Interview with Szilvia Burrows, owner and designer-maker at Knitluxe Studio
Find out why seeing a designer selling her vintage, industrial hand operated knitting machine inspired Szilvia Burrows to launch Knitluxe Studio, an ethical, natural and luxurious British contemporary knitwear brand.
What’s your career background?
After the typical school education, I studied Art & Design, followed by a degree in Textiles Design, where I specialised in constructed textiles, and was awarded BA Hons 1st class. After university, I worked in the Product Design Team of Tom Dixon, then Joseph Joseph as a Junior Technologist.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I started thinking about having my own small business when I was still working in London for a design company, as the Junior Technologist.
I loved my job, but I really missed creating and especially missed textiles. I saw a fellow designer selling her vintage, industrial hand operated knitting machine (same brand I used in university) and this started the whole idea of setting up my own business.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
While commuting back and forth to London I started doing my research, mind mapping ideas, contacting yarn suppliers, creating mood boards, and thinking about a business name. I’m originally from Hungary so I didn’t want to use my name but a fantasy name that represents my business.
What’s your USP?
Along with quality and carrying on the traditional hand operated machine knitting craft, my other biggest focus is sustainability.
Wool has such amazing properties as well as being completely natural and renewable; there are not enough people and brands championing wool and therefore it is an underappreciated fibre. Wool is a product that the most brilliant high-tech companies could never create, and it needs to be advertised.
With my small business whenever I can, I focuses on highlighting wool’s brilliant natural properties along offering customers something that is artisan, handmade, and slowly crafted with timeless designs that can be cherished for years to come.
Who’s your target audience?
People who appreciate craftsmanship and ethical consumerism. I’m proudly creating everything myself, from the design to the making, and the finishing processes as well as all the marketing and photography. It is quite a complex job and there’s always something to (and never a dull moment) but I can confidently say that every piece is one of a kind and made with love and care.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
I mainly use social media for a day-to-day story, but I also have a few lovely stockists, where you can physically visit and try on my products. My latest stockist is Chewton Glen Luxury Hotel and Spa in New Forest along with New Brewery Arts in Cirencester and Chalk’s Gallery in Lymington.
You can also find me in wintertime on craft fairs, where I gladly spread the word about the luxurious Merino Wool I use and my making process and inspirations.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
Being present: I use several platforms to reach customers so they can see my products, know more why my small business is ethical and responsible and to show them how their homeware, gifts and winter accessories are made.
I try to be online and on social media a healthy amount, along with markets, contacting stockists and small independent, and getting in touch with new and existing customers through email marketing. I always treat existing customers to a treat, whether it’s a subscriber exclusive sneak peek and a discount.
I also try to make their online shopping experience a good one, from placing an order to receiving their goods with handwritten thank you note and a 15% thank you discount. Everything comes in gift wrapped with no extra charge and branded stationery.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Confidence. I always had trouble with my confidence and being an introvert doesn’t help either. I love working alone, setting my own pace, working long hours but it can also get lonely, with no encouraging words. I try to do a few markets and trade shows throughout the year, but it also makes me anxious, selling my products.
Over the past few years, I feel more confident due to the feedback I receive regarding my making processes, inspiration and products, stockists, and companies.
And your proudest moment so far?
When I see happy customers, sharing images of them wearing my products or the reaction of their recipient receiving a gift that I made. I can’t get enough hearing how wonderfully soft the wool I use or the appreciation regarding the craftsmanship.
Why is work so important to you?
I absolutely love doing what I do but I also feel proud for practicing a skill that has the potential to be forgotten. My machine is a vintage knitting machine is a fine gauge hand flat Dubied knitting machine, considered vintage now as they are no longer being manufactured as digitally operated knitting machines took over.
Learning and knowing how to create fabric on these machines is a skill that less and less people are , and has a chance therefore to be a forgotten trade in the future. I also work as a knitwear technician part time in the university where I undertook my degree, teaching machine knitting to the next generation of designers which I find really rewarding.
Who inspires you?
I live by Vivienne Westwood’s’ famous motto: ‘Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity.’ This is something I try to implement not just in my business but in my everyday life. I’m sure everyone is aware of global warming, it’s constantly in the limelight but for good reason.
I feel happier knowing that I’m doing my own bit for the planet. We only have this one! This is one of the reasons people often hear me boast about wool, but I feel we’re still overlooking this wonderful biodegradable material with its natural performance properties. I’m just proud that I’m selling products that are kind to the planet and handcrafted with love and care.
How do you balance your work with your family?
This is a tricky one: I try to have a few days a month at least where I don’t work but spend quality time with my husband, no business talk just us. I love going for long walks, eating out or just being busy in the garden and playing with my dog, Minnie.
My studio is in my home, in a spare room so it’s awfully tempting to sneak upstairs and continue to work. My studio is also my sanctuary: I have plenty of inspiring decorations from fellow small business owners and makers, plenty of houseplants and my yarn collection.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
1) Focus on what you’re good at
There are probably quite a few people out there doing what we do, but I do believe that hard work and passion shines through and leads the way.
2) Be mindful to yourself, guard your boundaries
It’s okay to take a day off, or even take a week off sometimes. You can’t produce good work if you’re on the verge of a burn out. Have your own self-care rituals when things get tense or if you’ve had a long hard day, make sure to recharge yourself.
3) Celebrate your accomplishments
No matter how small, we should give ourselves credit for achieving a goal or achieving a milestone. Do a big happy dance, or whatever works for you!
Find out more about Knitluxe Studio.