Rosie Sugden: Cashmere Queen

Rosie Sugden's designs can now be found far beyond their Edinburgh origins – we find out more about a designer with a sharp eye for minutiae.

Feature by Leonie Wolters | 15 Feb 2016

The accessories of Edinburgh-based knitwear designer Rosie Sugden have their fans in many places. Her work is sold at ALC in Edinburgh, Liberty and Harrods in London, and by stockists in different European countries. Soon Rosie’s cashmere creations will warm limbs even further from home, as she recently signed with a Japanese agent. Regardless of her success, she has not yet had the experience of spotting one of her own designs in the street. "I’m really annoyed I haven’t yet!" she says. "I would love to! My sister sees people in London wearing my turbans or fluoro pink beanies all the time. She always sends me pictures, and they always put a smile on my face."

If Rosie were to stumble across someone in one of her pieces, the item in question would surely not escape her notice. A keen eye for the sartorial choices of fellow citizens gracing the world’s streets is a key part of what inspires her designs: "I love street style photographs by Tommy Ton, he captures the most amazing close-up details. I love love love Miroslava Duma. I just think she looks amazing in everything, I love the proportions of her clothes, she always offsets an oversized coat with miniature accessories or baggy jeans with heels. I also love Pernille Taesbeck, she has really individual style."

Rosie Sugden's design process

From all these images, Rosie distils the essential ingredients for her pieces as part of her design process. "It usually starts with colours and references I’ve collected over the year – something I’ve seen on Pinterest, or a new stitch we’ve developed at the mill. Then I draw up my initial ideas for the collection, take them to the mill and my brilliant technician programs everything for me. Quite often there will be designs we have to drop. I’m always pushing the limits of what we can do technically, on different machines and also hand-knitted. Inevitably, there are styles that don’t work, but there’s always something new each year that I’m really excited about, and that’s how the collection evolves."

Asked how certain designs can run into trouble when confronted with cold hard reality, Rosie explains: "Quite often it’s the shape in intarsia patterns that we can’t get to look right, they’re often too squat or stretched. One that took a while to get right was the heart-shaped wrist warmer. Perseverance pays off, as that’s been a best seller this season!"

Taking an idea and a skein of cashmere and turning them into a heart-shaped wrist warmer is a process that requires a lot of time and effort. Turning a little girl into a successful knitwear designer requires even more, and this process started early on in Rosie’s life: "I grew up around textiles; my father worked in the industry for 40 years, as did his father, my maternal grandpa and great grandfather. So it’s in my blood, really! I loved going round to the mill when I was younger, with dad, and seeing all the different processes, so I think I just absorbed it all and that’s how it started. I remember seeing the weaving looms, and I loved the dye house too. My dad and I didn’t actually make things together when I was little, mum did a lot of that with me. She taught me to sew and encouraged me to paint. I always loved being creative and it was at Northumbria that I chose to specialise in knitwear. My mentor is my father, who is a fountain of textile, knitting, weaving and business knowledge!"

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Apart from the encouragement and practical support, Rosie’s parents gave her another advantage by moving to Scotland when she was born. "Working in Scotland definitely keeps me focussed, I love the space you can get. It really helps to clear the head, and the mind to soar. My favourite place is probably home in the Borders, where I ride horses with my neighbour. There’s nothing like cantering through a stubble field to leave you feeling exhilarated."

Occasionally, clearing the mind is quite the necessity in a creative career, with all its ups and downs. On her path to world domination, Rosie recalls a key moment that paved the way: "When I launched the business, I remember emailing Harriet Quick at Vogue. She very kindly put a little article and a picture on the Vogue blog. It was my first piece of press, it was such an exhilarating feeling to see my name in lights and it just made my new business feel very real to me!"

Fashion: the less glamorous side

Rosie also has some experience with the less glamorous side of the fashion industry, even when in one of the most glamorous of places. "Paris Fashion Week is fun but mostly hard work as I take my collection to a trade show every year, to meet buyers. The trade show is long hours and often indoors, but in the evening I always make sure to go for a delicious supper. Last year my friend Karen Mabon and I decided we needed a falafel. So we spent about two hours walking in circles in the Marais trying to find the perfect falafel… Thankfully we did find an amazing place!"

All of Rosie’s efforts have made the business grow, and things look as though the next range will be sold in even more varied outlets. When asked what her new pieces will look like, she clearly shows that she has the business figured out. "I can’t say yet as it’s not out until next year – sorry! But a lot of it was inspired by my trip to Japan last year, all the crazy shops we visited, the colours and the way of dressing, it’s so considered and particular. I loved it!"