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Designer Spotlight: Katie Jones - Waste Not, Want Not

Why eco-friendly doesn’t necessarily yield a sustainable business model

“Smaller businesses are just seen as not very sexy or glamorous,” exclaims Katie Jones from her studio in London. “No one wants to know you made the £2000 dress they are buying from your kitchen table,” she laughs.

Injecting the cool factor into Granny’s crochet, Katie Jones is larger than life, and has been hand-producing garments since SS14. Using materials that would otherwise end up in landfills, Jones can spend up to 300 hours creating just one of her colourful, artisanal creations from techniques like crochet, embroidery, knitting, and macramé.

“I was trying to think of ways I could speed up my process because I like a lot of detail,” she explains. “I first started experimenting with embroidering old jumpers and this cut down my hours from 300 to 30,” she explains.

This focus on detail enabled Jones to see the value in using byproducts, now the core of her brand’s ethos and identity. “The conventional method of working just didn’t make sense to me and my brand,” Jones added. “I’ve worked with my mum from the beginning. Then I have a really good group of guys I’ve always worked with on a freelance basis.”

This unconventionality also means that mass scalability is not on the cards - especially since the label’s core production team includes just her and her mother. In 2016, an offer from a retailer was set to challenge this slow and sustainable pace.

Jones was selected as one of nine participants in Selfridges’ Bright New Things initiative – a platform for sustainable designers offering mentorship, collaboration and a financial bursary. While this was a valuable milestone in the designer’s career, it actually highlighted the challenges of scalability.

“Commercially the business was doing great, in terms of press and prestige,” she says, “but my brand was actually becoming something I’m not, and I felt quite alienated from it.” Before landing the Selfridges gig the brand had only six stockists but was making far more revenue due to smaller overheads.

“Basically I decided I wasn’t very happy with how rapidly things were moving and I needed to re-evaluate the business”

“Oddly, I now had this prestigious platform where my recognition soared, but my sales actually began to plateau because all my expenses began to rise faster than my sales,” Jones explains. Production times got quicker and the team grew bigger, requiring a bigger space, and, in the end, it didn’t marry with her brand ethos. “Basically I decided I wasn’t very happy with how rapidly things were moving and I needed to re-evaluate the business” she adds.

Ironically, keeping her business small has been the key to her success and, in fact, the financial side of the business grew more when it was smaller: sales in her first three or four seasons doubled each season. With such detail-oriented work, Jones knew that slowing down the pace of production would not compromise her design integrity: she does not make for the sake of sales.

Smaller boutiques and concept stores offered Jones a more manageable scalability, including some of her first stockists in China and Japan such as Little Thing in Shenzhen and Visit For in Osaka. “They had manageable orders for different times of the year, which meant the production team could be small and also cashflow was spread out rather than in two chunks.

So many designers disappear after the initial three years of business but today my business is at it's happiest. This is the best it's ever been.”

Katie Jones is currently featured in Fashioned From Nature an exhibition exploring fashion’s relationship with the environment, currently on show until 29 January, 2019 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.