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Non-Profit Spotlight

Krochet Kids

“I just lost it. I broke down crying.”

Kohl Crecelius, CEO and co-founder of KK intl. (known to many as Krochet Kids) remembers that moment in 2013 as if it just happened. After 25 hours in airplanes and 6 hours driving, he had arrived at the nonprofit’s compound in Northern Uganda.

Before each day’s work crocheting for the nonprofit lifestyle apparel company, the women begin by singing. “In that setting, you hear and you see the joy and confidence,” Crecelius says. “It’s women rising above poverty.”

Hearing those voices, Crecelius burst into tears fueled by the beauty of the moment, but also a decade-long fight to empower some of the world’s most vulnerable people. “It hit me how many people had made this possible—from donors to customers to business partners who are part of this story.”

That story begins right here, with three Mt. Spokane High School students, Crecelius and his friends Travis Hartanov and Stewart Ramsey. Avid skiers and riders, Crecelius’s older brother taught the trio how to crochet hats to be stylish up on the ski mountain. The novelty of teenage boys mastering a grandmotherly skill caught on, and custom orders from friends provided enough income to buy their prom dates a hot-air balloon ride. It wasn’t a bad investment: Hartanov ended up marrying his date.

During college, the friends hatched their plan to merge this style demand with an opportunity to create change in northern Uganda. Ramsey had spent time in the region with people displaced by violence. Specifically, the women he encountered didn’t want to rely on aid organizations; they wanted to build careers to provide for their families. And they picked up crocheting even faster than the teenage boys had. Krochet Kids was born, earning its nonprofit status in 2008.

Today, the company has more than 300 global employees, nearly 70 percent of whom are women in Uganda and Peru. KK intl’s professional development program has now graduated over 75 women who have left KK and moved on to sustainable careers. Sales are measured in the millions of dollars, with wholesale accounts ranging from boutique shops to Nordstrom and Anthropologie. However, as a nonprofit, KK intl. is clear about sustainable impact and empowerment being its bottom line. Their results are staggering, but it was no whirlwind.

“From the beginning, we worked with people who helped us do this in a slow, intentional way,” Crecelius says. They were very young, but they knew this couldn’t be a flash-in-the-pan project if actual women and families were involved. “We never gave ourselves that option [of quitting, being flaky]. We had a deep and early conviction that we would see this through to the end.”

Crecelius credits INB for seeing that vision. “Our model was sort of breaking the mold of traditional thinking, and that uniqueness can be challenging when it comes to things like banking. INB recognized these challenges, and offered solutions that have been huge for us along the way.”