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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An Interview with Ethical Fashion Designers Makepiece

Camilla Sampson talks to Beate Kubitz, founder of ethical fashion knitwear label Makepiece, about knitting, romance and Shetland sheep...

Written by Camilla Sampson


Illustration by June Chanpoomidole

While Spring turns to Summer, London Fashion Week AW10 may fade in our memories, but the designers that drew us in certainly won’t. One such designer that caught my eye at the Esthetica exhibition was ‘Makepiece’. The concept and techniques used were so intriguing that we couldn’t resist interviewing the owner, Beate Kubitz.

 Why did you choose to focus on eco-fashion? Why is it so important to you? 
Clothes are important to me.  I think what you’re wearing tells other people a lot about you, who you are and how you feel about yourself.  I don’t like the idea that something that makes me look great was complicit in damaging the environment or the people who made it.  You don’t want your favourite t-shirt to be dripping with pesticides, cause a water shortage or to be sewn up in a sweat shop.  But unless you’re very careful, it might be. 
There’s something wrong with the latest trend ‘buy, wear, chuck’ mentality – it’s a bit neurotic and it’s definitely bad for the planet.  We try and make clothes that are significant to the women that wear them and that they can feel really good about. 

How did the Makepiece brand begin?  
I’ve been keeping sheep for seven years now, met Nicola six years ago and Makepiece is now five. 
We’re located in Todmorden, a small town in the Pennines. It’s beautiful and has a long history of wool production so it feels like the right place to be doing it.  The landscape is scattered with mills built in the nineteenth century – but wool was being spun and woven in cottage industries and then transported to market or the Piece Halls on ponies travelling on packhorse tracks which still crisscross the moors. 

What techniques do you use in your clothing?
Knitting – with some knitted felt.  The important thing is stitch design – Nicola is the queen of 3D stitches that really sculpt the garments and give them their drama as well as their details. She uses hand operated knitting machines which give her scope to develop a stitch then apply it in loads of different ways so that it works on the body. Our knits tend to be more three-dimensional because they’re designed like this. Also, all our knits are fully fashioned (knitted to shape rather than cut out of a piece of knitted cloth) which looks better and wastes less yarn. 

What materials do you use in your clothing?
Wool – some of it undyed brown wool from our Shetland sheep, others fine Bluefaced Leicester wool, from the UK flock and English alpaca and mohair.


Illustration by Becky Glover

What was the inspiration behind your most recent collection? 
Romance, definitely. Nicola got married in the summer and the sense of romance seems to have seeped into and permeated the collection. There are lots of ruffles, little frills, translucency and volume – but not just ephemeral prettiness, really lovely things that you can adapt and keep forever. 

Do you have a favourite piece in the current collection? If so, what is it and why? 
There are a few things that are really adaptable – like the Manifold cardigan which has a ribbon tie which can be used to ruche it up to bolero length or left loose so that it’s a long, elegant cardigan. Our little Foxglove shrug also works as a summer scarf and the Manifold dresses can be styled in loads of ways so they let the wearer use her imagination. 

What are your future aims for the Makepiece brand?
We’ve really been growing our website so that people all over the country can buy our clothes but we’d like to be in more stores, for the people who are less confident with internet shopping or who like to try things on. 

Is it harder or easier to sell eco-fashion? Is there a lot of competition?
Because we make everything in the UK it’s more expensive to manufacture so that means that we have to do a good job in helping people understand.

What is so individual about the Makepiece brand?  
Style, humour and our flock of Shetland sheep.  We go from mud to mascara in a twinkling of an eye – never forgetting the roots of our fashion but always looking for beauty and grace in our designs. We try and be sustainable throughout the business – from the way we farm the sheep with the lowest impact possible (we’re just about to become part of a scheme to help protect twite – which is one of the most endangered British bird species) to buying green energy for the studio, recycling everything we can, using public transport as much as possible (I took our last collection to London Fashion Week on the train from Yorkshire – in the most enormous trunk – it was quite a feat), I even do some of the farming on my bike.   

The good thing about wool is that it is more or less a by-product from sheep farming so it’s not using up land or resources that should be in food production – and on upland farms like mine creating good grazing and farming sheep is one of the few productive things you can do (I tried vegetables once, but it was not a success!).  Compared to cotton, for example, which uses over 15% of the pesticides used in the world and vast amounts of water – so much that the irrigation of cotton has shrunk the size of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan, wool is farmed much more sustainably (particularly in the UK where we have to look after the land as well as the animals and the government monitors your impact on the environment). 

Because we make everything so locally we avoid the CO2 emissions from shipping things vast distances. We also employ people in our community and use a local dyer who has to comply with European dyeing regulations – the REACH standards; no azos, no heavy metals and irritants, effluent is stringently monitored so no emissions into the water system, and so on. 
We also only use recycled and sustainable paper in our labelling and packaging. 

You can find the brand at: www.makepiece.co.uk and selected eco-fashion stores.

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