My story........Kate Box Knitwear

I’m always fascinated to learn more about the amazing small business owners that I meet - to find out more about their personal stories and how they came to be doing what they do now. So, this week I thought it would be fun to kick-off my weekly seasonal blog with sharing a little bit about myself and my career path.

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I always knew I wanted to go to art college and started with a foundation course at Winchester to try out lots of different art and design disciplines. Textiles just clicked for me. I went on from Winchester to Chelsea college of Art where I did a degree in Textile design and then finally did an MA in Knitwear at the Royal College of Art.

 

My final collection at the Royal College of Art was spotted by the designers from Ghost and I was offered a 3-month placement with them over the summer. It was very creative and I worked on some one-off pieces for their catwalk show which was exciting. After my placement had ended there I took a job as a design assistant at Pringle which was very different, as you would imagine working in a large corporation to be. Designing was all about sales figures and what would be most commercial, I absolutely hated it but with hindsight I can see the benefit of gaining that experience. I was only there for a year when I got the job as design assistant to Orla Kiely which was a dream position. It was a hugely creative company that put emphasis on good design. The design team were well supported and looked after and Orla was/is an incredible designer.

 

After I had my daughter we knew that we wanted to move out of London and with that meant leaving my job at Orla Kiely. Moving to Hampshire was a new start and I accepted that that would mean moving my career in a different direction.

 

It wasn’t really a conscious decision to set up a business designing knitwear. I just sort of fell upon it by making things for friends and then finding a shop in my local town that would stock a few things that I was making. When I look back, the products to begin with were very hit and miss but things slowly evolved and I hope they keep evolving.

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I like to walk or cycle my children to school- I enjoy getting out for some fresh air before I start working. When I get home, I make a coffee and then normally tackle any emails that need doing as I’m much better at computer/written work first thing in the morning. I’ll start knitting on the machine around 10 and tune into Woman’s Hour. After that I’ve been known to knit and watch any type of gardening programme I can, Monty Don presenting if possible! At 3pm, I down tools and resume my other role as mum, collect children from school and normally offer a taxi service to football or Brownies. Once everyone has been fed, washed and put to bed the work will sometimes resume. I’m not one for working too late though as I really like my sleep!

 

I find colour and design quite intuitive, everything influences it subconsciously- exhibitions, seasons, films, etc. I’m not sure I could pin point one thing that is a big influence. I really enjoyed the Vanessa Bell exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery this year.

 

My favourite part of running my own business is definitely the flexibility around the children coupled with being my own boss. My least favourite is that it’s very difficult to turn off – it’s like having a third child that I’m always thinking about!

 

The best piece of business advice that I’ve been given? It’s better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly – Robert Schuller. I have to constantly remind myself of this quote!

 

If you haven’t entered already, at the moment I’m running a competition on Facebook to win a pair of wristwarmers - follow the link to be in with a chance! 

 https://www.facebook.com/KateBoxKnit/posts/1499580833463429:0

A silver lining....

Last week I mentioned that in this blog post I would talk about my friend and tutor Kay Cosserat, unfortunately there a sad ending to this tale but there is also a 'silver lining' so keep reading to the end...............

Kay as a student at the Royal College of Art  

Kay as a student at the Royal College of Art  

As a student, Kay Cosserat (nee Macklam) attended Goldsmiths College London where she achieved a 1st class hons degree and then completed her MA at the Royal College of Art. Upon graduating from the RCA she set up her own business Cosserat Design Partnership in 1974 with her husband Christopher Cosserat whom she had met at the Royal College. Specialising in knitwear and well known for her beautiful colour choices, combinations and use of texture, Kay was quickly noticed for her ability to be creative and commercial.  In 1986 this was recognised and she became a Royal Designer for Industry.  She was always passionate about education and this lead her to have many, many roles within academic institutions across the country, St Martins school of art, the Royal College and Chelsea college of art to name just a few in London. 

Kay as I first met her.  

Kay as I first met her.  

I met Kay at Chelsea College of Art in 1997 where she became my tutor in the 2nd and 3rd years of my degree. As a tutor, Kay could be fairly terrifying and she certainly let you know if she didn't like something but all this aided in creating a healthy competition amongst her students and a real desire for her approval.  Kay's standards were always very high and she had an ability to see a glimmer of something promising in every student's work and draw it out into the most marvellous project.  Kay was a much loved tutor.

At the end of my course at Chelsea and with a lot of encouragement from Kay,  I applied for an MA place at the Royal College of Art. Although I was offered a place, without funds and much forethought about how I was going to finance myself through the 2 year course, I reluctantly had to turn the place down. Kay, always supportive, was quick to offer me a job for a year to raise money for my MA course and give me invaluable experience working within the textiles industry. A year later, with money in my pocket, I applied again to the RCA. I started my MA in 2000. 

This is where the story starts to sadden..............after returning from a holiday in Vietnam,  Kay complained of her back hurting. Further investigation revealed that she had breast cancer. Ever determined,  Kay carried on as much as possible and continued to be as supportive as ever to her students and dedicated to her business. During that year Kay put me forward for the coveted position of design assistant at Orla Kiely, Kay having taught Orla herself. Very sadly I had only been in that post for a week when Kay died in December 2003. 

A silver lining............before Kay died she set up a trust fund to help knitwear and knitted textile students at the Royal College of Art.  There are 5 trustees, of which I am one, and we award an amount to a promising RCA student who would have otherwise found it difficult financially to continue on the course. Every May/June I travel to the Royal College of Art and meet with the other trustees to look at the work of selected candidates and make a final decision about who will be awarded the money.  It is always a fantastic day where we meet dedicated, talented students and we reminisce about Kay in all her creative glory. 

Julia Pines, Matthew Cosserat and Mary Restieaux discussing student's work.

Julia Pines, Matthew Cosserat and Mary Restieaux discussing student's work.

This year was no exception, the students work was of a very high standard and they all remained passionate and positive despite hearing their heart-breaking financial stories of hardship. One student had five part time jobs and others admitted to having nearly £45,000 of debt! We saw 14 students in all and the decision of who to award to, was as always, so difficult to make. We awarded 2 scholarships this year, one to Matthew Duffy and the other to Rose Danford-Phillips, both very deserving knitwear candidates who showed us real talent, determination and passion in their work; all qualities Kay possessed. Keep your eyes out for these two names, we joked this year that all the Kay Cosserat Scholarship winners go on to be very successful!

Each year, as I walk away from this inspiring day of judging, it always delights me that even in Kay's absence, her dedication to both the textile industry and design education lives on through the students we see.