STUDY 34 – Sustainability, knitwear & alpaca - the perfect combination?
I’ve been reading Eleanor O’Neill’s blog STUDY 34 for a good few years now and have always really enjoyed her pieces for The Huffington Post. Slightly embarrassingly for me, until recently I had thought she was a journalist that went into fashion, as opposed to the other way around - she writes that well.
We finally met up a year or so ago and had a mutual infatuation with all things sustainable, particularly in the world of knitwear. A fair few cups of tea later, Ellie has done the incredible and has launched STUDY 34’s Alpaca Crew. So it made sense to flip the table and ask her a few questions about the brand and the new collection…
How did STUDY 34 come about?
I’m a knitwear designer by trade, my degree is in Knitwear specifically and all the jobs I’ve ever had in the fashion industry, bar one, have been in knitwear departments. It’s a unique way of making clothing that allows so much room for innovation and I’m obsessed with it...
When I first started STUDY 34, I read that starting a blog alongside developing a clothing label was a good idea - but I really couldn’t just write about what I was doing all the time. As I read more and more about the realities of the fashion industry, coupled with my own experiences and observations, I began to think there was a need to talk about everything I was learning, in a more approachable and engaging way.
I gave it a shot, I hope I improve with every article and I’m really pleased people like reading them!
Talk me through the journey of the jumpers... why alpaca in the first place?
Well it all came on quite unexpectedly! Until the latest collection, I had been sourcing end of line luxury yarns from the industry and making knitwear in limited numbers. I knew this approach was never going to be scalable in the long run so I had started to think about what types of ‘new’ fibres would be the most sustainable to use. But I also had to think, being such a small business, how I would be able to find out about the origins of any fibre I chose to use and how I might see exactly how they are processed and created.
So it started with this desire to source something as luxurious as the fibres I had used until that point and something I could know a lot about.
Then completely out of the blue it seemed, I was invited as part of a group of small growing labels in the UK to go out to Peru to a trade show all about alpaca, to learn more about the fibre as well as see some of the amazing manufacturing facilities out there.
And I totally fell in love with it. I was utterly taken in by the history of the animal, the sustainability of the fibre and the incredible knowledge, passed down through generations, of how to make beautiful clothing with it. When I got back to the UK I knew I really wanted to try and do something with it and a few months later… I had hatched my plan!
One of the amazing factories I went to see, Incalpaca, make clothing for other labels whose values and missions I hugely admire, such as Eileen Fisher and knowing this guided me a little in finding them as a manufacturer. I was lucky enough to go back and see them in April this year and began developing The Alpaca Crew.
Why Peruvian alpaca as opposed to British?
In Britain, I think alpaca yarn tends to be coarser and the knitwear a bit thicker. The Alpaca crew is very lightweight and soft so it is more suited to being made in Peru where they have the experience, skills and machinery to produce something so fine.
Why these colours?
Alpacas produce an incredible array of natural colours from ivory to black, with lots of beautiful natural shades in-between. Of course, it can be dyed, but when a natural colour is this beautiful I like to use it and celebrate it in all its glory! Also, I’m a very navy person and I wanted to offer something different this time.
The light grey crew is just a classic, simple. It can be worn by with absolutely anything. The camel is a little more unusual but equally timeless I think. It is a very, very beautiful colour and really quite sophisticated.
What’s amazing about the fibre in these colours is that they change in different lights. Their depth and richness is amazing - I had the camel crew on the other day while I was at my desk and the sun was streaming in through the window and honestly, it looked like I was wearing gold.
What have been the greatest lessons of the process for you?
What’s been particularly amazing about this process is how much of a collaborative experience it has been. The whole process allowed room for all involved to do their best work – me as a designer and Incalpaca as a manufacturer. I have learnt so much about the fibre and all the processes I just feel so full of new knowledge and I can’t wait to use it.
How can we help sustainable knitwear take over from the mass-market, often unethically sourced knitwear that is dominating the market at the moment?
Buy quality. Buy less. Buy smart. The divide between style and ethics no longer exists. That ship has sailed, no more excuses.
We must shop more sustainably – when it comes to the volume we buy, the materials we wear and the styles we chose if we want to continue having the variety and richness of design that we have in the fashion industry today.
What are the plans ahead for STUDY 34?
I can’t wait to use more alpaca and bring even more modern, sustainable and luxurious knitwear to the womenswear market. I love hearing comments and ideas from my wonderful customers too – as the wearers, their feedback is so important and valuable to me.
And I look forward to continuing to provide my amazing followers with interesting and engaging insights into the fashion industry, empowering them to shop better! I experimented with video with the launch of The Alpaca Crew and, while a little nerve-racking, I loved being able to talk directly to the amazing women and men who have made STUDY 34 what it is today and I hope I can do more of it!
I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these stunning jumpers, post-bump – In the meantime, you can shop the pieces over at STUDY 34 – enjoy!