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Q&A With Rosie Sugden - Made in Scotland Series

Posted by James King on

We're delighted to welcome Rosie Sugden to the hotseat for the latest in our Made in Scotland series where we talk to Scotland's brightest designers and creators. Rosie has been making waves in the world of textiles ever since she founded her eponymous label Rosie Sugden Scottish Cashmere in 2011. 
Rosie's passion for original design and quality materials really comes to the forefront in her responses to our questions about her creative process and inspirations. Read on to learn about how she developed her interest into a career, what her typical day looks like and why she only uses cashmere that has been made in Scotland.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got into knitwear design and how you developed this passion into a career?
I grew up around textiles. My Father worked in a mill and used to pick me up after school and take me round checking each department. He was very hands-on and knew about every department and process that the cashmere, wool or merino went through.
I loved the smell of the dye house, that is very nostalgic for me. So really I think it was his passion for textiles that seeped into my life. It really happened very organically, I enjoyed being creative when I was young and after school I went on to Chelsea college of art in London for my foundation course, then Northumbria University to study fashion design where I specialised in Knitwear.
I started my business about a year and a half after leaving University and again it happened very organically and just felt like the right time to launch it.
What is a typical day like for you?
Well everyday is different which I really enjoy but most days, as with most of us these days, start with my emails. I like to see what's come in that morning or at night - I work with Japan a lot so I usually wake up to one or two emails from my agent there.
Then I am either in the office packing orders, checking how the website is doing, writing content for the blog, perhaps sending out some press releases or I will be out and about in the Borders.
Those are my favourite days, I love driving to the mill and see what is going on that day, I think, like my Father, I am very hands on and find it hard to stay away! I am lucky that I work with a small family run mill with an open door policy, we've been working together since I started the business.
When I'm in the Borders I'll usually have a few odd jobs to do like ferry yarn between the mill and the pom-pom maker and then I'll also be checking on production, documenting it on my camera - I love to share photos of it on my blog and show my customers how the products are made; and at this time of year I'll be picking up production for wholesale orders which are going out all the time between July- September.
How would you best describe the style of your designs?
Individual, luxurious, contemporary but also very wearable. 
Can you tell us about your philosophy of only using cashmere that has been made in Scotland?
Well as I mentioned before I've grown up around the Scottish textile industry and there is such a wealth of skills in Scotland as well as a rich history with manufacturing. It didn't even occur to me to consider manufacturing anywhere else. I want to support local industry and utilise the highly skilled workforce that have been in the industry for generations.
I also think provenance is so important for consumers now, no-one wants their clothes to have been made in a sweat shop and I think my customers come to me not only for certain designs but because they know the products have been made in a sustainable environment.
My yarn is from reputable Scottish spinners, and then it's sent to a family run mill in the Borders where it's knitted up into beautiful hand finished products. It's just a no brainer, why would I ever look to Asia or Eastern Europe for production when we have the skills right here on my doorstep?
Which of your designs are you most proud of and why?
This is easy - definitely my hand knitted cashmere turban! This piece is the reason I started my business, I had an idea for it, sketched it out and I remember showing it to my Father and he had not seen anything like it so that's really how my business was born.
It took the best part of a year to develop the pattern and then another year to perfect it and reduce yarn wastage. It's such an elegant piece and is hand knitted and finished. I am very proud of it and each year I do new colours so it keeps it fresh, but the black turban is my best-seller every year.
I am also really proud of the fluoro pink pieces as this colour wasn't available on any yarn-suppliers shade cards so I had to develop my own recipe for this specific shade with a dye-house in Selkirk. It took such a long time to achieve this bright hue without spoiling the yarn and keeping the cashmere soft to the touch.
What does designing an item to sell involve from beginning to end and what are aspects of the process you like and dislike the most?
I think from the start it's usually a colour combination I've seen or a pattern or texture. It can be from anything - clothing, building, flowers, a book...just anything. Then from there I do also have to think about what my customers would like - I love their feedback. Then I go into different knit structures or stitches.
Thereafter I work with a brilliant technician and he will program my designs to one of the Shima machines and then it's a case of wear-testing and checking the size. There isn't really a process I don't enjoy in the designing phase, I suppose the only dislike would be if something doesn't work - usually it's an intarsia pattern but then it's just about adapting it and trying to make it work another way, it's just product development and you can't expect everything to go right the first time.
Which other creative people in Scotland do you admire and why?
My friend Karen Mabon is such a talented artist and designer, and more recently my Brother and his wife have taken over a business called Campbell's of Beauly and I admire so much what they are doing by breathing new life into a 150 year old business.
You have previously described your surroundings as having a great impact on you. Where are you based and how has the local scenery influenced you and your work?
I am actually based in Edinburgh which is such a wonderful city. It's the perfect size, with so much going on and on top of that it's an hour from my production in the Borders so it's ideal for me being able to pop up and down as and when I need to.
I never knew Edinburgh before I moved here nearly two years ago and I've loved exploring the city and more recently East Lothian - I love all the beaches there. I shot my AW15 campaign on North Berwick Beach which is lovely and more recently I visited Yellowcraigs which is gorgeous.
What else inspires you to create?
The people I work with, my Father, my friends, the team at the mill and my customers. I love their feedback and suggestions. And also art and travel. I love Denis Bowen and I am obsessed with Cy Twombly. I love the colours they use and the freedom in their work, and colour plays such an important part in my designs.
I went to Japan last year on a trade mission and it blew my mind. The culture is just so rich, both modern and historical. It was quite overwhelming not being able to read anything but I loved just wandering around and genuinely feeling like I was in "Lost in Translation'!
What are your greatest challenges?
For me personally I think time management and when I'm busy learning to do one thing at a time. Sometimes I have a tendency to have about 10 things on the go like lots of half written emails on my screen and I know that makes me feel overwhelmed and in that situation it's best to just stop and do one thing, finish it then move onto the next!
And business wise I think there's always going to be competition out there so it's just about telling the story of my products and making sure consumers understand that just because you can buy a cashmere jumper in M&S for £37 it doesn't mean that that is the going rate for cashmere as frankly it's not good quality, it's not been sourced sustainably or made in a viable environment so it's just about ensuring customers understand that cashmere is an expensive commodity that goes through a huge amount of carefully managed processes to ensure it is well looked after and as soft and durable as it can be when it comes out as a finished product.
What advice would you give to somebody who wanted to make their living in a creative field?
I think you have to live and breath what you're doing. I think if you're passionate about something it will be clear to other people and they will engage and want to know more.
Stick to what you believe in and follow your instinct. On a more business-y note I think ask ask ask..just ask as many people as many questions as you can. You never know how someone might help you and it's so important to be open to input from others and learn from their experience. I also think don't expect things to happen over night, you've got to really put the hours in and work hard. My mantra is be patient, polite and persistent.
A big thanks to Rosie for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to check out her designs by visiting her website and following her on Facebook!

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