Katie Jones is taking hand crafted knitwear and making it big, and bold. A self-professed “country bumpkin”, at first glance you certainly wouldn’t know that the CSM graduate’s synonymous, luxury collection is primarily crafted from high quality luxury seconds that would otherwise be in a landfill.
During her internships the designer was exposed to the vast amounts of waste that’s commonplace across all levels of fashion consumerism. The designer’s approach to sustainability combined with her candy coloured, nana-inspired knitwear has earned her a firm underground following which stretches as far as China and japan.
“Each piece can be quite different, which the Asian audience love,” speaking of her eastern consumer base. “Whereas the European stores want everything to be quite uniform. I think we’re obsessed with perfection. With the Chinese and Japanese audiences, they want to know that I make it, to put a face and a name to it. I guess it’s because everything tends to be so manufactured there.”
With her SS16 collection soon to be stocked in Selfridges, things are looking very exciting for this young designer. Although the business is growing rapidly, Katie is determined to hold onto her handcrafted ethos and aesthetic. We caught up with Katie at her home to discuss eco-fashion, Bjork and rainbow vomit.
I’m from a small village near Brighton, in West Sussex. I studied at Central Saint Martins for my BA in Fashion Knitwear, and my MA. I’ve always knitted since I was at school and I learnt from my mum. I was always drawn to textile stuff, but I think I’m a bit of a country bumpkin and I suppose it’s the slower pace of life, if you’re making everything by hand I think that’s how it translates more here.
How did Central Saint Martins influence you as a designer?
It was super free, so you got to do whatever you really wanted which was really nice and really creative. I was really lucky because I could already knit, but I learnt how to use the knit machine which I didn’t know previously. The MA was really good but also really challenging, because the turnaround is not quick enough, compared to a womenswear student who can just sew something up, and if it’s going to take you a day to do a sleeve, it’s a bit different. Those were the challenges on the MA, but I learnt a lot. I think I grated quite a lot of tutors! A bit too much rainbow vomit.
Sustainability is really important to you. How does that come across in your designs?
For me it became really important that if I was going to make something new, especially if I was going to spend so many hours on it, that it wouldn’t be enough it being pretty, it would have to have a point, rather than just adding to these clothes mountains of just discarded things. It would have to be really special for the person that gets it, and I love working on one-offs for people because then they really treasure it, and I do a lot of bespoke orders so they are going to wear it and love it. But that it would also have to be made from materials that weren’t polluting. I find it really oxymoronic that you have really beautiful, expensive dresses but if they’re made out of stuff that has caused people harm I find it very bizarre. So it becomes very important to me in the design that you know where everything comes from.
What bothers you most about fashion at the moment?
I don’t think people know what they’re buying. There should be a line when it comes to getting a bargain. Sometimes it’s not even that you have to buy more expensive clothes, it’s just that people buy a lot. It would be better to buy one pair of jeans that are expensive than buy four pairs of jeans that will wear out because they’re cheaply made. You just don’t need so much.
Is your work a protest against that?
It’s not much like a protest because I don’t like to preach too much. But I don’t want to be adding to that. I think fashion can do better. Sometimes when you’re a designer, it’s almost a double edged sword, fashion has been quite evil and wasteful… But I love making clothes. I think it’s more of a traditional approach, clothes used to take much longer to make and you wouldn’t have bought so many. It’s stepping back a little bit, because things don’t have to be so fast paced.
Do you feel like tradition has a large place in your brand?
Yes, I mainly get influenced by traditional textiles. Fashion can be seen as a very commercial thing, but if you look back at a folk group or a tribe and you see how clothing or costume becomes this amazing embellished thing that is super important to them. And their fashion says more, it’s trying to be something. Folk dancers have these huge embellished folk gowns and all the time they have spent on it, it’s not this fast fashion thing. That’s what I’d like to think of my work – it’s not so trend led, it’s had time input.
What do you want people to feel when they wear your designs?
I like to think my clothes are quite fun. But I like that they’re clothes that are meant to be worn, not evening dresses or anything like that. A big snuggly jumper, a bit of joy in it. I think customers like to know that I made it with my hands. You transfer some of the energy through the jumper, the joy you had making it. I want people to love the pieces, so they’re not disposable. I’d like it to be the kind of item that people keep in their wardrobe for the whole of their life.
How would you describe your personal style and is this reflected in your designs?
I think I just make things that I would want to wear. Some people don’t look like their brand. I think if I wasn’t designing this I’d want to do kidswear, it’s fun. You can put pom-poms on everything, they don’t mind! When you’re a kid you can wear every colour under the sun and then you grow up and have to become more muted in your colour palette.
Are there any visual artists/film directors that inspire you?
I’m pretty obsessed with bad 80s films. I also love tribes, nomadic textile stuff. A photographer called Phyllis Galembo shoots this African, masquerade textile stuff. They’re crafting an outfit that means so much to them. It’s bright and colourful, which I love, but it’s got massive meaning. Also Grayson Perry, that mixing of tradition with the modern.
What meaning do you think you’d like to express in your work?
That it would be treasurable. Because I do everything with knit and crochet, that it would be a celebration of handcraft. You should watch the documentary “True Cost” – I cried like a baby! But it made me really sad, and then made me really give a shit. For me, the cost isn’t even a huge issue – the problem is more not the price but the turnaround. People just buy too much stuff, because it’s so cheap. Apparently, if a t-shirt had 18 pence added to it, it would triple the worker’s pay. When it comes to luxury fashion, people argue that not everyone can afford that. But when it comes to 18p, who can’t afford that?
What can we expect from your new SS16 collection?
A lot of denim. Summer is evil for a knitwear designer, I like to do big cuddly jumpers. It’s reclaimed denim, but denim with crochet because we wanted it to be easy to wear in summer. It’s all about embellishment, quite bright and pop-y. A bit of leather too. More accessories because our bags have been really popular. A lot of what I do as well is teaching people how to knit and crochet and do workshops. The skill side of it, I find really important so we’re trying to do more pieces that are interactive.
Are you doing more entry level pieces this time?
Yes. A lot of our social media audience are really quite young, probably since it’s so pop-y. I hate that we don’t really have anything that targets this market, because of costs. But I don’t want to have just a t-shirt with my name on it, or a frill. I want even the entry level pieces to hold the brand ethos. Otherwise it becomes so derivative, so miles away from the brand, it kills me! It’s ensuring we get entry-level products that are still really cool and fit with everything.
If you could design a bespoke piece for anyone, who would it be?
Bjork! I mean, I don’t think a big Aran jumper would work that well on stage, that’s more something she would wear during downtime. But I don’t think she would mind if I threw colour all over her, covered her in pom-poms!