Small Knitters & Big Companies

I came upon a compelling story from almost a year ago, and felt inspired to share it with others. It appeared in the Guardian, and looked at the relationship between craftspeople, small knitting businesses, and large fashion corporations.

When the fashion house of Chanel went to the tiny island of Fair Isle, the 10th largest of the Shetland Islands with only 60 residents, they purchased garments created by a local craft textile designer named Mati Ventrillon. Subsequently, she discovered her designs in one of Chanel’s collections as it was being debuted in Rome. When she expressed via social media her shock at seeing a sweater that was almost identical to her design, Chanel offered an apology and credited her as the designer. They also drew attention to the history of craft textiles and knitwear on Fair Isle, as well as the skills that have been handed down through generations of Fair Isle residents. A heritage that has resulted in a genuine patterned Fair Isle sweater being considered an authentic work of art.

I am hopeful that over the past 10 months this incident has provided the kind of attention that can help support Mati as she continues in her efforts to realize a personal goal. She is dedicated to combining the wisdom and craftsmanship of the ages with online technology to establish an industry on Fair Isle that can offer islanders training and sustainable employment.

But she also sees value in collaboration. Mati stated, “I don’t buy the concept that big global fashion house equals bad, and small traditional craft-making equals good. There are opportunities for mutual beneficial partnerships between big houses and small community-based enterprises."

Kevin McKenna in his Guardian article also pointed out a significant trend today. Knitting is enjoying a renaissance in the world of fashion. We are seeing more and more creative ideas expressed in knitwear. And simultaneously progressive companies are “turning the traditional model of purchasing fashion products on its head.”

So, I am hopeful all the talented individual knitters are aware that their collective dedication to this ancient craft is, like Mati’s on the little island of Fair Isle, not only keeping it alive but also helping to elevate it to an art form. And along the way providing opportunities for individuals to support themselves and their families.