Interview: Copenhagen Based Knitwear Designer Thelma Steimann

After working for major fashion retails in Reykjavík while preparing for business studies, Thelma Steimann caught the fashion bug and finally embraced her secret passion for knitting.

She decided spontaneously to move her family to Copenhagen in 2014 to pursue the ideal study program, Sustainable Business and Fashion at KEA. Since then, she has graduated from the program, launched her own slow-fashion label and collaborated with fashion houses and designers, all with her striking knits that play the prime role.

Thelma is busier than ever these days, creating and designing stunning knitwear pieces and sharing the patterns with her rapidly growing customer base. She shares her story with us and her thoughts about the sustainability concept, paradoxes within the environmentally-friendly industry and her newly developed ways of promoting consumer responsibilities with her customers.

 

 

What was your motive to focus on knitwear in your design?

Since I was 6 years old, knitting had always been a very soothing and mindful exercise for me despite of its many challenges at times. I had always kept it as a secret though, as I didn’t really see other kids my age knitting and it wasn’t really considered to be very “cool”. So, it wasn’t until I enrolled in college where my teachers noticed my skills and began to encourage me to nurture them, that I started being more open about my love for knitting. That’s also when I felt inspired to do so on a more advanced level, as I realised you could create an income from it. That basically started with the typical Icelandic wool sweater that I made by order both in Iceland and Norway at some point. That escalated until I started my studies at KEA, where I discovered that knitting was my “thing”, and I decided to pursue that as my main skill.

 

 

“You could say that this was a really crazy time. I was sure that I had reached my limit and I would never want to knit again – but a week later I was back at it with my needles and finally able to produce all the ideas that were born in the process of the previous months.”

 

How did your knit-venture take off in Copenhagen?

I got accepted to an internship with Barbara I Gongini in the summer of 2015, and I basically knitted my way through that internship. My style that I had developed through those 10 weeks was accepted in their AW16 collection. The sales that they had estimated from my handmade design actually tripled, and as I had made a very challenging pattern, I was on my own to create those orders. I had 3 months to produce so I was forced to knit anywhere at anytime and basically had to sleep with the needles by my side to make it happen. I managed to finish in time and my fingers were literally bleeding from the process.

While I was producing the collection I was also designing for their SS17 and working on my final project at school, which was for their AW18 collection. So you could say that this was a really crazy time. I was sure that I had reached my limit and I would never want to knit again – but a week later I was back at it with my needles and finally able to produce all the ideas that were born in the process of the previous months.

 

 

What resulted in you launching your own business?

During the stay at Barbara I Gongini, I was sewing my own styles from dead stock and zero waste patterns. Bianco (Iceland) offered me a place to sell my collection, which was a collection of timeless design with interesting details that connected the garments together. The idea was to simplify the closet of the costumer, a concept called wardrobing. My knitted jersey cardigan became a bestseller and the style sold out for a long time, so it was hard to keep up with the demand. That was how my business launched, and it has developed a lot since then.

 

 

How have your policies regarding sustainability developed towards knitting and slow fashion?

When I first heard about sustainable fashion, I actually found the topic really uninteresting. It came off as an extra hard work for an already difficult journey as a start-up designer, only to produce simple and unattractive styles. But I really think that people don’t really understand what that concept means in general. It has become somewhat of a buzzword and you see more of it everyday. My experience tells me that consumers are often misled by the big giants of the fashion industry.

 

 

“Knitting is a mindful and therapeutic practise that has proven to be very healing towards stress and other mental diseases e.g. alzheimer, tourettes syndrome and physical ones such as muscle tension.”

I have experimented with different elements within the sustainable work frame. That includes making garments from dead stock, up-cycling and zero-waste pattern making and mixing those methods together. I still come down to the conclusion as before – Why should I pick up the shit that was made by somebody else? There are just too many bad quality garments that are thrown out every day, and coming across good quality fabric is just really difficult. I have researched a lot of consumer habits and their relationship with shopping and disposal. In almost every case, the most valuable pieces are the ones that have been made by someone you know, or yourself even.

Knitting is a mindful and therapeutic practise that has proven to be very healing towards stress and other mental diseases e.g. alzheimer, tourettes syndrome and physical ones such as muscle tension. By creating your own style, you can alter it to your own needs, select the colours that fit your own style and personalise the garments. So no matter what I dig myself into, I always go back to knitting. I think everyone should knit as well, and that’s the mindset that I’m working from right now.

 

 

“As I have developed as an artist and entrepreneur, I have learned that quality in material and service is everything. For me, the only way to practice that while surviving as a business is to share the responsibility with the consumer so every party involved is taking actions.”

 

What has this development transformed your policies towards?

As a result of the past years from my experience working with dead-stock, zero-waste and recycled materials, I made the decision to stop with those production methods. The main reason was due to the low quality of materials. I was getting a lot of fabrics containing micro plastics of some sort, which I didn’t think was sustainable at all. As I have developed as an artist and entrepreneur, I have learned that quality in material and service is everything. For me, the only way to practice that while surviving as a business is to share the responsibility with the consumer so every party involved is taking actions. There are a lot of different aspects you need to consider when labeling yourself as sustainable, and often one aspect challenges another. For example, I considered becoming a vegan label, but the alternatives to wool are often not environmentally friendly at all. That comes back to the point of my up-cycled materials being often made from man-made fibers. So instead, I work with the best quality wool that I can get my hands on.

 

 

How would you describe your customers?

I think my customers are mostly people who admire design, understand the mindset behind it and like to have that added value of uniqueness to their style. I think there is nothing as rewarding to a designer than to see your styles featured as favorites by your costumers, and I think that has something to do with the added value of hand-made. I would love to think that they’re environmentally conscious, but sustainability is still today an extra label. Design, quality and price are still the major purchasing factor.

 

 

“For now I am settled in my comfort zone,”

What does your business model look like today from your extended research and experience with sustainability?

For the past year, I have worked towards simplifying my business and to focus on the core, which is knitting. I have published a new platform on my website, where I’m selling my patterns and encouraging people to create their own styles. You can access video tutorials to simplify the patterns, where I have also simplified the main instructions. By doing that, I am making knitting more user friendly and less complicated for people with zero experience.

The health benefits of practicing this craft have already been scientifically proven to be extremely beneficial to mental health. But to add, the value of the storytelling of a handmade style is going to build a sustainable value on its own. Instead of putting the main responsibility on the designer, I want it to be shared equally between the designer and the customer. I will of course continue to make styles by order if the customer is not ready to take on a project yet, and unique handmade styles will continue to be released and can be accessed from the webpage.

In the future I can see myself designing more avant-garde styles, and I am working slowly towards that with a fellow designer. There are a lot of techniques that I haven’t been able to put in garments yet, and are a bit too complex to sell as knitwear patterns. For now I am settled in my comfort zone, but that doesn’t mean that I’m quite done yet with the fashion industry.

 

 

Make sure to follow Thelma Steimann on Instagram!

 

Want to read more about sustainable fashion designers? Check out “Top 5 Sustainable Danish Designers To Watch”!