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Can a Yarn Store Be a Place of Healing?

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Can a Yarn Store Be a Place of Healing?


Unlike so many small businesses, Downtown Yarns, Leti Ruiz’s yarn store in New York’s East Village, managed to make it through the pandemic intact. A surge in interest in crafting — including knitting and crocheting, the store’s specialties — brought both returning and new customers in search of comfort and distraction. When people were stuck at home, patrons placed orders over the phone or through Instagram and a friend of the store made deliveries to all five boroughs. In the end, the store actually fared better financially in 2020, Ms. Ruiz said, than it had in 2019.

Now, however, Ms. Ruiz is facing a new landscape: the unknown world of post-pandemic crafting. “It’s sort of slowed down because people are going back to work or they’re traveling,” she said. “So I feel like now it’s more like regular times.”

For many, crafting emerged during the pandemic as an essential way to reduce anxiety and turn feelings of ambient restlessness into something soothing and productive. Andrea Deal, the co-owner of Gotham Quilts in Midtown Manhattan, described a frenzy at the beginning of the pandemic in which her store’s normal sales of sewing machines tripled. The swell wasn’t just about keeping idle hands occupied, she said. It’s a reflection of how people were rethinking their lives during isolation.

“We’re seeing low-wage workers not wanting to go back to their jobs. They realize, ‘I’m more important than this and I want to be doing something more worthwhile,’” Ms. Deal said. “Being able to create something yourself and be creative and produce something useful, either for yourself or for someone else, I think there’s a huge amount of satisfaction in that.”

As stress and uncertainty about the future starts to diminish, however, even just a little — due largely to the availability of vaccines and the lifting of pandemic restrictions — it’s unclear what role crafting will continue to play in the lives of those who adopted it as a stress relief measure during an extraordinarily trying year.

Rita Bobry, who was the owner of Downtown Yarns for 17 years before she retired and passed the store to Ms. Ruiz, remembers well a similar moment of post-traumatic crafting in the city. In 2001, when her shop had only just opened, she welcomed anxious New Yorkers who were turning to knitting as a way to self-soothe following the attacks on Sept. 11. On that day, the air outside the yarn store was thick with dust but Ms. Bobry decided that the store would remain open. Lighting candles to put in the window, she opened her door to passers-by.

“I think people were staying home more, they were wanting to be in groups, in communities; a lot of people lost their jobs, too,” Ms. Bobry said. “When you’re not working, you knit more. When you’re sort of frightened of going out, you knit more.”

The yarn store became a sort of gathering place. “People who were feeling lost just walked in,” Ms. Bobry said.

Craft stores couldn’t serve as physical gathering places during much of the pandemic. Fledgling crafters in search of comfort turned to the digital options that different stores offered online. Purl Soho, a yarn store which opened shortly after Sept. 11, has seen traffic to its website spike during the pandemic as customers sought out the store’s online repository of tutorials and free patterns.

But the online experience can’t replicate the tactile pleasures of hands-on crafting, or of learning in-person from fellow crafters. Purl Soho emphasizes natural fibers, colors and textures in the materials they sell, a perspective informed by the store’s co-owner Joelle Hoverson’s background in fine arts. Crafting is a way to enjoy such materials — and connect to a shared past.

“In the last 20 years, the amount of articles that have been written that are like, ‘This is not your grandmother’s knitting’ — Google that phrase, you’ll find 100 articles written with that title,” Ms. Hoverson said. “And everyone in our industry is just rolling their eyes going, ‘Yes. We know.’ We aren’t doing what our grandmothers did. However, I think part of it is: We are doing what our grandmothers did, you know?”

Jennifer Way, an art historian and professor at the University of North Texas, has studied the use of crafting during times of crisis. She’s found that the crafts themselves — the quilts, the scarves, the needlepoint pillows — tend to matter less than the soothing fabrication process that creates them. Crafting has a “haptic quality,” she explained, which, through touching and working with craft materials, connects to ideas of mindfulness and wellness.

“Craft seems, in some ways, with its repetitive gestures and sometimes repeated projects, to offer that opportunity for remaking a mind-body connection,” Professor Way said. “The craft practice itself offers an opportunity to connect mind and body to address healing, stress, all those kinds of things.”

