When we think of an investment piece, our minds will often turn to bags, shoes and maybe a coat. And while saving up for good quality leather goods and outerwear is always a good idea, there’s much to be said for doing the same for knitwear.
A really well crafted wool or cashmere knit, if lovingly looked after, will last years – if not decades – in your wardrobe. And provided you opt for a fairly classic style, is unlikely to go out of fashion. I’m always on the lookout for good quality knitwear specialists, which is why I was delighted to come across newly launched London label Aethel.
Founded in January 2020 by husband and wife duo Tim Ewington and Jenny Milligan, Aethel makes beautiful quality cashmere knitwear in a factory in Finsbury Park, using the same cashmere yarn as luxury Italian label Loro Piana. Combining Tim’s background in fashion publishing (he’s one of the founders of Stylist UK), with Jenny’s experience as a former lawyer and sustainability expert, the label set out to deliver sharply-designed, high quality knitwear made from the very best cashmere, produced in limited runs in the UK. And it’s definitely one worth checking out.
I caught up with the founders to discover a little more about the brand.
What made you decide to launch your brand?
We wanted to combine three elements: the sharp, wearable knitwear design of the leading luxury brands; the very best cashmere from Loro Piana; and to knit our pieces close to home here in the UK. By selling direct to the customer we can make knitwear of the very highest quality at prices that are more achievable, to more people. Aethel pieces are expensive but, we believe, good value.
Why did you decide to focus on knitwear?
Tim grew up in a Yorkshire town where Joseph Dawson, the man who created the modern cashmere industry, first worked and developed his business. We hope to make a small contribution to building back the manufacturing and the skills in the UK. Most importantly, by making in the UK, we know how things are made, by whom and to what standards.
Has lockdown been a difficult time for your brand?
The big problem of lockdown has been securing yarn to knit our sweaters. Italy was terribly badly hit and Loro Piana’s yarn spinning mill closed so we had no cashmere to knit with. So we spent four months apologising to customers that we would be getting more stock before too long. We received some lovely emails from people worrying if we had gone bust.
There have been positives to lockdown. People of all ages have turned to e-commerce brands like aethel. So we have had the opportunity to get to know lots of new customers. And as lockdown has intensified, customers have turned to our more colourful pieces to brighten up these dark times. Now Pillar Box Red, Leaf and Satsuma are outselling black and grey. We all need brighter colours in these troubling times. We just need more stock!
Where is your knitwear made and where do you source your fabrics?
We knit our products in North London near Finsbury Park and our cashmere yarn is spun by Loro Piana in Italy.
In what ways is your brand guided by a sustainable philosophy?
Our supply chain from Loro Piana in Italy through to our north London production at Albion Knitting is efficient and minimises environmental impacts. We know our supply chain, we know that people are paid properly and are treated well. We visit the factories regularly.
Our knitwear could be made from less expensive cashmere but quality would fall and people along the chain would be squeezed. People would cut corners. We could knit in less expensive factories outside the UK. But then we would fly our products around the world, with increased impact, and from our research, we fear environmental standards would be lower.
Our labels are made in Leytonstone, our recycled boxes are made in Woolwich and we deliver to our customers in central and north London by bicycle. We are honest and open about everything from our prices to our production partners so customers can make a truly informed decision.
What has been the most exciting moment?
Seeing a customer we had never met wearing an aethel sweater for the first time. It took 11 months before it happened. We followed her around for about ten minutes.
And the biggest challenge?
The late nights packing boxes when we launch new styles. We are a small family team and when it gets busy we’re all packing boxes until 2am. We can get a bit grumpy.
Are you concerned about the state of the fashion industry?
Yes. Fashion is a hugely wasteful industry that has enormous environmental impact – around 10% of CO2 comes from the fashion industry. And how can the super cheap fast fashion be made for such low prices if people are paid sensibly and the environment is looked after? I don’t understand how it is possible. And then it is thrown away after a few wears. Aethel believes in fewer, better things. We make a small number of beautiful things that will last for many years to come. Clothing with longevity is, after all, the best way for us to reduce our impact on the world around us.
What does the future hold for your label?
We plan to keep developing and growing at a sensible, sustainable pace making more beautiful designs. Our aim is to enjoy ourselves, have more happy customers and to do the right thing.