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GENEVIEVE SWEENEY ON GROWING HER KNITWEAR BRAND
Genevieve Sweeney is a premium British knitwear label that truly emphases the high level of skills and quality of knitwear manufacturing in the British Isles. The brand fuses contemporary design with innovative technical processes and embraces heritage skills found in the Scottish Borders. Made exclusively in the UK, Genevieve is writing a new chapter for the knitwear industry, marrying contemporary design with exceptional hand finishes. Indebted to the time-honoured techniques of artisan makers, the brand has reimagined the possibilities of knitwear. While working in knitwear design and development for luxury brands across the globe, Genevieve gained a unique insight into the dialogue between designer and maker. Inspired by the relationships she built with local British mills and suppliers; the Genevieve Sweeney brand was born.
Colour blocking, clean lines and unusual yarn blends define the Genevieve Sweeney aesthetic, while geometric hand intarsia jumpers have become a brand signature. This handcrafted technique threads a unique narrative through each individual piece. Complex jacquards and metallic accents sit amongst muted tones and natural fibres for timeless unisex pieces that defy seasonal trends. With a naturally innovative approach to knitwear design, she creates custom yarn blends, sources British spun natural fibres as well as selecting eco and sustainable blends from Italy. Each piece is finished by hand with uncompromising attention to detail, transforming everyday knitwear into a premium investment piece. Genevieve Sweeney is committed to sustainability and with the fashion industry now placing great importance on provenance, the brand embraces ethical practices.
In a recent episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interviewed knitwear designer, Genevieve Sweeney, and discussed how she came to set up her own brand after working for high end brands across the world. It was whilst on a mission to help small handcrafted knitwear manufacturers in Scotland when her brand was naturally born. She was quickly stocked by The Shop at Bluebird and Fortnum & Mason, and then set up her website with the help of her graphic designer friends. Our host Peter Brooker and Genevieve also talked about the brand's unique geometric knitwear designs, sock subscription club, Alpacas, sustainable focus, and how she has coped with a newborn baby during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Please tell us about yourself and how you started your brand
“I founded my brand in 2015 and previously I had worked for high-end brands across the world. I felt there was something missing within knitwear, and through working with other brands who manufacture through China, Italy, and Turkey. I came across an artisan knitter in Scotland who had been out of work for about twenty years and I completely fell in love with his story and art, and really found it heartbreaking that there was no longer a market for him to sell in. So, what started as a little project to get his craft to a more commercial and contemporary product, ended up being the start of my brand. From that, I spent two years dragging my husband on working holidays trying to find factories, sitting in pubs in Scotland asking people if they knew of any knitters or factories. Everything was word of mouth, there wasn’t the Make it British website or anything similar. So, it was a real hunt to find manufacturers and people to work with. I couldn’t work with the large mills because I couldn’t meet their minimum order requirements. I wanted handmade craft pieces, at a maximum of fifty pieces.”
After you had secured manufacturing, then what did you do?
“I was lucky to know a few graphic designers and web builders, so we did a few little trade-for-trade deals to put the website together. I basically launched within six months of finding the factories. I had the knitwear designs ready to go and friends were doing photoshoots and web design in the background. I was living in Hackney at the time and there was a free pop-up shop that you could have for a week if you were a resident. So, the week I launched the website I also had this pop-up shop which was amazing. It was great to suddenly see the products within a store. We had a launch party with friends and we also had a PR company to help drive interest. It was the most incredible moment seeing it all together. I remember the woman who came in and bought my first jumper, it looked lovely on her. That was such a milestone. It then took time to get brand awareness. I don’t think I had realised how much of a drop in the ocean you are when you first launch a website.”
This is a shortened transcribed edit of episode 65 of the MenswearStyle Podcast with knitwear designer genevievesweeney.com. You can listen to the full version below or listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast player.