Quilt Emporium in Los Angeles has been hosting a Zoom quilting class during the past year with over 60 participants. Lisa Hanson, the store’s owner, says many of her pandemic customers are interested in in-person quilting — though not all, which she believes is a natural consequence of restrictions’ lifting. Crafting, after all, is something people generally do in their spare time, which many had an unusually ample amount of over the past year. Those days may be over.

“I don’t know about you but my life’s gotten a little more complicated since things have opened up more,” Ms. Hanson said.

A survey conducted by Premier Needle Arts, a holding company that operates several crafting brands in the quilting space, found that the number of new quilters increased by 12 percent in 2020 and that 51 percent of existing quilters were spending more time quilting than in previous years. Ms. Hanson is keeping her faith in the recent converts. “So far, a lot of people are keeping some dedication for their newfound craft,” she said.

Annie & Company Needlepoint and Knitting on Manhattan’s Upper East Side recently held its first in-person classes since the beginning of the pandemic. For their Saturday afternoon Beginner Needlepoint class, four out of eight slots were filled.

“You’re either into, or you’re not,” said Annie Goodman, the store’s owner, “and those that do get into it can find it very relaxing and meditative. And I think they’re sticking with it.”

Those who attended the Saturday class represented an intergenerational group of new crafters who sat huddled around a circular table while wearing masks, swapping television recommendations as they learned the continental and basket weave stitches.

I watched as the group’s facilitator helped an attendee fix a mistake in a neat row of green thread. Observing the closeness of the interaction — the two of them head-to-head over the same mass of yarn and canvas, hands almost touching, trying to determine what went wrong — it seemed impossible to me that you could ever learn how to craft in any other way.

Ms. Ruiz of Downtown Yarns has faith that the online crafters will turn up in person, just as her regular customers returned when she first reopened her store last year. “It started with people in the neighborhood just stopping in at the door and I was showing them yarns,” she said. “It felt like, oh, wow, we’re a little village. We’re a community. And it’s all OK.”



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Covid-19 is a ‘wake-up call’ to act on Southeast Asia’s food waste crisis, experts say

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Covid-19 is a ‘wake-up call’ to act on Southeast Asia’s food waste crisis, experts say


Fruits and vegetables thrown into a waste bin

Peter Dazeley | The Image Bank | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Covid-19 is a wake-up call that’s highlighted the urgency to fight the world’s food waste crisis, experts and industry players told CNBC.

Amid global lockdowns and halted travel, the pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of supply networks, as disruptions created bottlenecks in farm labor, transport and logistics and sparked global food shortages and price hikes.

“The pandemic is a very good wake-up call,” said William Chen, director of the Food Science and Technology Program at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

“Before Covid-19, people took climate change less seriously because food came by easily. But now this issue starts to surface in people’s minds,” he added. “I don’t see it as a lost cause, but a good opportunity to do a house-cleaning of the current system.”

Food waste remains one of the biggest global challenges.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that one third of all food produced — or 1.3 billion tonnes — ends up lost or wasted every year. Food waste also accounts for 8% to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, another UN report showed.

Reducing food waste could yield $700 billion in savings, according to Boston Consulting Group. And businesses in Southeast Asia are jumping on the bandwagon and going into food waste prevention, as well as redistribution and recycling of excess food.

Growing appetite to tackle food waste

In 2020, Singapore generated 665,000 tonnes of food waste, making up about 11% of the total waste generated in Singapore 

Coming out of the pandemic, more hotels and airlines are now tackling food waste and putting sustainability “front and center” on their priority list, said Rayner Loi, co-founder and chief executive of Singapore-based AI food waste management start-up, Lumitics.

This was a stark change from a few years back when food waste was “barely on the radar” and it was “incredibly challenging” to have conversations with industry players, said Loi.

The growing receptiveness is thanks in part to increased education, new government regulations and sustainability being high on the corporate agenda, he said.

The firm developed an artificial intelligence-powered tracker installed in dustbins to measure and track all food waste. By learning in real time what and how much food waste was generated, chefs could take action to reduce the amount produced for certain dishes on the buffet line.

