Kettlewell fashion: Dressing ethics girls

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Three leading Yorkshire designers showed that eco is the way to go at the Kettlewell Mayfest, writes Stephanie Smith.

There’s a revolution going on in fashion, and Yorkshire is right at the heart of it. It’s all about how our clothes are made and where they come from. No longer does the description “ethical” send a shudder of disdain through the fashion world as it evokes images of garish, crumpled rags, tie-dyed, poorly beaded and in one size only (which doesn’t fit anyone).

Kettlewell, Mayfest Fashion Show: Flock to Frock

Kettlewell, Mayfest Fashion Show: Flock to Frock

Beautifully designed, internationally sought-after, ultra high-quality fashion is being made right here in Yorkshire, without harming people, animals or the environment – and it’s something we should be shouting about.

Which is exactly what the good folk of Kettlewell in the Dales decided to do earlier this month when the village church was transformed into a runway as part of the Kettlewell May’d In’t Dale Festival of Wool and Ale (Mayfest for short), organised as part of the 100 Days of Art and Culture festival in the run-up to the Grand Départ of the Tour de France.

Three Yorkshire designers were asked to take part – Izzy Lane, Makepiece and Joan Murray – and all three agreed, bringing a selection of key and statement pieces along to take part in a fashion show with professional models.

North Yorkshire-based Izzy Lane creates eco-luxury, beautiful knitwear and tailored wool pieces that sell all over the world including Dubai and Eastern Europe. The wool comes from the company’s own flock of Wensleydale and Shetland sheep which graze at Richmond (many are rescued), and the clothes are designed by founder Isobel Davies and other designers, and manufactured in Kendal after the various wool processes have been carried in factories in West Yorkshire.

Kettlewell, Mayfest Fashion Show: Flock to Frock

Kettlewell, Mayfest Fashion Show: Flock to Frock

Currently collaborating on a range for autumn/winter with Katharine Hamnett, Isobel says the change in attitude towards ethically produced clothing, especially in UK wool, has been revolutionary. “When I started (I was researching back in 2003, launched in 2006), at the time, you couldn’t buy wool garments anywhere except perhaps Savile Row. But the campaigning for British wool has been really successful,” she says.

“People are coming to realise that what they buy affects what the world is going to look like in the future. People have to take responsibility for what they buy and that is starting to happen.”

Makepiece is based in Todmorden where it also has its own flock of sheep, and a studio where all the clothes are made (there’s also a shop in Buxton). Knitted custom-made wedding dresses are a speciality. Founder Beate Kubitz says: “Weddings are where people want something very bespoke and unique. One of the wonderful things about our pieces is that you can dye them.

“When we started out, no-one had a clue what we were talking about. It was like doing two jobs – selling the designs and also the ideas that you should think about where your clothes come from, not just how they look.

Kettlewell, Mayfest Fashion Show: Flock to Frock

Kettlewell, Mayfest Fashion Show: Flock to Frock

“Now the first thing people ask is ‘where are they made?’ There’s so much that’s not made in the UK now, people are delighted and surprised to hear they are made just down the road.”

Comparing the sharp, tailored pieces of Izzy Lane with the languid long dresses of Makepiece shows just how versatile wool is as a fabric, says Beate. “That’s one of the things we have achieved – the rejuvenation of interest in wool.”

Joan Murray is a knitwear designer who makes all her exuberant and unusual clothes in the studio of her home in Skipton. Also a lecturer in knitwear design at Craven College, she agrees that interest in where and how clothes are produced is growing. “I think people are accepting the challenge of buying better and less, and the importance of buying local, sourcing locally and using small and medium enterprises like myself to get special one-offs that won’t be seen twice,” she says.

Meanwhile Kettlewell was honoured to have the support of three of Yorkshire’s most exciting fashion designers, said fashion show organiser Cathy Wright. “All three designers are very different, but they are passionate about creating fabulous, ethical fashion using British wool, which goes right to the heart of our Mayfest celebration of all the fantastic things that are May’d in’t Dale.”

Twitter: @yorkshirefashQ

• All clothes from: Joan Murray on There will be a graduate fashion show at Craven College on May 23.

Makepiece on

Izzy Lane on