Charmaine Jones won’t say how old she is. She’s lived in Harlem since 1982 and has met her share of success with an early modeling career and eventually her own small bakery empire as the self-styled “Cake Diva.”
But business began to slow down in the early 2000s, and Jones said she wouldn’t be able to carry her cakes without hurting her back and knees. That’s when Jones decided to pick up some yarn and knitting needles instead.
Today, Jones is one of 12 women — and one man — who are stitching for WOOLN, a recently launched startup selling hand-knit goods they market as made by “New York grandmothers.”
“But I’m not a mother or a grandmother. I am another kind of mother,” Jones said with a laugh.
Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 25 percent of the United State’s workforce will be age 55 or older by 2020, with more and more older Americans electing to keep working.
Christopher Widelo, associate state director for AARP in New York, said it’s a trend he’s begun to notice himself, especially across the boroughs.
“It’s an exceedingly expensive place,” Widelo said. “With all the costs that go with being a New York City resident, were going to see more older workers staying in the workforce just out of necessity.”
The kind of work older residents can find matters, Widely added. He explained that every older worker decides to rejoin the workforce for different reasons, ranging from financial need to boredom.
“A lot of times they retired simply because they have a retirement plan, but many would keep working if they had the flexibility,” Widelo said.
For Charmaine Jones, WOOLN gives her that flexibility. She told Metro she found the company while passing the time on looking on Craigslist listings.
“As part of our knitting crew, you can choose how many items and which items you want to knit,” the listing said. “It can be 1 snood a month or 4 hats per week depending on the time you want to dedicate to knitting, your knitting speed, your time.”
Each knit item can bring anywhere between $10 to $30 each, depending on its size. Knitters drop off their work with WOOLN founders Margaux Clermontel and Faustine Badrichani and get paid on the spot.
Clermontel, 32, and Badrichani, 31, also provide the yarn — purchased from socially responsible vendors — to their group of eager knitters, who range in age between 55 and 96 with a handful or retirees. Some of them can pull in as much as $600 in commissions a month, others closer to $200.
In one week, Jones knit 13 hats, which can be sold for as much as $85 each on the WOOLN website. Badrichani said Jones is by far their quickest knitter, though they keep adding more. They started with a handful of elder New Yorkers by visiting 60 senior centers across Brooklyn and Manhattan over the spring.
“It took forever,” Clermontel said. “We were very enthusiastic about it but had no one for a long time. Until friends started talking to friends about it.”
Both she and Badrichani, who only met in February before launching their project a few weeks later, noted the cultural difference in how seniors are treated in New York City today compared to their European upbringing.
“We got to see there are a lot of seniors in New York, and look at what the city does for them,” Badrichani said. “Being young is better than being old here, where in Europe there’s a lot of value for experience.”
“As time goes on, especially in New York — it can feel like a city made for young people,” she said. “This work helps me feel appreciated.”