Model Knitter

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.”

How to Reduce Your Wardrobe’s Impact on the Environment

Every year millions of garments are discarded as consumers ditch fast-fashion styles for a new wardrobe. Slowly but surely the industry is acting – but more has to be done. While a large amount of responsibility lies with the manufacturer, there is an equal amount of responsibility in the hands of the consumer. The choices we make as shoppers influence the business choices manufacturers make. If the demand for sustainable clothing increases, manufacturers will be forced to respond.

As Dr Margo Barton, professor of fashion at the Otago Polytechnic and iD fashion creative director and chair, explains: “Change comes where there is a demand for something. Many wearers want to buy sustainable and ethically made clothing, and so there’s a real change in the industry.”

So what can you do to reduce your impact on the environment?

Firstly, shop sustainably when possible. Dr Whitty, senior lecturer of fashion design at Massey University and director of social enterprise Space Between, says we need to be more mindful and considered when purchasing clothing. “Choose wisely, do your research and act accordingly,” she advises. “Ask yourself some hard questions, like does this price really seem fair? Will I wear this more than 30 times? What will I do with it after I’m finished with it?”

Gosia Piatek of Kowtow suggests investigating a brand’s values and practices. “Looking for independent certifications is a good start, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for – ask questions!” Once you have done your research, try to choose clothing made from organic or recycled materials with plant-based dyes to prevent chemical and textile waste. Buying local is another option, as it reduces export waste from processing, packaging and transport pollution.

However, it’s no secret the cost of sustainable fashion is significantly greater than the cost of fast fashion, and while some are persuaded enough by the knowledge that what they are buying is better for the environment, others simply cannot afford sustainably made garments. Thankfully, there are other ways you can reduce your environmental footprint when it comes to fashion.

Start by purchasing clothing you will treasure for years to come rather than something you will only wear a handful of times then throw out. “It’s not about buying something and throwing it away, rather it’s about buying something you love that you will cherish,” says Anna Gedda, head of sustainability for H&M. Think quality, not quantity. A few beautifully-made garments created to last countless washes without losing condition is better than a tonne of poorly-made pieces that will shrink, stretch, unravel or fade after just a couple of wears. “Choose something you absolutely love,” Dr Whitty recommends. “You will never grow tired of the items you truly adore.” Op-shopping is also a great alternative that gives clothing a second life, saves you money and encourages creativity.

Once you’ve purchased something – new or second hand – try to be more thoughtful in your practices. Care for your clothing by washing and storing it correctly, repair damages and alter items so they fit rather than throwing them out.

There’s much to be done before we reach an appropriate level of sustainability in the fashion world, but there are steps we can take to get there sooner rather than later. If manufacturers refine processes and we, as consumers, adjust priorities, with any luck the fashion world will transform into an industry that puts the planet first.

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