Fashion wisdom has it that there are certain classic items of clothing every stylish woman should have in her wardrobe. And a cashmere sweater has long been at the top of that list.
With that in mind, new Yorkshire brand Loop Cashmere was launched last November – and it turned out to be the ideal time, says co-founder Richard Levin. “The first three months were absolutely hectic,” he says. “Suddenly 40 per cent of our customers were men buying presents, because cashmere is such an easy gift to buy for somebody. Nobody is going to say ‘oh, I can’t believe you bought me cashmere’. So we acquired all these guys, and then fortunately, after Christmas, a lot of their partners came and shopped with us.”
In demand have been Loop’s classic cashmere sweaters in crew neck, V-neck and polo-neck styles, its loungewear joggers and hoodies, and its accessories range with hats, scarves, socks and gloves.
Fellow Loop founder Claire Heathcote says: “We definitely were not following fashion. We wanted to be more about style and timelessness. Cashmere can last a lifetime if it is looked after properly.”
Claire and Richard met as directors at Pure Collection, the then Harrogate-based cashmere brand that went into administration early in 2020, was acquired by knitwear brand WoolOvers and which is now located in West Sussex. “We had a template for what the perfect cashmere business looked like,” says Richard.
They knew they had the experience and contacts to launch a new British cashmere brand, and their confidence was rewarded by quickly attracting investors. High street expert Tracy Lewis invested in Loop and now sits on the board as non-executive director.
Claire, 41, has a background in buying and merchandising so focuses on that and on the creative side. She lives in Sheffield with her partner, Gary, and their four-year-old son, Isaac, and has a degree in Business Administration from Aston University.
“Fashion, make-up and photography were always things that interested me, and I grew up during the 90s, so those images of supermodels and the iconic fashion they wore are burned into my brain,” she says. “As part of my degree, I did a year in business and this was the first point at which I was exposed to buying and merchandising as a career. After completing my training at Debenhams, I’ve been lucky enough to work in cosmetics, footwear, lingerie and swimwear and latterly cashmere, so all areas I love.”
Richard, 55, focuses on operations and finance. He lives in Leeds with his wife of 28 years, Louise, and has three grown-up daughters. He has a BSc in Management Sciences from Manchester University.
“I honestly had almost no interest in fashion and was all set to be an accountant,” he says. “But when a cricket match got rained off, I ended up going along to a Marks & Spencer presentation and realised I could have a really rewarding role within the industry.”
He joined the M&S head office graduate scheme and trained in all aspects of buying and selling merchandise. “Never does a day go by when I don’t refer back to something I learnt 30 years ago,” he says.
Loop’s products are designed in Yorkshire by a freelance consultant and manufactured in Inner Mongolia, using one of the producers they both visited many times in their days at Pure Collection.
“Both Richard and I became increasingly passionate about driving sustainability and ethical standards at every part of the supply chain,” says Claire. “We wanted to create cashmere products that were gentle on the environment and fair to people.”
Loop works with distribution centre Enabled Works, a co-operative run by its disabled workforce and based in Morley. Loop’s yarn supplier is accredited by the Good Cashmere Standard, which follows three main principles, promoting animal welfare in cashmere production, supporting cashmere farmers and protecting the environment.
There are now about 100 Loop Cashmere pieces to buy, sold directly to customers either via the Loop website or via a partner website – the brand is featured on Wolf and Badger, Jules B, new sustainable marketplace Dayrize and will soon feature as part of a Friends of Joules collaboration.
Carefully considered details add flair and the new spring collection has a decidedly playful attitude. “The designs for SS21 were borne out of two things,” says Claire. “Firstly, a recognition that, with the tumultuous times and the need to stay home, we want an off-duty wardrobe made up of stylish pieces that are easy to wear, versatile and give a sense of comfort. Secondly, a returning sense of optimism about spring, the brighter days and better times that lay ahead of us, represented by bright colour and playful designs.”
After attracting so much business from male customers pre-Christmas, it is no surprise that there will be a menswear collection launching for autumn. Richard says: “We know the strength of men wanting to buy cashmere and we don’t want to be seen as a single gender brand.”
To view the spring/summer 2021 collection, visit www.loopcashmere.co.uk