KNITit opens new 3D knitting manufacturing facility in Holland

HOLLAND – Liz Hilton’s journey to starting a custom 3D knit fabrication business has taken her from a startup studio in Grand Rapids to her garage and beyond Knit LLC‘s new headquarters in a 6,000 square meter building in Holland.

Currently, KNITit’s workshop at the new facility has three CNC knitting machines from Japanese manufacturer Shima Seiki, running 24/7 to keep up with demand.

Hilton plans to purchase two more machines that will make products in one piece, which they call “soft good additive manufacturing” — essentially a process of making the product using all the raw material and creating zero waste.

The CNC knitting machines specialize in tube and layer designs.

“This is where KNITit shines,” said Hilton MiBiz. “My competitors don’t do that.”

Hilton created KNITit to give others a place to develop their ideas and products without committing to high volume. Though the model wasn’t sustainable, Hilton said the experience proved invaluable.

“It opened a lot of doors for me and I got to knit a lot of things,” Hilton said.

Hilton shifted capacity at KNITit to various companies that made office chair suspension backs, oven gaskets, and shoe uppers, among other things.

Today, the company primarily produces a product that Hilton invented in 2018 known as the Swaddelini, a 3D-knitted swaddle with trademarked lightweight compression therapy that keeps babies snug without restricting their movement.

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She invented the Swaddelini in her early days as a new mom.

“Our first night with my son in Swaddelini, he slept all night,” Hilton said. “My husband took my hand that morning and said, ‘Liz! They’re going to sell a million of them.” That’s when the KNIIt transition began.”

In 2018 she threw on the Swaddelini start garden‘s annual 100 Ideas pitch competition and won $20,000 for developing the product. Hilton was already a familiar face at Start Garden, having won a 5×5 Night Business Pitch for KNItit in 2015.

Paul Moore, director of Start Garden, says Hilton’s development reflects the persistence that ultimately pays off for entrepreneurs.

“We saw Liz’s journey from the very beginning with her first 3D knitting machine and she never stopped innovating,” said Moore MiBiz. “She has that classic guts and determination that you see in entrepreneurship. She just keeps trying and trying until something connects. It is an example of the persistence that is required. Whether it takes six months or six years, if you really want to build a business, you will keep trying.”

Swaddelini had deals with big-box giant Buy Buy Baby, shopping channels QVC and HSN, and e-commerce platform Zulily until September 2020. Rather than bask in the glow of the new business she received, Hilton chose to pull the plug.

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“I spent a lot of time building these relationships, but these companies didn’t do good business with me,” Hilton said. “I’ve lost money and agency.”

In January 2021, Hilton created a video promoting Swaddelini on TikTok that quickly went viral. Today, Swaddellini TikTok account has accumulated 4.3 million likes, 152,000 followers and multiple videos, each with more than 1 million views.

Hilton says accumulating such a large online audience has given her new leverage working with companies like Von Maur department store, which sells the Swaddelini online and in brick-and-mortar stores.

The Swaddelini is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled nylon made in the USA with the option to use China-grown bamboo. The product has been sold more than 10,000 times and as of this writing, Hilton is struggling to keep up with the orders.

Hilton says KNITi’s focus will remain on swaddelini production, but at some point she wants the company to offer tubing solutions to customers.

“KNITit will take on projects that make sense and differentiate us from our competitors,” said Hilton.

The company opened its new facility in Zeeland on October 6th Midwest Construction Group Inc. built the plant, which is owned by LEED LLCalso from Zeeland.

Hilton says the facility gives her a lot more than just extra breathing room. It allows the company to increase volume and dream bigger.

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“As soon as I moved in, I was able to add 50 percent more capacity,” Hilton said. “In two years I can quadruple our capacity.”

Now that KNITit is no longer limited by square footage, Hilton has been able to deepen relationships with its suppliers.

“We’ve never been able to buy minimum amounts before,” Hilton said. “Now we can buy and stock raw material more easily, giving us a better relationship with suppliers.”

Hilton emphasizes that she doesn’t want the KNITi headquarters to feel like an “ordinary manufacturer”.

“I want this to feel like a living, breathing art installation,” Hilton said.

To that end, western Michigan artists Chris Garcia and Jacob Zars will be painting giant murals at the facility that can be viewed from the manufacturing floor.

As Hilton, now a mother of three, embarks on the next leg of her journey with KNITit and Swaddelini, she wants to encourage other women and mothers to navigate the twists and turns of entrepreneurship. She was referring to 2019, when she resigned full-time from KNITit to take a position in business development while continuing to work on Swaddelini.

“A lot of people think I’m an overnight success,” Hilton said. “There’s such a hectic culture in entrepreneurship – ‘keep going, don’t give up’ – but I’ve had to give up a few times and that’s okay. It’s not a straight line.”

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