Knitwear has developed from being an autumn/winter wardrobe staple to all-year-round statement fashion must-have, and Yorkshire designers have been leading the way. Stephanie Smith highlights two emerging talents.
ROSS BARR KNITWEAR - ROSS WILLIAM BARR-HOYLAND
Yorkshire’s manufacturing heritage and the ancient origins of woollen clothing are what inspired Ross William Barr-Hoyland to become a knitwear designer.
“Wool was one of the first materials we mastered when we began to evolve from using skins of animals, and I sometimes wonder how our ancestors began to master spinning the wool and crafting it,” he says.
Ross, 27, from Wakefield, launched men’s knitwear brand Ross Barr in September 2015, after receiving support from The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme. It debuted with a double-breasted, chunky, close-fitting men’s cardigan called The Spencer, made from Scottish wool which is spun and dyed in Keighley and manufactured in Leicester.
The Spencer was nominated one of GQ magazine’s best looks for the Campaign for Wool, modelled by David Gandy. Last year it was part of a Prince’s Trust presentation to the Queen and Prince Charles.
The Spencer, says Ross, symbolises everything the brand stands for.
“The inspiration for it came from a book I read called Black Diamonds, which was about the demise of one of the greatest houses in Europe, Wentworth House in Barnsley. It referenced a cardigan called the ‘Spencer’ and I researched its history and brought back its original design, but updated to the 21st century.”
Describing himself as a “proud Yorkshireman and northerner”, Ross says his roots underpin his brand. “My home city of Wakefield was once a thriving centre of wool, but now nothing remains.”
The support he has received from the Prince’s Trust has been invaluable. “Teaching myself all the techniques, styles, and acquainting myself with all the types of wool and how it can used has been amazing, but has taken several years,” he says.
Two more styles have followed the Spencer, including the Elliot, named after Ross’s great-grandfather, William Elliot, a haulier in early 1930s, and inspired by the style of Marlon Brando and James Dean.
Ross Barr knitwear now sells in Canada, France, Australia and earlier this month in a new department store called The British House in Beijing. It’s a name to watch.
See and buy Ross Barr knitwear on Ross-Barr.com.
NEEDLE - ELIZABETH CAWTHRAY
“Being from Yorkshire means I would always have a jumper with me, just in case,” says North Yorkshire entrepreneur Elizabeth Cawthray, who launched Needle, specialising in luxurious, contemporary knitwear for women, in 2013 when she was 27.
Needle is stocked in boutiques across the UK and in Anthropologie (there’s one at Victoria Gate in Leeds), as well as on NeedleBoutique.com.
“Needle is a fun, stylish, women’s knitwear brand focusing on textured stitches and colours, making classic styles modern,” Lizzie says. “Our aim is to create interesting and unique knitwear that is stylish but comfy to wear.”
Lizzie grew up in Ilkley and Harrogate and studied Hospitality and Retail Management at Oxford Brookes University, interning at Boden.
She worked at LK Bennett as part of a clothing product development team specialising in knitwear, and met designer Emma Baressi, who had previously worked at Burberry. When she decided to set up Needle, Lizzie asked Emma to join as chief designer.
The head office is near Northallerton, and the styles are made in China, mostly in cashmere and merino.
Lizzie enjoys the versatility of knitwear. “My wardrobe consists of jeans and jumpers, and I pretty much wear that all year round,” she says. “We have designed some super-lightweight cashmere pieces that I live in during the summer months, and equally I love snuggling up in a cosy, chunky knit.
“Knitwear is my wardrobe staple and because it is so relevant to my day-to-day life, I enjoy creating collections and planning where they are going to fit into my life.”
Brand and design confidence has grown with each new season collection, she says.
“I think we started quite safe, but having worked with Anthropologie for the last few years, and designing for them, we have realised we can push our design boundaries a little more to be more interesting.
“We still focus on the fit, although not every style is going to suit every body shape, but make the design fit beautifully and elegantly while still being modern and stylish.”
Needle is stocked at Upstairs Downstairs in Ripon and in Anthropologie, Victoria Gate, Leeds, and on NeedleBoutique.com.