How long have you been a part of your industry?
Almost three years.
At what age did you know that you were supposed to be a designer?
I was 22 when I discovered the knitting machine in an elective class. I was finishing up a degree in graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design at the time, but that department was never the right fit for me. After the first day of this knitting class, I knew it was a game changer. It was one of those light-bulb, love-at-first-stitch moments. Knitting has as been my path ever since.
Did you have any knitting influences growing up, or was it a new discovery?
It was not a completely new discovery. I had knit a bit before. My grandma taught me the basic hand-knitting stitch when I was twelve or so. However, it did not spark the fire that it does now. I did not knit again until my sophomore year of college, when my friend Hannah retaught me. At that point, I got into it as a way to relax. And even though I would sometimes knit until 3 in the morning, it did not occur to me that this was a passion of mine. Looking back, it clearly should have. It was not until I started that elective knitting machine course that it all clicked for me.
What do you love about knitting?
Knitwear offers the best of two worlds. I can explore 2-D surface design in the fabric, as well as 3-D sculptural design for the body. It is a very tactile manner of making, but with a lot of constraints and structure. This complicated balance between opposites is why I love knitting. I enjoy playing with materials while experimenting within the parameters of the knitted stitch. It is also exciting to push the boundaries of what handmade knitwear can be.
What fibers do you most enjoy working with?
I only work with natural or eco-friendly fibers, which is important to me. RSPNSV TXTLS’ production process is already very green being that my knitting machine is hand-powered. So I prioritize using high-quality, sustainable yarns. Some of my favorites include bamboo, merino wool and tencel.
Which fibers are the most challenging to work with?
It depends on what I am trying to do. Each fiber has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, because cotton is dry, it can easily snap on the machine if I am trying to do something to crazy with it. Wool would be a better alternative. So I plan my garments catering to a fiber’s strengths. It is best to work in harmony with the yarn and the machine. Things can get pretty squirrely and frustrating otherwise.
What led you towards knitting and designing clothing rather than, say, interior decor?
It was an intuitive decision, kind of like gravity. When I reflect on it, two reasons come to mind. First, clothing design is an engaging challenge because it extends beyond just fabric design. You have to plan and construct both the form and fabric. You also have to consider how it rests, moves and feels. Clothing really is an experience and a sculpture, and this challenge of finding harmony between the two is exciting to me.
The second reason goes hand in hand with RESPONSIVE TEXTILES’ core value. Clothing is identity and that is a powerful place to make your mark. Since it acts as our second skin, it should be as unique and human as we are. And I think that human experience has always been an important element to me, in regards to my work’s contribution to others.
Describe your first gig as a designer.
My first gig in the industry was RESPONSIVE TEXTILES' first runway show, which launched the line and its first collection. Talk about jumping in with both feet! My role, as you can imagine, was very involved. I designed and produced the whole collection. I coordinated everything from the model line-up to the music tracks to the garment bags tags. The whole experience was a mixture of highs and lows because I was really learning as I went. I had no background doing any of this when I started, but that also made the journey all the more fulfilling.
What is the story behind the name of RESPONSIVE TEXTILES?
The name is indicative of the mission. RESPONSIVE TEXTILES was founded on the belief that clothes are our second skin, and they should be as unique and human as we are. RSPNSV TXTLS honors this through slow fashion and thoughtful design. The line is entirely handmade by me out of my Augusta, Georgia studio. Beginning with spools of yarn and my hand-powered knitting machine, I build the fabric and silhouette of each garment one row at a time. The result is knitwear, which is polished, intentional and most importantly human. RSPNSV TXTLS strives to push beyond what is expected of handmade knits, while still maintaining the ease and comfort inherent in the craft. Note: This is not your grandma's knitwear.
What is your favorite design thus far?
Oh wow, how does one pick among their children? I think my favorite piece thus far is the Sunlight Top. It is a part of the SS17 season. I love it because it really accomplishes when I seek in every piece I make. It is polished, thoughtfully designed, effortless and very wearable. I wear the Sunlight Top all of the time.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I pull inspiration from places of personal interest or experience. It is the most intuitive part of my process because it is easy to be inspired by things that naturally draw you in and make you ask questions. I pick a topic that I want to explore and follow down that road. I believe the longer something has been stirring within my heart and mind, the results will be stronger for it. Once I chose on a topic, I investigate it and uncover the story I want to tell. This story becomes the backbone of the project and informs all of my design decisions.
What is your favorite method for writing or gathering all your inspirations?
My favorite method is my sketchbook. My sketchbook is more than a place to draw. It is where I plan, reflect and dream. It is my to-do list, my journal and my scribble pad. It is almost always with me, so it really is the best place to put everything.
Who is the most influential person in your profession that keeps you motivated and inspired?
Oh wow, this is a difficult question. I am not sure whom most inspires me in the industry. However, someone who really influences me is Norma Kamali. She has accomplished what I am aiming towards. She has a very successful brand, which has produced seasons of inventive fashion. (Shout out to the sleeping bag coat!) However, it is not a gigantic business. She relegated its size over the years so she continues to have ownership of her company, and therefore has the freedom to take it in any direction she wishes. This is what I would like to achieve with RESPONSIVE TEXTILES. I look forward to the days where the brand has grown beyond just me and my knitting machine. However, I would never want to lose the autonomy to be creative and explore avenues as I see fit. Norma Kamali has found that balance, and she really inspires me in that way.
How has your work evolved since you began designing?
My work has definitely evolved since RESPONSIVE TEXTILES started. In the beginning, I was a graphic designer making knitwear. My design focus was on color, pattern and texture. At the time, I only had one knitting class under my belt, so there was still a lot I had to learn on my own. This graphic design arena was my comfort zone, so naturally that was were I explored first. However, with each season, I have ventured further and further.
Now I am a knitwear designer. And with that transition, my work has refined itself into being honed and polished. My emphasis has shifted towards the structure and silhouette of the garment. I use the elements of color and texture to enhance the form of the garment, rather than be the focal point of it.
What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your company?
My biggest lesson has been perseverance. Establishing yourself in this industry is a hard journey, and it is disheartening when you hear the word “no.” However, success rarely happens overnight. So over these few years, I have learned to enjoy the ride and stay true to my vision as a designer. The key is to keep working hard, learn from each experience (especially the negative ones) and continue to push forward.
How or what do you do to enhance your skills and knowledge to grow within your profession?
To keep RESPONSIVE TEXTILES moving forward in craft and creativity with each season, I make it a point to continue being a student: learning, experimenting and dreaming. I read about knitting, the fashion industry in general, and about topics completely unrelated. I try new ideas, make mistakes and try again. My work is enhanced by being present and engaged with my process of making.
In your profession, what challenges do you face and how do you overcome them?
My biggest challenge is time. Currently, RESPONSIVE TEXTILES is an army of one and that army is me. I handle all aspects of design, business and manufacturing. So making sure I can attend to everything is my daily struggle. It is a challenge I have met through detailed scheduling and discipline. Even though my work day is self-regulated, I set an alarm so I can start my day early. I chose deadlines and stick to them. This is only way I have been able to stay organized and productive, especially since I work on my own time.
What advice would you give to a new artist breaking into the industry?
Cultivating a career in fashion is a journey rather than a destination. It takes a lot of hard work, perseverance, time and luck. So enjoy the ride. Never stop learning, never stop making, and never become complacent.
Photographer: Djeneba Aduayom
Models: Carly Johnson of Willow Model Management &
Sydney Hamm of The Polygon Group Talent Agency