At the end of last year, I paid a visit to meet the ladies behind Elwin, a British premium knitwear brand founded in 2015 that combines modern design with heritage techniques. Already a fan of their beautiful knitwear, I sat down for a cuppa with founders Deanne Morgan Wallace and Daleen Eloff to discuss their vision of creating timeless yet distinctive design that is sustainably made and long lasting…
Before we start though, I just wanted to let you know about an East London designer sample sale that Elwin is hosting along with my favourite Mimi Berry and 10 other gorgeous brands (see deets here) Saturday 24th February, 10am-6pm, at St Hilda’s Community Centre, 18 Club Row, E2 7EY. (£2 entrance donation). Do pop along if you’re in the area! Or check out some Elwin sale (40% off) pieces online if you can’t make it… the one I have is there too, so easy to wear, I love it!
Deanne, tell us about how you and Daleen came together to start Elwin?
We lived around the corner from each other in Columbia Road in East London but didn’t know each other. We met by chance one day through our children’s primary school and got talking about fashion as we were both thinking about starting our own business. We got chatting about design and found that we both loved architecture (and both happen to be married to architects) and shared a bit of an obsession about designing well fitting clothes with quality materials that would last.
We discovered our skills worked well together too. My background is in fashion and PR, I studied womenswear at Central St Martins and worked for designers such as Hussein Chalayan. Daleen had been working for Derek Rose, a luxury mens’ sleepwear brand and had experience in design and product development.
I had already come up with a name for my business which we both liked so we used that. Elwin is named after a street where we live called Elwin Street. I like the fact that it sounds British yet modern.
We both shared a desire to create British design that would be versatile, seasonless and sustainable.
How do you create the designs?
We are inspired by modernist architecture, particularly brutalism. We like concrete! The Welbeck Street car park, the Barbican, the South Bank are some of our favourite places. In fact we shot our first collection for AW16 in the Barbican.
Our shapes are inspired by architecture; we like quite a minimal silhouette. The colours and textures are a combination of influences from art, design and textiles. I collect old sewing and knitting books and we sometimes take ideas for stitches and textures from there. We like to combine modern and heritage techniques in our work.
The final designs are sent to the factory who make up the samples. We are very fussy about fit and finishing so it usually takes a few samples before we are happy with the design.
Can tell us about the type of cashmere you use and why this is something we need to be much more sensitive to and aware of going forward?
From the outset, we wanted to use a premium quality yarn that was sustainable and would produce a jumper that would wear well and last a long time. Not all cashmere is created equal!
The quality of cashmere depends on the type of cashmere fibres used. The fibre is combed from the soft undercoat of the goat. The highest quality fibres are the longest and thinnest hairs as they produce the best yarn. Because there are less of these hairs, the yarns are more expensive. A lot of cashmere on the market comes from the lower grade hair which is shorter and coarser, that’s why cheaper cashmere doesn’t wear and last as well. It’s not surprising that cashmere is expensive when you consider that it takes fibre from 3-5 goats to make one sweater.
All of our knitwear is made from premium quality cashmere from Italian spinner Loro Piana, one of the worlds most renowned cashmere spinners. Loro Piana adopt sustainable herding practices, meaning that they have their own herds of goats and guarantee prices for the farmers to help make sure that they don’t overgraze.
It’s important to be aware that the demand for cashmere at increasingly lower prices is putting pressure on the farmers to overgraze their goat herds. This is having a big environmental impact on the grazing pastures.
How and where are your designs made?
Our knitwear is made by a small factory in Mauritius which specialises in working with cashmere yarns. They hand link and finish every piece. When researching to find a factory, we were very conscious that we wanted to work with an ethical manufacturer who did not exploit their workers. We spent a week working in the factory to see it all first hand. It was really fascinating to learn in detail the process of knitting, washing and pressing the garments. And it was important to us to get to know the staff as they are an integral part of our team.
Do you have a favourite piece?
Our favourite piece is the Jessie honeycomb sweater (Ed’s note: in the sale with 40% off!) as that was the first one we designed, we love the texture and it’s one of our best sellers! It’s an elevated every day luxury piece that you can dress up or down depending on what you are doing. Another style that always sells out is Amy, a round neck tee with a distinctive mini jacquard knit. We named it after Amy Johnson, the pioneering British aviator from the 1930s.
Our aim is to make our designs versatile so that they can be styled for your individual look – you wear the jumper it doesn’t wear you! Our customers range in age from 20 to 80 years old so there’s a huge variety. We love seeing how different women wear their knits. A blogger put hers with dungarees and big gold earrings, whilst an older lady in her 70s wears hers with a skirt and heels.
We tend to style ours with jeans and trainers most of the time but also like a knit tucked into a skirt or thrown over leggings on the way to yoga.