When 24-year-old Emani Outterbridge was stuck at home with a broken foot this past spring, she got to thinking of new ways to bring her self-made designer yarn to DIYers around Philadelphia. What she landed on was the idea of a yarn-dispensing vending machine, which she floated to her followers on social media.
They responded enthusiastically, and after a whirlwind fundraising campaign, Outterbridge ordered three machines, ready to be stocked with rows of brightly colored skeins. Earlier this month, the first one made its society debut at Elements of Grooming, a Philadelphia barber shop owned by a friend of Outterbridge’s. Soon, curious customers flooded the shop, and Outterbridge (who was on a business trip to Miami at the time) received excited updates from the owner. With the first vending machine already a proven success, she’s now looking to place the remaining two at other local businesses before ordering more.
Outterbridge doesn’t just make designer yarn—she also crochets custom items for her fashion line under the name “Emani Milan.” She’s been crocheting since she was 12 years old, and launched her own online business at age 15 after finishing an entrepreneur course in high school. She’s even designed items for Cardi B, whom she credits with elevating her profile. Outterbridge tells Mental Floss that the best part about being a business owner is the freedom to be “completely committed to my own success.”
Part of that success comes from understanding the needs of her fellow crocheters (and knitters), which helped her come up with the innovative vending machines in the first place. “I was thinking … if I had something that’s accessible to me 24 hours, mid-project, if I need to stop and go get some yarn, a vending machine would be ideal,” she explains.
Since the first vending machine is currently housed inside the barber shop—and future ones will likely live indoors, too—Outterbridge is hoping to open her own brick-and-mortar store in order to give people round-the-clock access to yarn. “With the salons and the shops—they close," she says. “But if I had my own store, I can have it open 24/7, so that’s what I’m pushing for.”
In the meantime, she’ll continue offering her vibrant yarn skeins and garments through her website. Though you might assume a career crocheter would look forward to making cozy sweaters and scarves for chilly weather, Outterbridge actually prefers the summer months, which allow for more “creative range”—items like swimsuits, coverups, skirts, and rompers.