Genevieve Sweeney's knitwear is a premium British brand that showcases interesting, innovative artisan skills and the rich heritage found within the British knitwear industry. As a young designer, she has become a real advocate for British textiles and we were thrilled to collaborate with her in creating alpaca socks for our ‘Take a Little Thyme’ collection. She is a dynamic and truly inspirational young business woman, so it was good to catch up and find out a little more about her background and hopes for the brand.
Your early career was working with brands such as Rag & Bone, Hugo Boss, Burberry, Lyle & Scott … what prompted you to launch your own label in 2015? I was incredibly lucky to have worked for some global brands in the first few years of my career, starting in New York, then Switzerland, before returning to London. My roles differed from designer to creative development to production so I learnt so much about how to take a garment from sketch to the shop floor. When I returned to the UK, I rented a studio and started to buy old knitting machines to restore and knit design ideas in my spare time. One summer, I talked my husband into a holiday in Scotland to meet an ex-knitter who was looking to sell an old knitting machine that had been stuck under his stairs for over 15 years. It took me about 3 months to restore but it is one of my favourite machines to knit with. 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 network of hidden 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, particularly knitting by hand. I became very concerned that these skills will one day die out within the next 10 years so started working on a few projects with these 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 celebrating and reinvigorating the UK knitwear industry using artisan skills with contemporary design.
The fashion industry is becoming more concerned with provenance and ethics but there is still a long way to go. Are you optimistic about a sustainable future? I believe that the fashion industry is taking a new route with sustainability and ethics, but I agree there is still a long way to go. When I first started working in fashion I couldn't believe the amount of wastage and air miles that went into designing a garment, from sketch to prototyping, to sampling, fashion brands and factories were happily sending swatches across the globe and at least 50% was never used. This also affected my decision to manufacture in the UK as it greatly reduced my carbon footprint but also I would be sure that the working conditions of the factories were the best they could be. When sourcing yarn I work with some incredible yarn mills, using solar panels to power their mills, turn wastage cotton to paper and use environmentally friendly bacteria to clean water used for dying yarns so that it can be then used for agricultural irrigation.
How does alpaca compare to sheep’s wool as a material? Alpaca does have a few special characteristics. Not only is it warmer than wool, if you suffer from irritation of wool, alpaca would be your solution! It has no lanolin in the fleece which makes it hypoallergenic and very suitable for delicate skin. Alpaca and Wool yarns are both incredible fibres: biodegradable, renewable, and sustainable.
You are obviously fascinated by the whole fashion chain, how do you manage your time to allow the space to create? I absolutely love every part of the fashion chain, I believe that to be a good designer you need to understand the characteristics of a fibre and how the machine works as well as understanding what your customer wants, how they shop etc. I am responsible for every aspect of my business, marketing, SEO, web development, logistics and customer service so it is hard at times to allow myself the time to be creative. A resolution of 2018 is to split my time more evenly between these roles. My most creative moments are often when walking in the countryside, or sitting quietly in a remote area with a coffee with time to reflect and inspire.
We hear you have a passion for vintage knits, is this where your interest in knitwear began? My grandmother taught me to knit when I was 5 years old to keep myself entertained during long car journeys. As a child, I secretly knitted every evening for my toys or family presents. When I was 16 years old, I met a girl who was studying Fashion Knitwear at university, this was a huge turning point for me as I realised I had a career path with my hobby. Growing up I would often take 1940s patterns and rework them into contemporary silhouettes or experience with stitches and unusual yarns.
Your beautiful designs are all about luxurious silhouettes, contemporary style, hand finish; you supply some very impressive outlets already. So how do you hope to develop the brand in the future? This year I am working to develop the brand by really showing off the beauty and skill of British manufacturing. I want to push the boundaries of hand intarsia knitting in the Scottish Borders and continue to grow the label across womenswear, menswear and childrenswear (launched in October). I hope that 2018 is the year that I start to grow the GS team, taking on assistants and re-employing knitters back into the industry. I am inspired to reinvigorate the UK knitwear industry with artisan skills, innovative technology and sustainable processes, by doing this I hope to inspire a younger generation to continue these trades so they don’t die out.
We are delighted that Genevieve has made aplaca socks for Thyme, the thick natural yarn is ideally suited to a warm walking sock, made all that more special with the Thyme monogram. The perfect sock for wild wintry walks. Available in a range of sizes … BUY NOW