This reduces food waste by up to 40%, and food costs by up to 8%, Lumitics found.

From 2024 onwards, owners and occupiers of commercial and industrial premises in Singapore that generate large amounts of food will be required to segregate their food waste for treatment, according to a new legislation.

Lumitics partners large hotel chains like Accor, Hyatt, Marina Bay Sands, as well as carriers such as Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways.

It plans to expand to 1,000 locations in the next five years across Asia-Pacific starting with Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.

“The entire industry is starting to wake up to this idea that food waste is one of the largest untapped cost saving opportunities for any kitchen,” said Loi.

Turning food waste into ‘surprise boxes’

Most of the food businesses we’ve met think they don’t waste much. When they start making quick calculations of what 6% to 14% of extra revenues mean, we usually get a call back.

Louis-Alban Batard-Dupre

founder, Yindii

Industry players themselves have highly underestimated the problem.

“Most of the food businesses we’ve met think they don’t waste much. When they start making quick calculations of what 6% to 14% of extra revenues mean, we usually get a call back,” he said.

Mindsets of merchants are changing too, as more brands prepare for a sustainable post-Covid tourism future, he said.

Back then, they were “shy to say they generate food waste because it reveals their stores don’t sell out every day or because it’s a dirty word,” said Batard-Dupre. “But telling the world you’re fighting for the planet is so much more powerful than trying to hide such a systemic problem every business has.”

Watermelons discarded near the Brahmaputra river, Bangladesh

Andrea Pistolesi | Stone | Getty Images

To date, Yindii has seen over 20,000 surprise boxes bought up. Redistributing the food that would have been thrown out also helps many living under the poverty line, he said.

Yindii’s partners include hotels such as Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok, Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit and JW Marriott. Over the next few months, it is looking to expand to other cities in Thailand and South East Asia.

Technology as a way forward

Technology is starting to play a bigger role in tackling food waste.

Southeast Asia is particularly vulnerable to food waste because it has many small-scale farm holdings that rely on intensive livestock farming and lack the means to invest in more efficient agri-tech, said Chen from NTU, who is also a consultant to the Asian Development Bank.

The growing middle income class also consumes more.

One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals aims to halve food waste by 2030 at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest. 

The slower we are to take action on climate change, the more we will see extreme weather and the greater the likelihood of zoonotic diseases — that could consequently increase food waste.

Audrey Chia

associate professor, National University of Singapore Business School

More private-public partnerships will be key, where “enthusiastic small start-ups” can scale up with the help of technology and funding from the government, or work with big multinational corporations to plug the gaps, said Chen.

Another lucrative venture is “upcycling,” which refers to taking ingredients that would usually be thrown out and processing them into new high-quality, marketable products.

For instance, plant-based seafood firm Sophie’s Kitchen is using soybean residue okara as a culture medium for microalgae cultivation in the fast-growing alternative protein market space.

Other examples include adding higher valued ingredients like salted eggs to normally discarded fish skin or using black soldier flies to transform food waste into fertilizer, said associate professor Audrey Chia of the National University of Singapore Business School.

Likewise, predictive technology could also help restaurants and retailers estimate demand or produce for food.

“Ironically, it is a vicious cycle. The slower we are to take action on climate change, the more we will see extreme weather and the greater the likelihood of zoonotic diseases — that could consequently increase food waste,” said Chia.



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The Job Market Is Hot: Now Is The Time To Build Your Career

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The Job Market Is Hot: Now Is The Time To Build Your Career


The job market is hot right now, making this a perfect time to build your career. Employers are struggling to find and hire great talent—and as a result they are offering increasing pay, perks and opportunities. You can take advantage of the tight job market to grow in your job and get on a path to your best professional success.

Opportunities Abound  

A new report from ManpowerGroup surveying 45,000 employers across 43 countries found organizations are hiring. And in 15 countries, their hiring plans are the highest-ever—since the survey began in 1962. In addition, a report from Monster found 82% of US employers are planning to hire in 2021.

