Hand-dyeing her own yarn with vibrant colours
Cheryl Tan, the 28-year-old owner of KAIJUU Fibers, wants Singaporeans to embrace their own weird, delightful colours.
Cheryl Tan loves knitting as much as she loves bright colours.
Naturally, she wanted to knit with bright colours, but she could never find yarn in those colours at local shops like Daiso or Spotlight.
The 28-year-old UI designer decided to take matters into her own hands, and began hand-dyeing her own yarn. She started her own hand-dyed yarn business, KAIJUU (“monster” in Japanese) Fibers.
“I just want to challenge Singaporeans by providing bright, clean colours. You don’t have to be young to wear bright colours,” she said.
I sat down with Cheryl at her studio to talk to her about her love for knitting and dyeing yarn.
No such thing as “wrong” colours
When it comes to choosing colours for the yarn, Cheryl gets inspired by the things she loves – anime, her bright floral dresses and even food.
During the circuit breaker, she couldn’t access all the food she was craving. When she was dyeing her yarn, she would choose the colours of the foods she was thinking of – from saffron fries to laksa.
She usually names the colours after flowers or lights so customers can imagine the yarn for themselves, because she struggles with accurately capturing the speckles of colours in her yarn.
When it comes to dyeing yarn, Cheryl considers herself a ‘cook’ instead of a ‘baker’, as she doesn’t specifically measure her ‘ingredients’ when dyeing yarn.
While she does follow a general set of guidelines, she usually adds dye powder to her yarn based on instincts alone, just going by the process of “discovering the unknown”.
She said: “If I go by the book, I’ll feel very tied down and won’t feel creative. Whereas if I have no expectations, I’ll fall in love with what I have.”
She also doesn’t believe in making mistakes when dyeing yarn. Instead, she always ensures she has fun when dyeing yarn, choosing to embrace her mistakes and see them as “happy accidents”.
Even though she enjoys dyeing yarn, Cheryl was quick to point out that the process isn’t easy. At times, it takes three to four tries to achieve the right shade or colour and dyeing one colour takes three hours alone – including all the standing and washing.
Still, she enjoys knitting and dyeing yarn because of how soothing it is.
Getting hooked on knitting and dyeing
Cheryl first started knitting in university. As she was studying computing and spent a lot of time looking at a screen, she wanted a hobby that did not involve the need to look at any screens.
She discovered knitting and subsequently fell in love with it.
“I have stress-triggered anxiety, so knitting is a form of therapy that forces me to slow down. The rhythmic sound of the metal needles knocking into each other is actually very soothing,” she said.
When a close friend passed away suddenly in Aug 2020, she was at a loss. To cope with her grief, the first thing she did was turn to knitting, but she just “didn’t feel like it”.
She then decided to try something new: dyeing wool roving.
“When you dye roving, you have to be extra slow and patient. It was a drastic difference compared to dyeing yarn. That got the grief off my mind.”
As usual, she did not prepare the colours to dye beforehand, just going by whatever she felt like. She used her usual bright colours, yet was surprised when a customer commented that she avoided buying the roving as the colours were “nice but felt sad”.
Taking the risk to run a niche business
When Cheryl started KAIJUU Fibers in 2018, not many knew what hand-dyed yarn was. Many even commented that her colours were too “youthful”.
She recalled feeling discouraged and upset as no one bought her yarn.
She admitted: “The days when I feel low and sad, I do regret it a bit. I’m at the age group where I should start saving and buying a house, but here I am wasting my savings on something I don’t know will take flight.”
Still, she didn’t give up.
She rebranded her business in Dec 2019 and launched her Back-To-Basics collection, which was inspired by the anime Demon Slayer.
In Mar 2020, her business picked up during the circuit breaker, when more people started knitting or crocheting as a hobby. As local yarn shops were closed, they tried her yarn instead.
Her customer base is mostly women in their forties and fifties, who like her yarn as it is soft and colourful. They are often repeat customers who tried her yarn once, and had to come back.
Once, a customer told her she “didn’t mind paying the premium” for KAIJUU yarn, as the colours were vibrant and suited her.
To those who may be afraid of getting judged for wearing KAIJUU’s bright colours in Singapore, Cheryl reminded them of KAIJUU’s motto: “It’s okay to be weird. Just embrace your own delightful colours.”
As for advice to other youths who wish to start their own business, she told them not to be afraid of what others say.
She said: “There will always be people who tell you you can’t do it and you’re wasting money, especially in Singapore.
“If you have the money, no matter how much, you can always do it. Be brave, believe in your craft, and just do it.”