We know that crafting something from scratch takes time, effort and commitment. As such, we’re thrilled to be able to both connect with and really get behind fellow artisans from around the world, as part of a new series here on the Distinctive Chesterfields blog. Handmade Heroes aims to champion anyone who uses their hands to create a piece of art, whether that be a beautiful dress, a fine piece of jewellery, or, of course, a gorgeous chair or sofa.
Introducing Mark Layfield of K-nit, an online store which sells striking handmade beanie hats. Conceived back in 2012 when designer and needleworker Carole Layfield set about knitting some hats for her son, Mark and his friends, K-nit has since evolved to make a stunning range of hats which are fast drawing a loyal following. Here, Mark explains the ethos behind this British brand, as well as letting us in on K-nit’s future plans and why the team endeavours to use authentic, English materials at all times.
Distinctive Chesterfields (DC): K-nit was formed back in 2012; how have things been going since you first started out?
Mark: The idea of K-nit originates back to 2012 but it wasn’t until the late summer of 2013 when we began to take it all a lot more seriously and began the journey to where we are today. Things are going great and the whole process of starting this kind of venture has been fun and hugely rewarding. Of course we have had our wrong turns and speed bumps, but in the end it is all a guide to finding the right path, so you can’t get too down about it when it happens.
Above: Mark and Carole get to work
DC: Tell us a little about designer and needle worker Carole – the brains behind the brand? How did the business come about?
Mark: There are a few brains behind the brand but it did all start with our mum, Carole. I guess you could say that Carole was the brains behind the initial product and essentially she is the brand! It just took my brother and I to help her realise the potential to create an original brand from her amazing skills and craftsmanship as a knitwear designer.
It all came about from a few hats she made some friends of mine for Christmas from the surplus wool she had stored up from decades in the industry. They sat on the table in our kitchen and no one could pass through without trying them on or showing an interest. From there we did some research and began to develop our own technique of making a beanie. There was a small bit of colour inspiration thrown in from the 80s and 90s when we grew up, and after a heap of trial and error we had a product we were truly proud of.
DC: Our products here at Distinctive Chesterfields are recognisably British in appearance, and like us, K-nit supports British manufacturing. How important is it that K-nit adheres to a non-wasteful way of working?
Mark: It is incredibly important and a fundamental part of our brand and the way we work. Personally, the presence and idea of waste, especially where it can be prevented, has always bothered me – there is far too much of it going on. We try and use the right amounts of everything, but where there is inevitably the potential for waste we conjure up ideas for materials to be used in a productive or sustainable way.
Supporting British manufacturing is key within our brand ethos. Along the way we been advised to manufacture or source materials abroad but it’s just never been part of our mission as a brand. We have established something unique, made in Britain by using traditional British methods that have created a product of quality you won’t find anywhere else.
“Supporting British manufacturing is key within our brand ethos.” Mark, K-nit
DC: Are you a fan of the Great British Sewing Bee? And do you believe more people should take up a craft/skill like sewing or knitting?
Mark: If I am being honest with you I have never watched the Great British Sewing Bee but I can’t speak for everyone involved with K-nit. As for the second question, back when we started out you’d catch me saying ‘yes, definitely! The art of knitting has died and we need to bring it back – come on guys!’, but the longer I have been involved in the fashion and knitwear business the more I see that the sewing/knitting craft is anything but dead, in fact it is flourishing.
Britain is famous for its quality knitwear, and with manufacturing and craft culture making a comeback it’s of no surprise more people are getting behind a machine or picking up the needles. Granted, the biggest challenge we have yet had to face is finding new members of the design/production team who have the required skills behind a domestic machine, because it’s a skill that needs a lot of dedication and focus to master. However, there are an ever growing number of courses out there, as well as university modules that require you to gain experience with this method of knitting and most jobs in the fashion design industry will necessitate one to know what they are doing behind a sewing machine.
And look at us – a new, young brand born in the UK that has now offered up two jobs recently that requires you to be a skilled knitter and sewer. It’s all happening!
DC: If you could see anyone – celebrity or otherwise – wearing a K-nit creation, who would it be and why?
Mark: Ooo tough one! It would have been nice to have seen a couple of beanies in the Winter Olympics, but to be honest we were nowhere near ready for that…maybe in four years. Though we have had some interest from Olympic teams since to provide something bespoke.
DC: Your pieces are extremely distinctive in appearance. How important is it to you that your beautiful handmade products stand out from others on the market?
Mark: In this day and age with everything that is out there ‘being done’ it is becoming ever more difficult to find something new and distinctive. Luckily enough for us I haven’t found anything yet quite like our products. We now need to get our name out there so that the nation and potentially the world identify our distinctive patterns/colours with our brand. Then we can incorporate it in to everything we do to make our products identifiable. In every piece we make, design or develop our first thought is ‘how can we make this different? How can we make it distinctive?’. We are currently working with distributors in Japan who contacted us because of the appeal our distinctive products have over there so what a boost that would be.
DC: How does a company like K-nit thrive during the summer months? I believe knitted bikinis are making something of a comeback…
Haha, yes I have come across those, perhaps it is something we should look into! It’s a good question really and one we have had to ask ourselves from the get go. As far as our beanies are concerned we have just completed a new collection that will now be available to trade customers, so fingers crossed we will be busy during the summer fulfilling those orders for next A/W season.We have also been working hard to develop products that not only complement our winter ones but will be more popular during the summer months, so hopefully we will find some success with these moving forward. We’re working hard to develop our brand in a way that attracts interest internationally so during the summer months in the UK we’ve got the other hemisphere keeping us on our toes.
DC: What’s the most elaborate thing the K-nit team has created? And are there any special projects in the pipeline?
Mark: Off the top of my head we haven’t had the chance yet to go too nutty with our products but I’m sure soon enough we will get to explore some more adventurous ideas. We do have some really exciting and special projects in the pipeline; we will soon be launching a Kickstarter campaign raising funds to develop a unique ‘design your own’ feature for our website. If we do manage to develop this feature to work how we have proposed then it will be something completely new to the world. Our hope is that it will set a benchmark in bespoke consumer retail. It’s got us all here really excited and we will be sure to let you know when the campaign starts.
We are also collaborating on a limited edition range of tees and sweaters with a brand down south, and we have just finished designing a small range of handmade wooden sunnies we will be calling ‘enjees’, which will include hand knitted cases from bamboo!
DC: What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Mark: Well, at K-nit sometimes work can feel like a day off! I don’t mean that we just take days off in the working week, we work as hard as ever. What I mean by that is that because we run a business there never really is a day off but I am happy to say that we have established a working environment that allows us to do some great things for work. For example, we may be off to Japan soon to discuss distributing our products out there and for me that is something I was always looking for; a job that would bring me those kind of experiences. Other than that I suppose a round of golf on the Cornish coast wouldn’t go a miss.
DC: Finally, where would you like to see the company in 10 years’ time? Any grand plans or developments on the way?
Mark: I would like to see the company innovating its way into a globally recognizable brand that reflects superb quality and unique style whilst providing a platform for talented craftsmen and designers. A brand that Britain can be proud to call their own.
Thanks to Mark for taking time out to answer our questions.
Enjoy this interview? Don’t forget to check out our very first Handmade Heroes blog post with jewellery maker Tamara Gomez.