When former model Nicole Leybourne picked up her knitting needles, she never imagined her garments would be in demand worldwide – even if clients had to wait months for them.
Just a couple of years ago we got so impatient waiting for next season’s fashion to land in-store that a handful of designers switched to a see-now, buy-now model. A new-season wardrobe was just a scroll of the mouse, click of the button and three-day courier away. But there’s a generation of new designers who are slowing things down a gear or two and they have customers who are prepared to wait.
Former model Nicole Leybourne, better known as The Knitter, is an Auckland-based designer proving that slow, handmade fashion isn’t something we should leave to our grandmothers. While social media has fuelled our fast shopping habits, ironically Leybourne’s label has become synonymous with Instagram-worthy fashion. You might be familiar with her chunky bubblegum pink knits. Those wanting to wrap up in one of her handcrafted pieces are patient. Each garment takes Leybourne and her knitters – “a team of wonderful men and women” – in New Zealand up to two months to create. “I feel very lucky that people love what I do enough to wait,” Leybourne says.
She says she had always dabbled in knitting as a youngster but admits it’s not something that came naturally. “I tried knitting a scarf as a school project. I asked my nan to make it for me as I couldn’t get past casting on,” she admits.
Since picking up her needles again in 2015 and teaching herself all she knows, Leybourne has presented her creations at Vogue’s New York offices and had Kylie Jenner’s stylist ask if she would knit for the celebrity. “I made myself a little website, not expecting anyone to actually buy anything, and started selling what I was making through my own platform,” she says.
With more of us trying to switch off from our always-on culture and put more thought into what we’re buying, Leybourne decided to launch The Knitter at precisely the right time. She puts the resurgence in knitting and the slow but steady rise of slower fashion down to our increasingly hectic, fast-paced lives. “I think most of us must crave a slower, calmer way of life,” Leybourne says.
And, of course, there’s the feel-good factor that comes with buying one of The Knitter’s creations, too. “I never want to exploit other humans or animals just for the sake of having something to wear,” she says. “At the end of the day, a knitted jumper is in no way whatsoever more important than a life or the quality of a life.” Her pieces are designed to be cherished. “Our landfills, our oceans and our world already have too many disposables to deal with. I don’t want to be part of that problem,” she says. As for those looking to create their own winter woollies this season, her advice is simple: “Set yourself a certain amount of rows you want to knit each night and stick with that.”