I know what boys like… I think

Boys. Why are they so hard to knit for?

Several years ago, I set foot into the thickets of knitwear design, armed only with this Machete of Truthiness: namely, my belief that boys have more adventurous, unexplored tastes in knitwear than we give them credit for.

Now that my Machete of Truthiness has been blunted on the Cruel Realities of the Marketplace, I can feel my confidence waning. Patterns for boys — and for men — just don’t sell very well. I could assume that it’s just my own patterns that don’t do very well, but I know from talking to more established designers that I’m not alone.

Here’s my latest boys’ sweater pattern, Baird, made for KnitPicks’ Independent Designer Program and also available on Ravelry. My lovely test knitter gushed about the pattern in a most ingratiating way and I was so pleased with myself.

Aaaaaand… a month after the pattern’s release I have sold precisely zero copies.

See that fake smile my son has on his face? This is right after telling me, “I actually like this one, Mom,” and right before never wearing it again.

I tell you all of this not to initiate a pity party, but because experiences like this have taught me a lesson. Maybe I have been going about this the wrong way. Maybe the key to designing knits for boys is not to figure out how to “trick” them into wearing kid versions of the garments that we adults like to knit and wear. Maybe the key is to remember that boys are people with their own child interests that overlap very little with the concerns of adult fashion.

What if, in other words, I thought about what boys want — want to play with, want to have in their hands, want in their lives — and figure out how to knit it?

Grown women — and many girls — have been taught to obsess about their clothes. But most boys and men have not. In fact, they are taught to feign as little interest in clothing as possible. This means that those of us who knit and design for men and boys have largely taken the safe route of providing utilitarian clothing. Because guys still need to dress — it’s just that many of them don’t want to have to think about it too hard.*

But clothes are just one corner of the world that knitting can produce. Knitting can make costumes and toys and hiding places and modes of transportation.

It’s time for a big think. And then some sketching.


* Of course I know that not all men are this way, and I loves me some fashion maven man. But most men are not that, and if you’re designing you have to take that into account.

7 thoughts on “I know what boys like… I think

  1. I totally hear you. My son wants me to design him a black hoodie. Preferably as plain and as close to a store bought version as possible. To keep company on his closet floor with the cable vest and Dale of Norway sweater he really wanted but never wears.

  2. I’m absolutely mystified at the 0 sales, as I think it’s adorable. We get requests for more boy garments all the time, I’m just not sure why they aren’t selling across the board as well as I would have thought.

  3. Thank you both for your comments. It’s funny — as much as I doubt myself sometimes, I agree with you that this is a pretty darn cute sweater. Which just makes the low sales so much more of a head scratcher. I think what it boils down to is that people want to knit for boys, but don’t want their sweaters lying in the bottom of the closet either. So on a project-by-project basis, the scarf for me will probably win out over the sweater for him.

  4. That is a cute sweater. Could it simply be a problem of release timing?
    Or maybe more women knit than men and most don’t want to/need to knit for men and boys?

    I have the same sort of problem with my hat on Knit Picks that I designed for men. (But there I am wearing it. Go figure.) I have sold a grand total of 6 patterns since January between KP and Ravelry. But the ones who have bought and/or knit it that I’ve heard from, really love it.

    Style and taste are so subjective. Perhaps if you put trains or race cars across the front of that sweater it would appeal to boys more.

  5. You’re right about timing, Katherine — I do have an uncanny knack for releasing sweater patterns in the spring. You’re also right about the trains and race cars, though there are two things that keep me from going there: I’m designing for older boys (elementary and junior high age) and I’d like to make my mark for doing something unexpected. Now, how to make “unexpected” and “appealing to boys” work is the $90 million dollar question. I love clothes, but my thinking now is that I need to explore beyond them.

  6. You hit the bull’s eye designwise with this sweater : houndstooth is hot, it’s masculine, the colors are fun, and the shape is traditional … so yeah, I’m stumped.

    I will say that my boys rarely wore sweaters, hand knit or store bought. However, some of Sam’s buddies (17 to 22 age range, musicians) are coming into their own styles and a hand knit item (I think) would be coveted. Same for the boys on Sadie’s ski team (18 to 22).

    I love seeing little ones in full costume in the grocery store – seems public is the best place to be a super hero, velociraptor, or pirate.

    Tom and I scratch our heads about the knitter’s business model frequently.

    HUGS! E

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