Having explored her love for art and design on her Foundation degree at London College of Fashion, Caitlin went on to complete her BA degree at Kingston University where she specialised in knitwear. Following her debut show at Graduate Fashion Week 2012, Caitlin won the prestigious Visionary Knitwear Award, as a result of which she was invited to design a collection for the sponsors, George at Asda. In addition, Caitlin was named Knitwear Graduate of the Year from Kingston University.
Following her graduation, Caitlin undertook an MA degree at the Royal College of Art specialising in Fashion Knitwear. During this time she established her design philosophy of clean, bold and wearable silhouettes alongside innovative techniques, unusual material combinations, and intricate embellishment.During her time at the RCA Caitlin was invited to exhibit her work at the Shanghai Spinexpo trade show and finished her degree by winning the Swarovski Crystal Award. Following her graduate showcase, Caitlin was tipped as one of Vogue Talents ‘Ones to Watch’ and was invited to become a Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters.
Soon after graduating from the RCA, Caitlin undertook a work placement at Missoni in Italy, following which she set up her studio in the Cotswolds and established her own label. Following her debut SS16 collection ‘A Window of Sky,’ Caitlin was selected to be part of the Boden / BFC Future British initiative and showcased her AW16 collection in the BFC Designer Showrooms. Caitlin has recently been awarded the Cockpit Arts / Framework Knitters Award and is now based at Cockpit Arts, Holborn, London.
How you first started out with Caitlin Charles-Jones?
I took my education in fashion pretty much as far as it could go finishing with an MA degree from the Royal College of Art. I was determined to be a womenswear designer but along the way during my BA degree, I discovered knitting. Designing knitwear is a very different process and I realised that this was really where my passion lay, I fell In love with the process of making and never looked back. My dream was always to work in one of the top luxury fashion houses and pretty soon after graduating I achieved this. I very quickly realised that working for a big brand wasn’t for me, there was a lot that I enjoyed but I also saw aspects to the industry that really bothered me and I decided to come home and take the plunge starting my own brand. I wanted to start a brand that was very grounded in the roots of my craft, I had no interest in producing hundreds of pieces at the lowest price so I started by investing in machinery and producing my collections by hand. This all started in my parent’s attic in the Cotswolds and since then I have moved the studio to London where I still produce most things by hand but I also work with craftspeople in Scotland.
Since launching what barriers you have faced and had to overcome so far?
I think one of the biggest challenges has been having a small business in an industry that really caters to big businesses. When I started the brand there was a lot of pressure to keep up with the big brands, producing a new collection every season and spending lots of money on exhibiting them. I realised that this wasn’t going to work for my business and so this year I’ve taken a step back from the fashion calendar and have really been planning a structure that works for me.
As an innovative knitwear designer, how are you breaking with mould in the fashion industry?
I’m really trying to show the versatility of knitwear. I aim to produce innovative ready to wear fashion collections which just happen to be knitted. So while there are a lot of classic knitwear pieces in my collections I also design garments that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be knitted. I always like clothes to be accessible and wearable so CC-J pieces are always very much grounded in ‘real clothes’ but there is always a twist whether it’s in the construction, colour work or fabrication. The way I run my business is also very different as most pieces are handmade either in London or Scotland, really putting an emphasis on the craft.
What elements of Caitlin Charles-Jones would you like to focus on for further development?
I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign on November 7th to raise money to really develop aspects of the brand. I am shifting the retail strategy so that in 2018 CC-J pieces will primarily only be available direct from us. I’m moving away from the seasonal fashion calendar and developing a core collection which is available all year round. It’s a bit of a change but the hope is that it will enable the brand to grow steadily without sacrificing our ethical and sustainable values.
What piece of advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a contemporary brand?
I think my biggest piece of advice is to focus on the product. It’s very tempting to want a ‘brand’ straight away but unless you know your product inside out it can only go so far. There’s a lot of pressure in fashion to be the next big thing when actually I’ve learned that to have a sustainable business it really does take time, it’s an incredibly fast moving industry and it’s very hard not to get swept up in the rush!
What is next on the horizon for 2018?
2018 is going to be a really exciting year for the brand. We launch our Kickstarter campaign this month which also acts as the launch of some really exciting new pieces. We’re raising funds so that 2018 will see us invest in stock for a shiny new online store and also hold some pop up shop events. 2018 is all about reaching our customers and building brand awareness and the Kickstarter campaign will really get the ball rolling!
Twitter: @ccharlesjones | Instagram: @ccharlesjones