Visionary Knitwear Award Winner, RCA graduate and all-round powerhouse Caitlin Charles-Jones creates versatile knitwear pieces from her studio in Holborn, having formerly been based in the Cotswolds. With a real passion for her craft and a natural flair for experimentation, we’re sure her designs will soon become your most coveted knitwear pieces.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR TRAINING? FOR EXAMPLE, ARE THERE ANY STAND-OUT LESSONS YOU LEARNED FROM YOUR UNDERGRADUATE AND GRADUATE DEGREES?
I began my training by doing a foundation degree at London College of Fashion. After that I went on to do a BA degree in Fashion Design at Kingston University, it was there that I discovered my love of knitting and knitwear and decided to specialise. Up until then I was very set on being a womenswear designer, so Kingston was a great learning curve for me, both practically in my skills but also in keeping an open mind and being flexible about trying new things. After that I did an MA degree in Womenswear Knitwear at the Royal College of Art.
There were two stand out lessons I learnt throughout my studies which have just become second nature to me now. Firstly, drawing is key and saying ‘you can’t draw’ is not an excuse! Everyone can draw in their own way, you just have to do it with confidence. Secondly, there is always merit and something to be learned from every bit of work. We always had to critique our own work and our peers’ work and it was great to realise that there is always something worthwhile to be taken away.
WHAT ARE YOUR PRIMARY INSPIRATIONS?
I find unlimited inspiration from landscapes – urban or natural, the possibilities for translating these into fabric or garments are endless! I also like to pick an artist to reference and I find the combination of these two things produces something really unique.
YOUR STUDIO WAS PREVIOUSLY BASED IN THE COTSWOLDS. HOW DID THIS IMPACT UPON YOUR PRACTICE?
When I started the label I moved back to my parents’ home in the Cotswolds. I decided to begin by producing everything in-house so practically it was a really good place to start. I needed to invest in a lot of machinery, all of which required a fair amount of space! The Cotswolds are so beautiful and I found the peace and space created a really healthy place to work, but I would often find myself going a week without really leaving the studio let alone the house! I’ve always said that I wouldn’t let fashion become my only interest; I need that variety and stimulation from other things so after a year it was the right time for me to move back to London.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING KNITWEAR DESIGNERS?
I think my biggest piece of advice would be to really know your craft. It’s not enough just to enjoy designing knitted clothes; you have to really understand the process to get the most out of it
HOW IS DESIGNING KNITWEAR DIFFERENT TO DESIGNING OTHER GARMENTS?
For me it’s a completely different thing all together. My design process is a simultaneous mix of gathering inspiration, knitting swatches and drawing. The construction of the fabric always informs the design and these two things really have to work together for your piece to be successful. In addition there is a LOT of maths! I have to knit a sample of every significant detail of the piece before I can then calculate how to make it in the final form.
I have also learnt that you have to be pretty open-minded, right through to the end. Things are never guaranteed to come out exactly as planned as there are so many factors that can effect your calculations on any given day – and it’s not just like you can cut a bit off if it’s not quite right!
WHAT TYPE OF PEOPLE DO YOU IMAGINE WEARING YOUR DESIGNS?
I’m still learning a lot about my customer as I find my feet with the brand. I try to keep it pretty open in that my pieces are very versatile. The aim is to make pieces that can stand-alone or be easily absorbed into someone’s unique style. I like to think that my customer is someone who values quality and craftsmanship and looks for pieces that are a bit different but have strong roots in classic styles.
WHAT IS YOUR DESIGN PHILOSOPHY?
Clean and wearable silhouettes with intriguing fabrications and colour ways.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT STAGES OF YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
First I always start with gathering research and drawing. Then, as I get a feel for it, I pick colours and yarns and begin sampling colour combinations and techniques alongside my drawings. Each aspect begins to inform the other and designs start becoming clearer. Then I will always to a rough line plan to see how well-rounded the collection is looking and if anything is surplus or needed. After that I’m into the sample production stage, which involves producing patterns and toiles followed by a lot of calculations!
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE AS A YOUNG DESIGNER?
There are so many! Practically, the biggest challenge I found initially was finding affordable studio space in London. With my machinery I couldn’t just work in a spare room and it was quite a challenge to find space!
Another big challenge was breaking into the market and finding your customer – this is something I’m still working on! For my first three seasons I was following the traditional fashion business model, chasing wholesale buyers and trying to keep up with the calendar. I have decided this year though to take a step back from this and focus on direct sales.
Another huge challenge is production. Finding a factory with small enough minimums has proved pretty impossible so I’m working on other ways to outsource some of my production.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR THE FUTURE?
2017 is the year of change for my label! In November I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise money in order to fund a website overhaul with a focus on e-commerce, and also my first small scale production run so that I can hold stock. The idea is that certain styles will be available all year round with special pieces introduced seasonally. It’s a bit of a change from producing an entire new collection each season but I think it will be more sustainable in the long run.