Crochet influencer Emani Outterbridge brought her hot pink yarn vending machine to Cherry Street Pier.
“Being here is something,” said Outterbridge, who was motivated by her mentor, Charisse McGill, owner of the French Bites Cafe, to settle on the quayside.
“She told me all the time to come here. “It’s really artistic,” she would say,” recalls Outterbridge, owner of Emani Milan, a one-stop online store for everything crochet, from lessons and patterns to handmade items and outfits, in going through the supplies you need to get started.
The vending machine opened on the pier on July 18, and that day the machine sold more than 100 skeins of yarn, she said. Outterbridge taught dozens of people at the Delaware waterfront attraction how to get started.
” It was really great. I have seen so many people crochet [that day]: children, big children, adults, men, little boys. It was crazy,” she says.
The vending machine, which sells bright and funky skeins with names like Fruity Pebbles, Moon Rocks and Prada Party, usually plays music on a photo stream – but lately it played its latest interview with Drew Barrymore, during from which she crocheted the actor and the talk show host a bikini in less than an hour.
With the stars’ increased visibility, people are writing to her from all over the world on Instagram, begging her to bring her business to their city. They are drawn to Outtebridge’s bright and trendy designs. Now they can find her on the public pier.
“These colors that you see here, you can’t find them anywhere else,” Outterbridge said. “They are unique and fun.”
The entrepreneur started building her yarn empire at age 15. But the idea for a vending machine came to Outterbridge during the coronavirus pandemic, when she was at home with an injury and surrounded by boxes of wire.
“I’m like, ‘My foot is broken, how can I sell my yarn without being there? ‘” Outterbridge recalled.
Outterbridge had already gained a large following online after creating custom outfits for hip-hop stars like Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and Lil Baby, among others, and she was considering the next big move for her business.
Limited by her injury and tired of the same boring colors available at the big box stores, the crochet expert was also thinking of ways to provide customers with a safe option for purchasing materials, given the popularity of this hobby. time during the pandemic.
“Last year, when everyone was home, they were crocheting more than ever,” Outterbridge said. “So [the idea] came at the right time. »
Fueled by necessity and her entrepreneurial spirit, Outterbridge launched her next venture: shiny candy pink vending machines selling her colorful designer yarn and crochet hooks.
The first location was at her friend’s hair salon in North Philadelphia in October 2020. Then she headed to New Jersey and set up machines at Cherry Hill Mall and Willow Grove Mall, before solidifying her last location on the industrial pier that has become an art space.
Outterbridge stops at all locations once or twice a week to stock up on produce. Cherry Street is always a stop like no other.
As Emani Milan grows, Outterbridge is driven by the endless possibilities of her business and her craft.
The Cheney University graduate studied hospitality, restaurant and tourism management, but creating a cute outfit or item from scratch has been her passion since she was 12, when she started crocheting.
“I always say, ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ If I hadn’t been sent away for a placement, which was a traumatic thing for me as a child, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said. It’s my goal.”
“I took my skills and turned them into a business when I was 15, when I was in school,” Outterbridge said.
Outterbridge made the basics: headbands, hats, even leggings and fanny packs. But it was the fully crocheted outfits that caught the attention of her classmates then, and clients now.
After all, crochet outfits are more popular than ever, sold by fast fashion giants like Fashion Nova and SHEIN.
“Before now, you didn’t see much but hats and scarves,” Outterbridge said. That’s why his business stands out so much – the entrepreneur took an ancient skill and made it stylish. It’s a far cry from the typical crocheted items of yesteryear.
But for Outterbridge, it’s “beyond the clothes” – it’s also about helping people get in touch with their creativity, their style, solve some of their problems – and create their own path to a business like his, or whatever.
For those looking to get into crochet, Outterbridge has only one piece of advice: Get started.
“The key to anything, anything,” she said, “is to start and not give up.”
“It started with a piece of string”
Emani Outterbridge has been crocheting for more than half her life, but she still has big plans, even after 13 years.
“It all started with a piece of string, and now I’m literally living my dreams. It’s crazy,” she said.
“My dream for my business is for it to be a mainstay in Philadelphia,” she said. And to be a major player in the textile arts industry, she added.
The waterfront vending machine is Emani Milan’s fourth sales venture, but there’s more to come, in Philadelphia and beyond. A fifth vending machine location is in the works, with hopes of expanding to other cities across the United States.