Interview with Kate Box, founder of Kate Box Knitwear

Find out how Kate Box is using her experience as Head of Knitwear at Orla Kiely to launch her own knitwear business after moving from London to Hampshire with her family.

What’s your career background?

Initially I spent a long time studying. Firstly an art foundation course, followed by a textile degree at Chelsea college of Art, and finally a fashion MA at the Royal College of Art.

Throughout my time studying I always tried to fund myself by working within the industry, mainly for independent designers who had set up on their own and needed extra help.

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Upon completing my MA I was fortunate that my graduating catwalk show was spotted by Tanya Sarne from Ghost who offered me a three month work placement which helped bridge the gap between study and the world of work.

Following on from Ghost I worked as a design assistant at Pringle before landing my dream job as designer at Orla Kiely. This was an amazingly creative job with a small team of very talented designers and I worked very closely with Orla herself. As the company expanded I became Head of Knitwear and remained in this position until I had my daughter in 2007.

How did your career change after having children?

After having our first child we moved out of London to Petersfield in Hampshire. My husband continued to commute daily into London, but with two small children the thought of us both being a two hour commute away was not something we wanted to undertake.

Setting up my own business, Kate Box knitwear, seemed an attractive way of combining having a creative outlet, gaining back some financial independence and being at home for family life.

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Where did the idea for your business come from?

I have always made things and was brought up by parents who were resourceful and a father who made furniture and jewellery.

After we started our family, I made blankets for both my children. These blankets were dragged everywhere we went and as a result friends and family began to ask me to make pieces for them. The idea to start my own business grew organically from there.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I started to stock my blankets in a local boutique and from this I gained really valuable feedback. I began to create more products at different price points, answering to specific retail occasions and general customer demand.

Although I still continue to stock through several boutiques it became obvious that in order to make more money I needed to sell direct to the customer and an online presence was essential.

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What’s your USP?

At the moment everything is all still made by me on my hand powered knitting machine. This means I can keep a tight control on quality but also make small batches of interesting designs and quickly respond to new trends and colour palettes. I hope this helps to keep the Kate Box brand looking fresh and appealing.

Who’s your target audience?

Anyone who appreciates quality hand made items, and loves colour. Colour is a really integral part of my work, but it has to be used well!

How do you spread the word about what you do?

It’s quite early days for me but so far. But having tried to avoid social media for most of my life, I am now actively trying to embrace it! I realise its immense potential and am grateful that social media and the internet in general are enabling me to start and run my own business successfully.

Fifteen years ago this would not have been the case! I still stock in several boutiques in the South East so I’m hoping that is also showcasing and promoting my work in a more traditional manner to get a good balance.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Creating my website has most definitely been the biggest challenge I’ve faced so far, coupled with self promotion! As someone who has always naturally favoured craft over technology, creating a website seemed an enormous, daunting task.

Due to a tiny budget it was necessary to build the website ourselves, but thanks to a very technically minded and patient husband we succeeded! Since the website has launched I’ve had so much great feedback and have realised that having an online presence to showcase my products is something I probably should have done a long time ago.

And your proudest moment so far?

A while ago I was walking my children back from school and a lady walking her dog over-took us on the pavement. As she walked past, my daughter and I were both amazed that she was wearing a pair of my wrist warmers! We we so shocked that we just remained routed to the spot!

It was lovely to see what type of woman was wearing them and that they had bought them because they really liked them! I felt real elation for the rest of the day!

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Why is work so important to you?

Financial independence is very important to me, coupled with wanting to set a good example to my children. More than this however is that working gives me a creative outlet that I don’t think I could live without.

Who inspires you?

Resourcefulness is a quality in people I find very inspiring, and so many working mothers have to be just that.

How do you balance your business with your family?

I must admit to finding it quite hard to switch off from work when I am back with my children. Making lists is a helpful way to put any work thoughts down and out of my head in order to concentrate on my family life fully.

I think being ‘time poor’ is a great motivator – my mother always says “if you need something doing, ask a busy person.”

What are your three top pieces of advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

  1. Don’t undervalue yourself or your product – I think it’s an easy situation to fall into especially if you work mainly on your own.
  2. Learn to let go and ask for help when you need it. This was a real eye opener for me, being inclined to think that running your own business meant doing everything yourself. Having had so much good advice and help from others, I now feel it’s invaluable to tap into other people’s knowledge and expertise.
  3. Make the most of every opportunity, you never know where it may lead you.

You can see more of Kate Box’s work, and buy her baby blankets, wrist warmers and snoods on her website