ManpowerGroup’s report found that globally, the strongest hiring is projected for the US, India and Canada and in North America it will be greatest in the US (up 48%), Canada (up 40%) and Mexico (up 39%). In addition to these top-hiring areas, the following countries also expect increased hiring: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK. The countries experiencing the greatest difficulties in finding the right talent are India, Romania, Singapore, Bulgaria, France, Japan, Belgium, Germany, South Africa, Italy, Spain.

The ManpowerGroup report found the industries experiencing the greatest difficulties in hiring are manufacturing as well as finance/insurance/real estate/business services. The Monster report found the greatest job growth will be in the areas of transportation and warehousing, technology, healthcare, professional services and construction. “This recovery is unlike any we have seen before with hiring intent picking up much faster than after the previous economic downturns,” says Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup chairman and CEO.

Career Implication: Companies and countries are looking for great talent. Consider focusing your search on the countries, markets and industries in which there is the greatest demand for talent. Now may be the time to strike out beyond your current country or industry—and grow in new ways and new places.

Fulfillment

According to data from Monster, 86% of workers say their careers have stalled due to the pandemic. And a survey of 500 Millennial and Gen Z workers by Elements Global Services found 78% of respondents said the pandemic made them question what they want to do for their job and career. In addition, people are looking for new opportunities and Monster job searches prove the point: They were up 18% in June and another 18% in July.

Career Implication: Now is a great time to regroup and re-assess your career goals, your organization, your culture and even your co-workers. You’ll be in good company as you consider what you love to do, what work provides the greatest fulfillment and the people with whom you want to work. According to Ruth Harper ManpowerGroup chief communications and sustainability officer, “Across the world we’re seeing talent shortages at their highest and rising including here in the US. These record-high hiring intentions as we emerge from the pandemic mean it really is a workers’ market right now.”

Work is a fundamental way we find meaning, express our talents and contribute to our communities. No job or career is perfect—there will be things you love about it and things that aren’t ideal, but you’ll experience greater happiness when you can align—as much as possible—what you love to do with what you have to do. And now is the time to reset and reimagine your career growth.

Skill Development

The need for skills on the part of employers is significant. According to the ManpowerGroup study, 69% of employers said they are having trouble filling roles because of a lack of candidate skills. And this was a 15-year high the data. As a result, 20% of employers are reducing their requirements for skills and experience, and 41% of employers are offering training, skill development and mentoring as a way to attract and retain employees. Claire Barnes, chief human capital officer, Monster, offers perspective on skill development, “Being able to upskill and retrain talent that you already have demonstrates career progression. It also demonstrates that if you are a strong performer, you have potential in the organization.”

From the employee point of view, the Monster study found 29% of employees say they are quitting their jobs because they don’t feel they have adequate growth opportunities, and 45% of workers said they would be more likely to stay with their employer if they were offered skills training. Specifically, workers want more development in technological skills like coding, machine learning, word processing (ex. Word, Google Docs), analysis (ex. Excel) and updating of professional credentialling and licensing. For those seeking new work, 54% say they don’t feel they have the skills they need to take them into the future.

Career Implication: Now is the time for you to consider the skills you want to build and the ways you can stretch to a new role, new job or new career. You may be able to enter a new-to-you field and obtain training from your employer. Or you may be able to enter a company leveraging your existing skills and expand within the organization through skill development, learning and mentoring.

Scott Blumsack, senior vice president for research and insights, Monster, offers this perspective, “The return to work poses a great opportunity for job seekers to leverage their skills for career advancement. Tech skills are always in demand across industries, but so are softer skills such as customer service and collaboration.”

Salary Increases

With the tight job market, ManpowerGroup’s study revealed 31% of employers are offering increased wages and 23% are offering incentives such as signing bonuses. This is consistent with what employees want as well. According to the Monster data, 77% of job candidates define “career growth” as salary increases and the Elements study of several hundred career-related Google searches found one of the top searches was “jobs that pay well”. In fact, searches for jobs offering higher pay are up 120% between February 2020 and July 2021.

Career Implication: Your pay could be on the increase. Look for jobs that pay well and don’t be surprised if the pay range for your job or career has increased. In some cases, key skills or credentials are especially scarce, so pay ranges for those roles have increased substantially. Do your homework so you know what you’re worth.

