Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
From a young age, I was keen to develop a well-rounded knowledge of the apparel industry. In the tenth grade, I had a journal with BARE written in it amongst other possible names for my future clothing line or retail concept store – it changed regularly. I attended the Fashion Business program at John Casablanca in Vancouver and have dedicated the last thirteen years to exploring different roles in the industry. Working for various companies over the years helped shape who I am and the values that I founded Bare Knitwear on.
I guess you could say my entrepreneurial spirit was sparked from a young age. Growing up on the North Shore of Vancouver, I spent endless hours up the mountains. When we were too young to work regular jobs, my friends and I would knit and crochet bright-coloured toques and attempt to sell them up the mountain in hopes to fund our lift tickets for the following season.
I’ve always appreciated fashion and style; however, most of the time you can find me in denim and a t-shirt. When it comes to fashion, I’m most passionate about the possibility to create change and impact the industry. Outside of work, I’m happiest climbing mountains on my bike, exploring in the PNW with my fiancé and trying to squeeze in a few powder days on the weekends.
What sparked the idea for Bare Knitwear?
I always knew I would have my own apparel line. It wasn’t until I was working for Sitka in 2012 that the idea for a knitwear brand took shape. I did all the purchasing for the shop and got the opportunity to meet and buy goods from independent designers. I became inspired by the brands I was buying from and took up knitting after work and on the weekends. I knit a small collection of scarves and put them in the shop. Although I probably lost money on each sale, it showed me there was a market for handmade knitwear, and the wheels started to turn.
What is Bare Knitwear’s mission?
By combining heritage artisanship with modern design, we create high quality knitwear that removes employment barriers for women. Our goal is to create garments that make the wearer feel authentic, comfortable, and elegant.
What first compelled you to journey into slow fashion?
After the decision to start Bare Knitwear, it was natural to follow my gut on the way I wanted to produce and do business. When I first decided to start the line, I wasn’t as educated on slow fashion; however, from the beginning, it was always black or white – I knew what I didn’t want. It was difficult sourcing a partner that fell somewhere between an independent maker and mass production and who could execute my vision for handmade knitwear. I spent two years educating myself on ethical production and finding a partner that felt like the right fit for the brand.
What was it like to build your own clothing line and brand from scratch?
I learnt very quickly that you can plan how everything is “going to go” and have the most detailed business plan, but, until you start, you can’t predict what’s going to work for your business. I had no manual to go off of, but I was confident in my knowledge of the industry and my experience. Developing a product on my own dime overseas from concept to completion was a different story. As a new business, producing overseas is risky, and, when you are a small fish, you encounter many barriers. I remember, in 2014, I sat in my hostel in Peru until 2 a.m. working out different scenarios and trying to figure out how I could make my first order work with the little buying power I had.
As a new business owner, you have to be passionate about every aspect of your business because you are doing everything yourself. This presented many challenges along the way; however, all the hurdles gave me the confidence in myself as a business owner and helped develop my emotional maturity. I gave myself a couple years to get a good grasp on the process, timeline, and logistics. Five years into the business, I feel we have the infrastructure and model in place, and things are starting to become easier.
Why did you choose Peru as the destination for your brand’s workshop?
From the beginning, I knew I wanted the brand to place an emphasis on natural fibres and handmade artisanship. Peru is not only the knitwear capital of the world but the raw materials I was interested in were available in abundance. Logistically, it made sense. Many women in Peru have been knitting from a young age and the thought of employing women based on an existing skill set excited and inspired me.
Tell us about the artisans who knit the garments.
The women employed at the workshop live in the province of Huamanga – one of the poorest regions in Peru. Many of the women are mothers and live on the outskirts of the cities where domestic and sexual violence are prevalent. Resources are limited for these women and employment opportunities and consistent work are next to impossible to find. Many of the women have emotional instability they are working through, but despite their hardships, they are the strongest, most inspiring people I have ever met – each with a bag of cheeky jokes in their back pockets.
Why did you choose knitwear over a different kind of garment?
I’ve always been a sucker for knitwear. Perhaps growing upin BC and living in sweaters and toques three quarters of the years lends to mypassion for knits. Being a knitter in my youth allowed me to explore the craftand understand the process, which ultimately led me in the direction ofknitwear.
Who are some of your favourite artists, designers and makers?
Heidi Merrick from California – She makes high fashion wearable by stying it with a cool California aesthetic. The brand she has created is very strong and unique.
Phoebe Philo (former designer for Chloé and Celine) – Minimal design and cool shapes to her clothing. I referenced her work a lot when I was in school.
I like Notary Ceramics based out of Portland. Their minimal sleek design is offset by subtle earthy finishings.
Vere Verto Bags – They make the best leather backpack and Hip Packs / Fanny Packs
Written by Alena Tran
Photography by Rebecca McColgan