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My Fashion Life: Genevieve Sweeney, knitwear designer

Crop

Drapers spoke to knitwear designer Genevieve Sweeney to find out how she is using her eponymous brand to support UK manufacturing with a hidden network of British knitters.

268 gs lkb 1 1952 600x900

268 gs lkb 1 1952 600x900

Knitwear designer Genevieve Sweeney founded her eponymous brand in 2015, after a career working with some of the most prestigious global designers. Inspired by heritage techniques, the brand manufactures entirely in the UK with a network of knitters ranged across the country. With stockists including Fortnum & Mason and Young British Designers, the jumpers retail from £140 to £400, and accessories start at £15. Drapers speaks to Sweeney about her mission to keep knitting alive.

What’s your background? How did you first become interested in fashion?

I have knitted since I was five years old and have never stopped since. I grew up with my grandparents, who taught me to pattern-cut and sew. It was a very creative home, so I naturally fell into fashion.

After graduating from Nottingham Trent University in 2011, I moved to New York and worked for the Rag & Bone knitwear department, then was headhunted by Hugo Boss in Switzerland as a creative developer for the men’s sports knitwear collection. I moved back to England a couple of years later, to work for Burberry in their children’s knitwear department, and finally at Lyle & Scott developing men’s knitwear.

My career has been a mixture of design, development and production as I wanted to experience every process of the fashion chain. This was a huge asset when starting my own label.

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What is it that drew you to knitwear?

I love the combination of creating a fully fashioned garment as well as a textural fabric all in one. I really embrace traditional artisanal skills and innovation in machinery, as you can create such unique fabrics and styles by mixing contrasting yarns and colours. I find hand-knitting very relaxing and meditative, so even after a hard day I can switch off with a glass of wine and a film and not even look at what my hands are doing while knitting.

 

Mclaughlin 170131 1986 edit

Mclaughlin 170131 1986 edit

What prompted you to set up your own label?

When I returned to the UK, I rented a studio and started buying old knitting machines to restore and knit design ideas in my spare time. I once drove up to Scotland to meet someone looking to sell his old machine that had been stuck under his stairs for over 15 years.

During my trip, I met the machine-owner’s nephew, who once worked in the knitwear industry in the 1980s before the factories closed down. He introduced me to a hidden network of knitters and I really fell in love with their high-quality skills and extreme attention to detail.

They used techniques you hardly ever see in the industry, knitted them by hand. I became very concerned that these skills would one day die out so started working on projects with the knitters

After a few months, I realised I had the start of a collection forming, so I took the jump and decided to launch my own label.

How do you find balancing the business and creative side of things?

I do sometimes find it hard to split my time between designing the collections and running the day-to-day business. I try and plan in a few of days of pure knitting and designing every month without any distractions. I really enjoy working across different roles, being involved in all the processes does allow me to be more reactive to customers and changing markets. 

Mclaughlin 170131 2237 edit

Mclaughlin 170131 2237 edit

You describe your label as taking an “innovative” approach to knitwear – what do you mean by this?

I work with techniques and processes to make the collections as sustainable as possible. One of the yarn mills I source my yarn from is completely run by solar power and the excess fibres created from the spinning are turned into paper. The dye house uses low-impact dyes and feeds good bacteria to the wastewater to “eat” the dye – after the process is finished the water is clean again to use for agriculture.

For the childrenswear collection, I am working with seamless technology that creates a whole garment in one piece. This hugely decreases wastage and reduces lead times as there are fewer processes. The jumpers are then digitally printed with harmless residue-free inks to give clean fine lines to an illustration.

How do you keep yourself motivated and creative?

A couple of times a year, I escape to a spa and switch off my phone. I find it such a perfect place to recharge and reset my mind, by the afternoon I find myself taking notes, feeling incredibly motivated and sketching new ideas.

What’s been you highlight from running the brand so far?

I have so many highlights of the brand so far: seeing my menswear collection in Fortnum & Mason, my first piece of press in Vogue, bumping into someone wearing Genevieve Sweeney knitwear and the wonderful messages I receive from my customers.

Snap Chat

Favourite clothing brand

Dries Van Noten and Dear Frances

Favourite places to shop

Liberty and local food markets

Last fashion purchase

Black suede Topshop boots.

Last holiday

Bordeaux – at a friend’s house in the middle of nowhere surrounded by vineyards

Last book you read

I never find the time to read, unfortunately, so I listen to a lot of audiobooks.

Last film you watched

The Big Short

First job

My first job was (at 13 years old) working as a chambermaid for a local spiritualist college. I found the job terrifying at times as it was so quiet and eerie I was sure it was haunted, but it funded my passion of making clothes and revamping pieces found in Charity shops.

Dream job

Luxury travel reporter

What would we find you doing at the weekend

Most probably knitting at my studio or taking a long walk in Cambridge ending at Quayside with take-away pizza and wine watching the punters.

 

 

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