quick on your feet – the business model seems to be constantly changing.

Running a small business takes just as much creativity (if not more) as it does to create your art. You need to keep things fresh, stay one step ahead of the competition and be willing to put yourself out there using all the social tools that are available.

When I opened The Yarn Tree in August of 2001 I knew that in order for the business to be successful it had to be diversified. The focus of the business was natural fibers and yarns. It was important to me to reach out to small farms, spinneries and hand dyers to stock the shelves. In some cases I could tell my customers the name of the sheep the fiber came from.

My Old Shop Window.

The Yarn Tree also quickly became an on-line business with a website that was easy to maneuver and had the same feel as the atmosphere in my shop. Thanks to the site, products from my shop were shipped around the world.

The third facet of the business was teaching. Spinning, weaving, papermaking, felting, embroidery, knitting, crochet and more were all taught at The Yarn Tree. I am proud to say that 90% of the instructors at my shop had been students there first.

Test yarn

Fast forward to today. The retail store is closed, there are no classes at this time and the on-line business is much smaller – why? It was a combination of factors.

My business was located in what became a super trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. As the rents went up my customer base moved away. The recession affected my business on many levels. After 10 years my lease was coming up and my rent was about to be quadrupled. People felt they no longer needed to pay for classes – youtube is free!

Closing my business was on one hand a no brainer and on the other a very tough decision – every day when I pulled up the metal gates to open the shop I felt such a sense of pride, how could I give up what I had worked so hard for?

What made the decision easier for me was that I had a viable web-based business that I could take with me. This meant I could move out of Brooklyn to a place with a better quality of life, lower cost of living and a slower pace.

Today my focus is on the web business. My original site is 11 years old – it is archaic and I am eager to build a new site that is not reliant on a web master. I am on LinkedIn, I tweet and I have a blog for my charity-based project Stories of Hope. In this way I am able to stay in touch with my customers.

Teaching the women of Oaxaca how to naturally dye yarn.


So for all of you who want to be entrepreneurs I say go for it!

Linda LaBelle

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