MAKERS OF LONDON: CATHERINE TOUGH KNITWEAR
In our new series – Makers of London – we profile people around the city invested in making and creating products. In this edition, we talk to Catherine Tough of Catherine Tough Knitwear about her products but most importantly – worldwide sock domination!
WORDS BY THE CITY STORY TEAM
The City Story: Why socks? You have multiple products under your brand, but socks are fairly predominant. Catherine Tough: I started the business making products for interiors and only added the socks to go with our hot water bottle covers, but as soon as we launched them it was clear there was a gap in the market for quality lambswool socks. They are such a fun product to design and they are now the best-selling product in our collection. People always need socks, and they make a great gift TCS: Do you design all the products, or do you have a design team you work with? Where do you drive your inspiration from? CT: I design the collection with our studio manager Chloe Whale – we have worked together for nearly 10 years and have very similar tastes, so it makes the job easy…there have been some styles that you know will be an instant hit and others which are a bit more experimental. The challenge is to build a better collection from the previous seasons and learn from customer feedback to drive us on. I love working with colour and texture and never get bored of knitting. TCS: Where are your products made? CT: We make a lot of our products at the studio in East London where we have a mini-factory of sorts knitting the products from scratch. It is easier for us to manage the flow of the handmade items this way, maintaining a minimal stock and having full quality control, which is very important. We make our socks in Portugal, we have worked with the same factory for 10 years. They are very flexible and we have developed the quality of the socks together. We initially looked at Portugal for commercial reasons – to wholesale UK produced socks is quite a challenge if you aren’t making them yourself – but we have a great relationship, and I wouldn’t make them anywhere else now. TCS: Could you tell us a little more about the production process – from sheep to socks/hats/brooches/scarves? CT: We start with a product in mind and put together some rough sketches. From there we look at yarn shade cards from various spinners to get the best colours. Once we have sample cones of yarn, we knit up a fabric and make up a few prototypes before we decide on the finished product. Most products have various stages of production; for example, a scarf we knit at the studio probably has 1,000 rows of knitting, but you also need to wash, dry, press, and label each item so it takes a while! TCS: You live and work in Hackney –why is the borough is special to you? CT: I have lived in Hackney for over 15 years, and both my children were born in the borough. I moved to Hackney from West London when it was much more run down but had a lovely community feel and lots of people I knew were moving to the area… I even met my partner as studio neighbours, and we have been here ever since. You bump into people you know all the time. And despite its once less than flattering reputation, it is a great place to live in, and you never get bored. TCS: What’s in the future for Catherine Tough products? CT: We have recently started selling to the US, and now the kids are more grown up it is easier to travel more, so I would have to go with worldwide sock domination.