Contemporary cool

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Former LK Bennett knitwear developer Lizzie Cawthray has launched her own label. She talks to Stephanie Smith.

Lizzie Cawthray is admiring a photograph of her new bestseller – a honeycomb-stitch sweater called Florence. “It’s got to be inspiring. You’ve got to want to put it on”, she says.

Taken at Langsett Reservoir, near Sheffield, the picture shows a young woman rowing a boat across the water, wearing the sweater. The setting is evocative, chilly, charming – and yes, inspiring.

It epitomises Lizzie’s contemporary, cool approach to knitwear, about which she is passionate.

At 27, the North Yorkshire entrepreneur has just launched the debut collection of her new knitwear label, Needle.

A modern capsule collection of sweaters, cardigans and knitted jackets in Italian luxury yarns, each piece is named after a place, among them the aforementioned Florence, and also the Capri, the Venice ... and the Ripon.

“The market is 30-upwards,” Lizzie says. “The yummy mummies, and the older yummy mummies, and the yummy grannies.

“Especially being from the North, knitwear is quite important, because we wear it most days. But there’s not a lot of exciting, good quality knitwear out there, so I wanted a range that was fun and interesting, but nicely made, fit looked at carefully, but not outrageous prices – achievable prices.”

The Needle concept and range have been in development since May 2012. Launching a new business is learning curve, but Lizzie is prepared and undaunted.

After growing up in Ilkley and Harrogate, Lizzie went to Queen Margaret’s School at York, then studied Hospitality and Retail Management at Oxford Brookes University, interning at Boden. A gap year was followed by another internship at UK modern heritage brand LK Bennett, who then offered her a job. She stayed for two and a half years, as part of a clothing product development team, specialising in knitwear. It was valuable experience. “The exposure I had was quite phenomenal, really,” she says. “In product development, you are the bridge between the designer and the factory and getting it out onto the shelf.”

Lizzie left LK Bennett in 2011, but while there, she worked alongside designer Emma Baressi, who had previously worked at Burberry. The following year, when she decided to set up Needle, Lizzie asked Emma to join her as chief designer.

“It’s a real collaboration between the two of us. I have the vision of where I want to go and she translates that,” Lizzie says. Emma came up with designs in August 2012 and they have been a year in the making, narrowed down to a capsule collection of 12 styles, all of which are made in Italy, at a factory near Florence. Lizzie, who lives near Harrogate, says: “My initial plan was that it was always going to be UK manufacturing, but I found that too challenging.”

Now, however, it’s all stations go at Needle’s head office, which is near Northallerton. Mum, Susan, takes a keen interest. “She’s my warehouse assistant,” Lizzie says, with a grin. The autumn/winter range has just launched, the website is live and the collection is already stocked in boutiques in Ripon, Cambridge and Cheltenham. The spring/summer range is currently in production.

The photoshoot for autumn/winter took place in January this year, on location at Sawley, near Ripon, as well as at Langsett Reservoir. “We wanted to keep the vibe modern and appealing and not too twee,” Lizzie says. Much to her delight, Needle knitwear is beginning to make its way onto the fashion pages – and she hopes to see a major celebrity snapped in a Needle piece soon.

Meanwhile, Lizzie wants Needle to reach out to a wide age range, not just the cool and the young. “I was talking to my mum about this the other day, because she is mid-50s and she looks phenomenal. People don’t tend to target the older audience, but the older crowd are dressing younger. Age has grown younger anyway. My grandmother, who is 83, is always absolutely beautiful and immaculately turned out.”

Future plans include growing the range, possibly introducing menswear, and growing Needle as a new luxury Yorkshire brand. Lizzie says: “I don’t have any intention of moving anywhere else.”

Twitter: @yorkshirefashQ

All knitwear available at and at Upstairs Downstairs in Ripon.