Lithuania isn’t necessarily the first country that pops into mind when thinking about fashion. Neither is knitwear. The Knotty Ones, a brand built by three fierce Lithuanian ladies, is shining a positive light on the Baltics. Whilst helping the environment, empowering women and making knitwear reimagined hit the streets again, all at once. Their positive energy and the brand’s effortless design philosophy captivated us, so we reached out to help figure what makes the Baltic practice of knitting so sought-after. Also, anyone who has experienced winter in Northern Europe, you’d really appreciate these ladies making knitwear stylish again.
Words: Aleksandra Medina
Who is behind the Knotty Ones? How did your journey creating the Knotty Ones begin?
We are three best friends. A tiny bit more than 3 years ago, we had a hard time finding an ethically made knit that felt stylish and modern. So we set out to create a line ourselves and turned this into a social business, helping to empower women in rural areas in Lithuania where jobs are extremely scarce. At the moment, I’m based in New York, Akvile in Lithuania, and Sandra in Bali. All our knitters are from small villages and towns around Lithuania. So it's really a global team effort.
You describe the look of your brand as ‘model-off-duty’. Why?
We are very much inspired by simple functional designs and always prioritise quality. As a result, we noticed that because of our aesthetic, a big portion of our clients just happen to be models that wear our knits ‘off-duty’. In general, we are big believers that you don't need to be a model to wear a knit. Or any specific type of clothing, for that matter. We, women, come in all shapes and sizes. ‘Model-off-duty’ really applies more to our simple, functional aesthetics, rather than the type of person wearing it.
Today, most people would name high-end brands, like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and similar, if asked to describe who dictates fashion. Do you see the society changing the perception of what fashion is?
The landscape and cycles of fashion are changing rapidly, especially with the rise of social media. Indeed for years, you had big fashion houses dictating the trends and clear fashion cycles. However, fast-fashion brands developed the model where they can copy the looks and trends seen on the runways in as little as few weeks, and ship those clothes to stores globally. The new, trendy-for-one-season items hit the stores each and every week. Sadly, this is taking a toll on both exploited garment workers around the world and environment. Fashion has become disposable.
How can the new ‘it’ brands be the ethical fashion brands?
For some, it's no longer about that iconic Chanel bag you keep for years and pass to other generations, but rather having 5 cheaper, low-quality bags each season. And that's what we are rebelling against as a brand. We want to celebrate people creating our clothes. We want to make it personal. It took someone hours to create that sweater you are currently wearing, so it shouldn't be tossed away lightly after a few wears and washes. For that reason, we focus on garments that are timeless and will last you for years, as opposed to one wash. The clothes you wear should empower people making them, as opposed to exploiting them. However, I certainly witness a shift. Consumers become more and more educated. It's up to them to demand transparency from their brands when it comes to production, materials, labor, etc.
"The clothes you wear should empower people making them, as opposed to exploiting them."
What makes the Baltic practice of knitting so unique?
It's a centuries-long tradition that has brought generations together throughout times of war, occupation and peace in Lithuania. It has always been very much inspired by geometric motifs throughout patterns, as well as our Pagan heritage (natural materials, symbols of the sun, thunder, wind, earth etc.).
Do you see knitwear changing its reputation and aesthetically turning into something more contemporary? Why so?
For many years, knitwear has been considered something granny-ish. It's a constant challenge we face every day. We want to prove that ethically made clothing can be contemporary. I feel like a common misconception about ethical knitwear and clothing, in general, is that it's not stylish, and comes down to something you would wear while backpacking in India. We want to prove that it can indeed feel fresh and stylish. Something that a millennial would reach for.
"In a way, we saw our knitters as rebels, too — these women no longer wanted to rely on their men for financial stability as previous generations did."
What is the public’s reaction to a slow-fashion brand in Lithuania? Are people ready to pay more in the name of ethics and quality?
Some, not all. Perhaps for this reason, Lithuania is not our core market. That being said, it's our job as a clothing producer to educate consumers. For many consumers, it's really not about being anti slow fashion, but rather about not realising what impact clothes you wear every day can have on other human beings in the fashion supply chain.
How do you scout the women working for you?
When we initially started looking for knitters with the goal of creating cool modern knits, we posted a few ads in local newspapers in Lithuania. To our surprise, women that applied for our job listings weren’t grandmothers (as we expected them to be), but rather young, stay-at-home moms in rural areas where jobs are extremely scarce. Yes, they wanted financial independence from their husbands, but also they wanted to be able to provide for their families themselves. In a way, we saw our knitters as rebels, too — these women no longer wanted to rely on their men for financial stability as previous generations did. It all happened naturally.
Our knitters now have a network and most of the new team members come by referral from existing knitters, which helps us ensure knitting proficiency. But if there is anyone that wants to join our knitter team, the best way would be to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.