They pride themselves with making eco-friendly, sustainable and locally sourced garments. The fact that they come in a range of gorgeous designs is just a bonus. I had a chat with the founders of the company to discuss shopping, sheep and stunning gowns.
Eco-friendly and ethical clothing seem to be getting more press attention in recent years. Have you noticed customers becoming more interested in finding out where their clothes are from?
Yes, definitely. Especially talking to a lot of my customers – they’re very keen on things being made locally. I am not sure whether it’s because of the economy or ethical or eco-issues but it does seem to be more important to people than when we started out.
What was the first piece of clothing Makepiece created?
Heavens, that’s a long time ago! When Makepiece was just a shop selling ‘made in the UK ‘things, Nicola walked in on the first day we opened. She had a knitwear degree and was interested in the shop’s ethics as she’d developed her final collection around the principles of slow fashion. Shortly after, I asked her to knit a jumper out of some gorgeous British alpaca and Gotland wool I’d sourced from the Natural Fibre Company. It was gorgeous but a gift for my then partner. Meanwhile, I’d been hand spinning yarn from the mohair from my angora goats and the first real signature piece we made together was using this – a funnel necked cape in an open stitch which showed of the lustrous boucle I’d created. We worked out how much time it had taken and priced it up – £160 ten years ago. We thought at that price it would be too expensive and wouldn’t sell. And were slightly relieved that we’d never have to make another. However, it was quite an item and sold in the first week!
Your collections seem to use wool in a number of ways from the delicate ruffles of the wedding gowns to the graphic lines of the braided garments. Were you always aware of the variety you could create with this fabric?
Nicola develops all the designs and really does think in knit so I think we’ve always known that there are myriad possibilities. In some ways though, because the range of yarns we use is a bit more limited it’s encouraged her to develop the shapes and three dimensional structures of our knits to keep them interesting – rather than relying on fancy yarns for interest. This has become our signature style – it really sets us apart from flat pieces and simple sweaters.
You have both lived in busy cities but now reside in the countryside. Do you find yourselves more inspired in a more rural landscape?
Definitely – it’s not a conscious thing but the shapes in the land; rocks and moorlands, plants and animals do come through in the knit structures. Also in our colours – they’re definitely inspired by the light and the seasons. We’re very lucky – it’s a beautiful place and we’re both very outdoor people. You can walk or cycle out of our houses and be in the middle of nowhere in minutes.
What is your long term vision for Makepiece?
To have a small number of shops throughout the country so that women all over can come in to try on knits and be measured for bespoke pieces.
You use a few different fibres in your collections. Do you have a favourite type of wool to work with?
All our wool is produced from the UK flock. We’ve got our own little flock of Shetland sheep which are multicoloured so we’ve grouped the fleeces by colour and had them spun into four different shades of brown and grey. That’s fun to work with because we’re so connected to it. Then the most consistent and smooth spun yarn is our Bluefaced Leicester. It can be spun to a really fine count, great for making sheer pieces and lots of people love to wear it.
If you had to give a few pieces of advice to British fashion consumers, what would they be?
Better out than in the closet. I have a philosophy of invest in timeless pieces and wear them often. Sometimes we think we shouldn’t spend too much on every day clothes – but really, if we wear something a lot we’re getting good value out of it!
Buy wool – it’s renewable and warm! Actually, this doesn’t just apply to wool – always look at what clothes are made of before you buy. Don’t waste your closet space on things that will sit there unworn or drop to bits. It’s quite sad the number of times a nice design has been ruined for me by being made out of clammy feeling nylon which I’ve soon fallen out of love with, however good the cut. Then there’s dry cleaning – it’s a nasty process as well as being expensive. Avoid dry clean only clothes and particularly ones that need regular cleaning – coats may need occasional freshening up, but a blouse? It’ll reproach you for not wearing it, reproach you for not washing it and you’ll reproach yourself for dry cleaning it. As will your bank balance.
Buy your favourite clothes from trusted makers – then top up your wardrobe from vintage shops, charity stores and jumble sales.