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Storming the Bastille: A <del>French</del> Revolution in the Small Business World

We last wrote about Kate Davies and her battle with the UK department store Debenhams over protection of creativity and the limits of that protection. We detailed her story and noted the ensuing public outcry. The store was bombarded by reprimands from a demographic known more for its fondness for a cup of tea and a sturdy pair of knitting needles than for Jacobite revolution. The ensuing web onslaught upon the retailer would have made even Robespierre think, “My God, this is rather brutal.” It turns out knitting needles can get rather sharp.

What was evident but lost in the noise of the outrage against the department store was an almost worldwide change in the typical business landscape. Ms. Davies spoke of knitting as a hobby and turning to it full-time later. Once she found she had success with her creativity and design work, she began pursuing it with distributions of her work going worldwide.

Ms. Davies’ success is been grounded in her creativity, dedication and diligence in her customer service. Note that we make no mention of her access to bricks and mortar—distribution points, delivery services or other traditional considerations of small business. These were once a bastille from which only those entrepreneurs with deep pockets could escape. That’s not to say that they aren’t still vital to her business or that of anyone else, but such resources are incredibly more affordable and efficient; they are no longer the privilege of the corporate monarchy.

Look no further than the craft industry for proof. The crafting community, as Debenhams now knows, is extremely close-knit (forgive me), owing to sites like Ravelry that facilitate the exchange of patterns and ideas between bloodthirsty revolutionaries delightfully mild independent artists. Services like PayPal, UPS, and a simple hard drive are all the logistical investment one requires, so long as they’ve found a trunk big enough to hold all the yarn.

Which brings in another industry at the forefront of the Knitting Wars: the blogosphere.

Last month, two energetic American knitters with a passion for felines matched only by their appreciation of feminism and Terry Pratchett, founded the aforelinked Arts and Cats Movement. Dorothy and Audrey blog daily, alternating their efforts and inviting friends to post as guests when they either need a break or find someone with something to say. Their follower count already rivals the readership of a small weekly newspaper, but that’s what feeding the internet pictures of kittens will do for you.

The internet is a slippery slope . . . (source XKCD)

The more remarkable total is their investment in the project. If you handed them an American quarter, that would be twenty-five cents more than they needed to get started. They have the same reach as some weeklies and those cost six figures, not including the printer. And that’s not the kind of printer that sits on a desk, either.

This annoys people like Dorothy’s uncle. I’ll allow him to remain nameless, but suffice it to say that if the Arts and Cats Movement represents a weekly paper in a town barely big enough to command a postal code, then his endeavors are the New York Times.

No, really. He studied journalism and has written works that have frequented the New York Times best seller lists, as well as the pages of the paper itself. But nothing bothers him more than seeing others enter the playing field with an unfettered ability to “speak” without coming up through the ranks like he and his compatriots.

It’s only fair to highlight the change in “lawyering” as well.

In the early days you had to apprentice at a firm where, if you were lucky, you were hired to transcribe copies by hand (back then, we walked uphill to work both ways too). You had to indenture yourself to a firm that could afford a library, since you certainly couldn’t, and the requisite infrastructure occupied more square feet than many of today’s houses just to support one lawyer.

Today, an iPhone with a 4-G connection, a wireless printer that plugs into a cigarette lighter, and a VW Microbus can have you officed almost anywhere. (Okay, I made that up about the Microbus remembering the song “Convoy” but I think you get the meaning).

What’s my point?

Anyone can do it now. You want to design and sell textiles internationally? Address an international audience? Establish your own estate planning and business law firm? If you have the talent, work ethic, and a mouse then you don’t have get any mortar dust on your hands. Money is no longer an insurmountable obstacle.

Of course, I’d prefer if you didn’t set up the last one next door to my firm—but if even money is no barrier to entering the small business market, then I can’t possibly stand in your way, and neither can Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, or anyone else who would try.

Just ask my new knitting friends. They know a revolution when they see one.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité . . . and kibble.


Author’s postscript:

As of this update, it appears Ms. Davies and Debenhams have settled their differences. Consequently,  a considerable donation will be made to Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland on the behalf of the retailer. For finding a solution that benefits such a worthy cause, I tip my hat to both parties (though I incline it a bit more steeply to Ms. Davies, who was put to much trouble and managed to eke some good out of a horrid situation). Of course, credit is due also to the angry mob that held the retailer at needlepoint. It helps to have friends.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out my post on Starting A Home Business and my post on Kate Davies and Intellectual Property Rights.

As always, good luck and good hunting.


If you want to talk about small business law, barriers to entry, or overdone history metaphors, you can find out how to reach us at our website:  You can also reach us at, on Twitter @thefisherlawoffice, or at  If you have questions about kittens, knitting, or feminism, you can consult the experts at the Arts and Cats Movement or needled.

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