Popular wisdom suggests you shouldn’t change companies for less than a 20%-30% increase. In addition, consider today’s pay, but also tomorrow’s income growth. When you’re assessing a new job, ask employers about signing bonuses, pay progression and what you can expect in terms of regular pay increases.

A caveat: Don’t consider wages as your only criterion for a new job. Income can be intoxicating, but you should also consider your fit with the culture, the content of the job, the leaders with whom you’ll work and the colleagues from whom you’ll have the opportunity to learn. There are a lot of factors which contribute to your happiness at work—remember wages are only one of them.

Remote Work and Flexible Work

One of the newest considerations for your career choices is where you’ll work and the hours you’ll work. Increasingly, employers are offering flexibility in these areas to attract and retain in this tight job market. ManpowerGroup found 39% of employers are offering more flexible working schedules and 28% are offering more flexible working locations. A study of 420 decision makers by Atlas found 95% of companies believed some portion of their workforce would work remotely, either full time or part time. In addition, companies predicted 1/3 of their workforce would work fully remote and ¼ would work in a hybrid model.

Remote and hybrid working arrangements are increasingly what employees are demanding. The Elements study found the searches for “jobs that are done remotely” was up 114% between February 202 and July 2021. And the study from Monster found 69% of employees who don’t work remote today are considering switching jobs if a new job would offer the opportunity for remote work.

Says Scott Gutz, chief executive officer, Monster, “…the world has changed in 18 months. Employees have changed their approach to work-life balance and the relative importance of being in an office setting versus a home office setting.” And according to Harper, “It’s clear that people have been changed by the pandemic and have higher expectations of their employer to align with their values, enable work-life blend and positively contribute to our communities.” 

Career Implication: You will likely have increasing opportunities to work your way in your location. Consider how and where you like to work, and seek choices and options from your employer. You may be able to move to a new region or community and do a job which would previously have been unavailable. Or you may be able to flex your schedule so you can find the just-right mix of the rewards of your work and rewards of activities outside of work (children, family, volunteering, etc.).

Consider flexible work as one aspect of the set of advantages your career choice offers. In addition, give thought to how much you’ll want to be face-to-face with colleagues to build your relationships and present in the organization to ensure visibility and future career growth.

In Sum

Now is the time to grow your career—in whatever way it is most meaningful for you. From more fulfillment and flexibility to greater pay and enhanced training, the opportunities are significant. The “fresh air effect” suggests that something new may seem ideal—and the grass may seem greener in the next role. But consider all you love and have invested in your current success before you make a jump. Chances are you’ll have plenty of new alternatives to choose from, and this may be the moment for a stretch, a new beginning or a new adventure in your career journey—in your current organization or in a new one.



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Buyer demand nudges up asking prices for UK houses: Rightmove By Reuters

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Buyer demand nudges up asking prices for UK houses: Rightmove By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A row of houses are seen in London, Britain June 3, 2015. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

By Andy Bruce

LONDON (Reuters) – Asking prices for houses in Britain resumed their upward trend this month as buyer demand far outstripped the supply of houses coming to the market, a survey showed on Monday.

Real estate website Rightmove (OTC:) said asking prices rose by 0.3% in its September survey to reach a new record high of 338,462 pounds ($466,671), reversing a 0.3% drop in early August.

Overall the survey added to signs that the housing market has retained some of its upward momentum even after the gradual withdrawal of temporary tax breaks on property purchases.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak cut stamp duty, a tax on house purchases, in July 2020. But in July it started to return to its pre-pandemic level and the tax break fully expires this month.

The tax cut aimed to reverse a slump in property sales at the start of the pandemic, and helped fuel a surge in property prices and some new construction. Many households were already seeking more spacious housing suited to working from home, a factor which has led to big price rises in other countries too.

“The high ratio of buyer demand to properties for sale means that the property market remains stock-starved despite the summer lull lessening overall activity,” said Tim Bannister, Rightmove’s director of property data.

The company said the number of prospective buyers per property had more than doubled compared with pre-pandemic levels – chiming with a similar report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

The August survey covered property first advertised on Rightmove between Aug. 8 and Sept. 11.

($1 = 0.7253 pounds)

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