Zoe Renteria’s Modern Wool is a wonderland of chunky, hand-knit throws, pillowcases, clothing, and yarn for clients who appreciate her DIY-meets-luxury vibe. When Renteria, who lives with her family in Dana Point, launched the business in 2013, she was doing much of the knitting herself and wondering how she would handle the orders that began to trickle in. But after bloggers and Instagramers started taking notice, the trickle turned into a steady flow. Today Renteria works with a small team to produce about 15 to 20 pieces a month at prices that range from $30 to $2,250. Now she’s musing about the possibility of new materials and product lines.
How did all this get started?
I was looking for this perfect knitted blanket for my couch, and I couldn’t find it. I love the look of natural fibers and things that aren’t synthetic. So I finally ended up making my own yarn and knitting my own blanket. Then other people wanted one! So it really started as just a little side hobby.
Your website mentions “premium French Merino sheep wool” from sheep that “spend their summers high up on the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming.” What’s so special about this material?
It’s very soft, and it’s natural, without synthetic additives. Everything about (natural fibers) is life-giving. When I made yarn, sometimes I was taking little sticks out of the wool. It’s fun to see what’s in there. Sheep have a real life.
Where is the yarn made now?
The wool is processed at a mill on the East Coast and sent to us to turn into yarn. In the beginning I made it, but it’s a bit of a process. Now someone else makes the yarn, and someone else does the knitting. I actually taught myself (to knit) by watching YouTube, but now I mostly fill in. I was fortunate to find amazing people to help me out. We have a great little team.
Modern Wool gets lots of attention on Instagram. Customers post photos of their babies and puppies on blankets, of their chic homes, and of themselves modeling various products.
Instagram has brought us a handful of shops (in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Europe) and bloggers. I can interact with the customers, and that’s really fun for me. I love getting everyone’s house pictures. I’ve figured out that I have two categories of customers: double-income parents in their 30s with small kids and really cute styles of homes. And then there’s a bunch of people in their 50s who love France or rustic French style and whose homes have this natural French farmhouse vibe.
A lot of your retailers are in Norway. Why is that?
We actually took off in Norway before we had many U.S. sales. A Norwegian blogger found us, loved our stuff, and began sharing it. Culturally, they really value stylish homes and interesting pieces. They don’t care for someone to compliment how nice they look, but they love it when people admire their homes. I took a trip to Norway and Sweden two years ago, before starting the brand, and I believe it influenced my love for knitted pieces. They (Norwegians) are a very special part of our brand and some of the most gracious and wonderful people we have met on our journey with Modern Wool.
What are your plans for the future?
Some of the ideas include going into similar textiles like linens and felted wool hats. We’ve also thought about coming up with different yarn sizes. But we also want to just enjoy life. In the beginning, I prayed this would grow at a speed that would not overwhelm me. So far I’ve been fortunate. Everything I make sells right away.