A Great Story: Rebranding Vintage Knits From A Family-owned Heartland
Steven knew he found something special and he says, “The way I looked at it and
described the opportunity was a vast archive of really cool quirky knit pieces as the basis of
articulating the brand. The story of Ohio Knitting Mills is the authentic story of heartland
manufacturing in a community of makers in the industrial era and the craftsmanship of that
era to make goods that reflect postwar American popular culture. It’s cool. It’s about
color, patterns, and playfulness. It’s so rare to have something, to find something like this
that has a whole language. It’s like discovering the Lost City of Atlantis. Then I just went for
it. I raised privately $100,000 from four individuals. Again, it was 2005 and 2006, a few
people said I’ll throw $50,000 your way and see what happens.”
The Takeaway: An Organic Appreciative Outlook
Steven views leadership as a collaborative, relational process and intuitively understands
the importance of asking for input from all stakeholders. He is inclusive and knows that all
ideas contribute to the whole and create value. There is no such thing as a stupid idea.
Every idea is marker and board worthy.
He intuitively and organically integrates elements of an “Appreciative Inquiry” (AI) 4-D
process into his creative approach. “Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative search for the
best in people, their organizations, the world around them. It involves systematic discovery
of what gives a system ‘life’ when it is most effective and capable in economic, ecological,
and human terms. AI involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a
system’s capacity to heighten positive potential” (Cooperrider & Whitney, 1999, p. 10). An
appreciative leader engages in the following processes: “valuing the communication of
others, honoring diverse viewpoints, including all potential stakeholders in the dialogue,
recognizing multiple selves, cultivating ‘not knowing,’ and nurturing narratives of ‘we,’ and
moving beyond practices of blame” (Anderson, Cooperrider, Gergen, Gergen, McNamee,
Watkins & Whitney, 2008, p. 46).
The AI position of examining “what’s working” while embracing positivity and inclusion
allows for a different kind of discourse that fosters forward-thinking change. Steven, like
many in the creative arena, already implements many of the appreciative practices of
“discovery (what people value), dream (‘what might be?’), design (‘co-constructing’), and
destiny (organizing for change/sustaining)” (Cooperrider & Whitney, 1999).