Erika and Monika Simmons have created a line of crocheted clothing and accessories that the two sisters call sophistafunky, and the inspiration for Double Stitch came from old fourth grade memories.
They learned to crochet from a fourth grade teacher at John P. Altgeld School in Chicago but did not apply those skills until 20 years later.
"That was just a trade of the fourth grade teacher; she just liked it (crochet). And it calmed kids down," remembers Erika of why they learned what many would consider a "granny" hobby as children.
What brought them back into the ancient art was Christmas 2002. The sisters wanted to see if they could still crochet, and perhaps make some items to sell during the holidays.
"We figured that we still could crochet and make scarves and things like that. So we went to buy cheap yarn and actually came up with some designs without knowing how do create a pattern," said Monika.
What the 35-year-old twins designed was a collection of stylish, sexy, and modern crochet patterns. "It wasn't just scarves that we made. We started inventing stuff like one sleeve clothing called the funky one sleeve, and little belt thingees that we could wear more than one way," said Erika.
But the sisters did not use elaborate patterns like chevrons or the popcorn stitch. Instead they chose simplicity, and the big appeal of their designs was the color choices, shapes, and the innovativeness of their designs.
"Not doing all of those (traditional) stitches made it look a little more current, and that was the differences that made (the designs) cool, hip and happening," said Monika.
Friends and family members saw their designs, and about three weeks after rekindling their crochet skills, Erika and Monika realized they could be successful.
The following February, they took their next step on the road to success and held a designer crochet home party sale.
"Also how we got recognized when we would go to events that we were interested in like art galleries and movie premiers with our apparel on" said Monika
The venture was a success, and the two windy city entrepreneurs launched the Double Stitch line. They started with summer gear--there were eight to 12 pieces in each collection with most of the garments manufactured by them.
"Luckily a lot of our designs incorporate a way to do it faster, so we wouldn't do a closed stitch dress as a part of a collection where the whole dress is closed in, and you have to line it from top to bottom. That's why we went into summer gear first," said Erika
The sister said they can turn out as many as 12 to 16 pieces a week because of their background in braiding hair, which they said requires the same manual dexterity as crocheting.
Their distinctive designs also caught the eye of a writer, who featured them in a magazine article in Interweave Crochet. That story caught the eye of editors at Interweave Press, who asked the sisters to create a book of patterns.
"I thought our first book would be about our lives and not a crochet pattern book, but I'll take it" said Erika with a laugh.
Their book of pattern designs is called Double Stitch and has sold 5,600 copies that took about a year and a half to create with all of the designing and photo shoots, said Erika. The projects featured are divided into two main sections: "Out and About" which consists of daytime crocheted apparel such as hooded ponchos and more. "Paint the Town" on the other hand features evening looks constructed of an open weave crochet style.
Double Stitch is selling at www.amazon.com, on their publishing company's web page Interweavepress.com, at any Borders book store and at a host of yarn shops.
The book also led to a video series which is broadcasting on VirtueRadioNetwork.com and features their on-demand crochet how-to instructions, called Double Stitch: It's Not Your Grandma's Crochet. The series recently brought the sisters to Southern California to film. (VirtueRadioNetwork.com is a Web site community for the contemporary Christian woman.)
In addition to all of this, the Simmons sisters have gained a lot of press coverage including publications such as Women's Wear Daily, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune Magazine, Uptown magazine, Fashionista.com, Time Out magazine and Chicago Sun Times. They have also made numerous television appearances on local affiliates in Chicago including WGN-TV, NBC 5 Chicago and more.
And what advice do the two sisters offer others interested in the fashion business?
"Initially the first advice I would give is just to research a lot of things like the trends, what people are wearing, and to find an internship because you get that experience and hands on training. It gives you that reality check on what it would really be like," explained Erika.
Monika and Erika are not sure what is next on their agenda, but whatever it is, they are sure to give it their own sophistafunky style. Double Stitch by Erika and Monika Simmons can be reached at www.doublestitchwear.com or (800) 272-2193.