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A day in the life of Karen Hall

Diversity is the spice of life for Ben Sherman’s head of knitwear design, whose love of fashion began as a teenager.

Karen Hall

Karen Hall

What does your typical week involve? Each day is different.
I support the design director by formatting trend and branding ideas. I also manage the 11 designers in the team. I will manage projects, such as planning photo shoots and building our concepts for spring 16, devise new patterns and identify the key silhouettes, as well as liaising with sales, retail and production. I am now working on concepts for spring 16, alongside developing new stitch structures and constructions in technical yarns to achieve high-definition patterns.

What task are you most looking forward to this week?
Starting spring 16 research, drawing on the culture and style of London. I grew up in Streatham, where my friends and I were heavily into fashion. At 18 I started working in shops such as Armani, Harrods and Pied a Terre. As a Londoner it is a real privilege to design for an iconic British brand such as Ben Sherman.

How did you get to where you are today?
My career has been quite diverse, probably because of my inquisitive nature. For most of my career I’ve run my own business or been a freelance designer.

Luxury womenswear boutique Jones of Floral Street in Covent Garden bought my graduate collection of women’s hand-knitted corsets in 1992. From there I set up a studio in Bloomsbury and launched a high-end women’s knitwear range of dresses and cropped cable jumpers under my own name. The fine knits were made on hand-operated Dubied knitting machines in my studio, and I also worked with knitters all over England. I used premium British yarn suppliers such as Todd & Duncan for cashmere and lambswool machine knits and Knoll yarns for hand knit.

The Prince’s Trust awarded me a grant and helped with training. I quickly learnt about cash flow, ordering of yarns, negotiating purchases, proportioning yarn orders for manufacturing, approaching buyers and selling the collection at trade shows. I also honed my technical skills in operating hand machines and designing stitch structures, along with grading across sizes and understanding delivering consistent quality. I stopped my own label collection in 1999. In 2000 I curated an exhibition called Dunlop Green Flash Reborn in Clerkenwell with my business partner, Linda Scott. Linda and I then co-founded a PR company called Kurious, while also designing knitwear collections for brands such as Topman and Miss Selfridge. I joined Ben Sherman in 2010 as senior knitwear designer, before moving on to head of knitwear design.

What has been your career highlight?
Exhibiting my eponymous label at London Fashion Week in 1997 and being nominated for the best menswear design team at the WGSN International Awards last year.

Who is your career mentor?
I try to surround myself with friends who inspire me, who give me the strength to pursue my career. I met Sarah Willis when I was 14 and she was at Central Saint Martins studying textiles in 1991. I had never met anyone from the field of design before that. She is an inspirational woman and a very dear friend.

How do you see your career progressing?
I really enjoy my current role and would like to head a brand as a design director.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
It’s the people you know that support your career. Value and learn from every experience and be prepared to work really hard. I run an internship programme at Ben Sherman and believe in nurturing young designers. We offer one- to three-month work placements, dependent on candidate’s skills. Interns will work on anything from trend research to presentation layouts and CAD design. Last year one of our interns became a full-time employee and I’m immensely proud of her progression over the past year.

If you could work in another area of fashion, what would it be?
I would probably like to be a jewellery designer. Lots of them used to work in studios beside me and I would always swap my knitwear for their jewellery. I’m a huge fan of [British jewellery designer] Phoebe Coleman.

  • Salaries for this type of position range from £55,000 to £65,000 (estimate by Vohs&Co)

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