Genevieve Sweeney

Genevieve Sweeney

Flying the flag for British knitwear

Some say entrepreneurship is in your blood – but could it also be contagious? If the story behind Genevieve Sweeney is anything to go by, the answer is most definitely yes.

Genevieve Sweeney decided to start up her premium eponymous knitwear brand after seeing her husband take a leap of faith and launch his own business.

“I decided to launch Genevieve Sweeney after my husband was made redundant,” she said, “he started his own business after deciding to start working for himself.

“He took part in a week-long start up course led by Camden Collective where they had inspirational speakers, workshops and entrepreneurs telling their start-up stories.

“Three days in I was so excited about the future ahead and my husband’s experiences, I felt this is the time for me to make the jump.

“Within the space of two months our home went from a corporate household to housing two start-up businesses!”

Drawing inspiration from her husband, Genevieve also decided to launch a business in the industry she knew best, with the launch of her own premium knitwear brand.

“My background has been designing and developing knitwear collections for global brands such as Hugo Boss, Rag & Bone and Lyle & Scott,” she added.

“Working in Switzerland, New York and London has given me a broad experience of the knitwear industry and how to turn a sketch into a garment on the shop floor.

“Prior to this, I studied a four-year degree at Nottingham Trent, specialising in fashion knitwear. It is a fantastic course that allows you to have a year in the industry and puts you in a strong position when you graduate.”

But Genevieve’s decision to launch her own brand wasn’t just as a result of her husband’s experience. She had always dreamed of launching her own label but never knew quite how to go about doing so.

“I have always wanted to launch my own label but when I graduated I realised that I didn’t have a clue how to run a business, manufacture and sell a collection,” she said.

“My first job was at Rag & Bone in New York as a design assistant, then I moved to Switzerland to work for Hugo Boss in knitwear development and production and returned to London a few years ago.

“I rented a studio in East London and started to buy old knitting machines to resort and knit design ideas for myself in my spare time. Even when I moved abroad, my knitting machines and yarns still came with me, I have never stopped knitting.”

Genevieve has also been a life-long advocate of British manufacturing. A lover and purveyor of hand-knitting she was concerned that the industry would one day die out.

So when she launched her business in October 2015, she made sure everything she sourced and manufactured was made right here in the UK. But, sourcing the right suppliers didn’t come without its challenges.

She said: “My passion for British manufacturing started when I was researching factories in the UK and realised there was hardly any still in business. This was a huge shock to me as the UK (especially Scotland) has always been well known for high quality knitwear across the globe.

“It also took me a long time to meet manufacturers that were happy to work with a new designer, many shut the door on me or demanded huge minimums that any small business would struggle with.

“After 18 months, I nearly gave up and would have taken production to Italy but then I met a couple in the Scottish borders who were happy to work with me and work on small minimums. Their work is incredible and the best finishing I have ever come across in my career, I am very lucky to me working with them.”

16 months since launching the business and Genevieve Sweeney is now stocked by the likes of Fortnum & Mason, The Clerkwell, and a number of online retailers and has also been featured in Vogue, Ell, GQ and L’Officiel. And Genevieve believes a lot of the brands success has been to the ‘Made in Britain’ tag attached to her designs.

“I think the Made in Britain tag has helped build trust with the customer,” she said, “they know that the quality and finish will be very high and my customers love to support local manufacturing and product provenance.

“I feel that overseas customers also connect with the brand values and the design aesthetics. America in particular has become quite a strong market for me and it’s wonderful to know that my story and ethos is connecting over the pond.”

Looking forward, Genevieve is looking to continue on her upwards trajectory, releasing new lines, securing more stockists and most importantly, helping preserve Britain’s historic knitwear industry.

She concluded: “I am working towards setting up an apprenticeship scheme to teach these traditional techniques in the UK to reinvigorate and promote British heritage skills, so the techniques do not die out and more designers can manufacture in the UK.

“I am also currently designing a loungewear capsule collection for this year and hope to start designing a Childrenswear line by 2018!”