Oh Rowan, Rowan, wherefore art thou Rowan?

I help in a wool shop on Saturday afternoons, and when I turned up a couple of weeks ago I found my friend, the owner, in a state of shock. She’d just had an email from her Rowan rep with some devastating news: about 70% of the range was going. Either entire yarn ranges were being discontinued, or great swathes of colours were disappearing in many of those that were staying.

Rowan mill offices

This is not, perhaps, unexpected when you know that they’ve recently been taken over and perhaps it’s also not unexpected because there’s a certain feeling that they’ve taken their foot off the pedal a bit in recent years (perhaps rather like Colinette). But I’ve got one thing in Rowan yarn on the needles at the mo, and it made me think.

I’ve a bit of a love-hate relationship with Rowan. I’ve been to workshops Rowan have organised both at retailers and at the mill (above), and they’ve varied between extremely good and somewhat disappointing. Mind you, they were always interesting, if not always for the tutor, then for the other participants among whom I recognised some people who could only be described as Rowan groupies (I once heretically mentioned Noro, hsssssss…).

The same applies to the yarns, in my opinion. When they’re good, they’re very very good,

Cotton glace

like Cotton Glace (staying, but with colours reduced as far as I can recall), but when they are a bit gimmicky they can be horrid (and I’m not naming names, because this is just my opinion and just because X sheds or Y knits up like shite for me doesn’t mean they’ll misbehave for everyone). And they’re not cheap, either, though – generally – you do get good yardage for your money. But some are just exquisite: Lima, for instance, that delicious blend of baby alpaca and merino with a bit of nylon for strength. That’s going. So I bought three balls and am currently knitting it up into a shawl.

I think I know what’s happening. Of course I may be completely wrong or partly right, but with my business-management-before-being-a-full-time-freelance-hack head on – and I still write in the business area now – I think it’s a case of newbroomitis. New owner, complete overhaul.

Rowan mags

(The Rowan mag is changing, too. From this summer’s issue – the one already out – it’s going down to two stories, not three. Just as well I’ve got a stash of old ones, and am quite happy substituting yarns.)

As I said, Rowan had, I feel, lost its way a bit, with loads of novelty or seasonal yarns, however lovely – Panama, Cotton Lustre, both going. I had a slight feeling that they’d taken their corporate eyes off the ball somewhat. Oh, sorry about the creeping metaphors. I did say I’ve been working on business books, didn’t I?

Ahem. Back to Rowan, though I could run a few ideas up the pole and see who salutes them. Or, to borrow from the winner of Fast Company‘s most objectionable use of jargon in 2015 competition, ‘open the kimono’. Stop it. Now.

Anyway, I suspect that this meant heavy stockholding, and that where economic – i.e. wherever the stock was high but not so high that it absolutely must be kept on and pushed – there just had to be some culling. And I also think that some yarns, while worth keeping, had probably reached such a low stockholding that the expensive option of spinning more meant that, economically, they weren’t worth keeping on the list (possibly British Sheep Breeds – which seems counter-intuitive, given the rise in yarns with distinct provenance). And I also suspect that a lot of this has more to do with the American market than anything else.

But I’ll mourn some which will be no more (the Felted range, Pure Linen), and be relieved that others (Felted Tweed, Kid Classic – below) are staying. Above all, though, I’ll mourn the colour changes. It looks – and I’ve been through the catalogues, looking at the colours which are vanishing – as though the choices are becoming somewhat predictable. Not what Rowan is known for, at all.

Kid classic

And my friend with the wool shop? Well, she’s already expanding her range of British yarns. She’s seeing this as a splendid opportunity to get some lovely new things in (hello, West Yorkshire Spinners, Baa Ram Ewe, Jamiesons)…



10 thoughts on “Oh Rowan, Rowan, wherefore art thou Rowan?

  1. Sue

    I’ve been following (on Ravelry) what’s been happening to Rowan, and it’s interesting to get your take on it. I hope you enjoy the new yarns that Rowan is making way for; I’m a big fan of baa ram ewe, and if Angharad is looking for other ideas, I’d recommend Eden Cottage Yarns, too.

  2. Lydia

    Yes, it is sad to hear about Rowan. I have marvelled at their magazines since they first came out – I seem to have most of them too. At least I did until about 8 or 9 years ago when things seemed to change. I disliked the yarns – they were often synthetic and Rowan set its brand initially on pure wool proudly British. I loved the Yorkshire Tweed and the patterns. So, Rowan lost me some years ago… but there we are. That said there are now so many wonderful designers and yarns which are using the old mills and they are what I choose to support even from here in Western Australia although I struggle to be able to afford them now. I would support Australian yarn and mills too if they could be proven to not be scoured in China. There are a tiny few and rather expensive. Another great post by your good self and food for thought as always.

    1. kate Post author

      I stopped their mags about six years ago because I started seeing similar designs cropping up again and again – I remember there was one sweater with stripes in panels that didn’t match up across the garment which seemed particularly obvious. yup, definitely took their eye off the ball.

      I’m much more picky than I used to be, and I save and spend if I’m making something for me (though I also take advantage of any bargains I see as I fossick around places like Shetland and Wonderwool Wales). I’ve got enough that’s acceptable in my stash – and there’s the spinning as well of course – to keep me going for ages when it comes to other stuff. But when I returned to knitting about ten years ago I was deeply shocked at the price of yarn. Then I realised that everything else had gone up since about 1990, so expecting wool to have stayed the same was probably a little naive of me!

      You’re so right about provenance. I think some yarn manufacturers are waking up to that, but too many are not. At the more expensive end of the market, I believe it is only going to become more and more relevant. And maybe in other parts of the market too.

  3. ballsofwool

    May I recommend to your friend: Woolly Bat. I bought some of their yarn at Edinburgh Yarn Fest 2015 . It truly is the most wonderful, high-performancequality British wool. It knits like a dream.

    1. kate Post author

      Thank you, I’ve passed this on. It sounds wonderful!

      Edinburgh also sounds as though it was wonderful – I must try and get there next year.

  4. John Downing

    Reading your lament about Rowan reminds me of mine about Chefs Catalog, here in the states. My favorite go-to source for the kitchen and cooking. It was bought by Target, the oh-so nuanced and alternative lifestyle-promoting retail giant…who then, after two years, decided it wasn’t really “in their interest”, and put it out of business!

    We refuse to give Target a penny of our trade. They can rot in Hell!

    1. kate Post author

      This seems to happen so often, it’s just depressing. It always mystifies me how a new owner can fail to grasp the essential USP of their acquisition, often the reason they bought X or Y in the first place. Then they proceed to alienate the old customer base, fal to pick up a loyal new one… And….

  5. Penny Jenkins

    Like you I’ll miss British Sheep Breeds – the best range I think Rowan had. It encapsulated Rowan’s British and Yorkshire heritage. Without that Rowan to me is just another homogenous yarn brand that could be produced and dyed anywhere.

    1. kate Post author


      (Though they do still – just – have an excellent range of colours. But British Sheep Breeds…. GrrrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRR)


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