When you think of top-quality knitwear, the legacy names likely first come to mind—from Loro Piana to Brunello Cucinelli. Perhaps even The Row, with its oversized blanket sweaters (opens new tab) and shrouding turtlenecks (opens new tab)You should be putting this one on your top list. It’s a reliable classic. When you turn to a Missoni or Marni, you know you’re getting pristine craftsmanship and will have a great sweater (Opens in new tab You can add to your collection. But the next generation of knitwear designers has arrived—and they don’t necessarily play by the old rules.
The most innovative knitwear brands are redefining the industry niche and pushing it in a more balanced, sometimes even unconventional direction. They don’t just make high-quality knits, but also ensure that ethical and sustainable practices are maintained and that the industry is listening to what they have.
Here are seven top knitwear stars. Learn how they are changing the scene and making it more reflective of the future you want.
Cherry and Home Phuangfueang know the past couple of years haven’t been easy. The grief, trauma, and constant upheaval, those ‘Incredibly exciting times’ and ‘New normals’—the Thai-American design duo is here to provide a reprieve from all that strife. “Clothing can be really emotional,” Cherry tells Maire Claire. “So an important aspect of our brand Nong Rak (opens in a new window) This was done to emphasize the tactile nature and therapeutic value of wearables in today’s digitalized and industrialized world.
The Phuangfueangs’ work is sentimental and reassuring—like a hug from your mom, assuaging your worries and letting you know everything will be alright. And the pieces produced by the married couple (Nong Rak is Thai for ‘young love’—How cute, right?) These pieces are like a balm for your soul. Fuzzy wool with a cotton candy-like texture; cocooning jumpers in colorful stripes, cozy scarves (Opens in a new tabYou will love bonnets that you can wrap around like a baby.
“Much of it,” Cherry explains, “is letting the materials tell the story first with details, like their colors and textures, paying homage to the animals the fibers are trimmed from, the sincerity of the design, etc., and how these can ultimately influence feelings in the wearer.” This thoughtful approach is best observed in the 2018-launched label’s mohair pieces, a combination of deadstock yarn and new wool spun from Angora goats. You perhaps saw the brand’s lively mohair pieces—think textured balaclavas, kinetic sweater dresses, and floppy berets—in a recent Spring 2022 collaboration with Heaven by Marc Jacobs (Opens in new tabThe internet devoured it like candy.
“We spend a lot of our time sourcing the best quality modern mohair yarns from small, U.S. farms with the well-being of the animals at the top of our priorities. We want to make sure our pieces are made from well-loved animals’ wool, and we hope that can be felt in the caressing qualities of our work,” says Cherry. “The process is very long,” chimes in Home, “and takes a lot of muscle since the garments have to be very carefully hand-teased and brushed,” explains the Bangkok-born designer, who does all the brand’s post-knitting production.
Despite having developed a recognizable brand code (a rare feat worth celebrating), don’t expect mohair wool to be all you see from Nong Rak. “We’re evolving with each step,” says Home, and spontaneity remains paramount for the couple. “The spontaneous, creative process of Nong Rak is a driving force and one of the main reasons why we’re so focused on hand-craft and sentimentality in our work,” describes Cherry. “And through experimentation, we slowly find directions that are most meaningful to us.”
Nong Rak Palette Knit Wool Sleeveless Hoody
Nong Rak Mohair Knit leg/Arm Warmer
“There’s a certain kind of honesty and sincerity with what we do, and I think it comes down to not just the craft, but the human hands behind the craft,” designer Lukhanyo Mdingi (Opens in new tab He explains that his tone is just as gentle as his words. Cape Town-based designer Mdingi was a joint recipient of the 2021 LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Prize. His presence in knitwear has made him a prominent figure for reminding people about the artisans behind his work. Mdingi does not want you to think that a perfectly made sweater can be made by a machine. He wants you to feel that his clothes are made with love by someone who is deeply connected to the work.
“The provenance and quality of craft and textiles are really important to us,” says the nominee for 2021 LVMH Prize. He draws significant inspiration from South Africa’s rich history in Merino wool production and Angora goat breeding. “More important than any other, I wanted to explore how I could bring that strong history in my culture to our clothing development.”
Mdingi’s humanist approach to luxury fashion feels subversive, considering that luxury fashion is a highly exclusive industry. It is rare to find incredible artisans that are committed to the spirit of craft as part of their tradition. It’s important to have this sentiment reflected in our brand because it reflects the essence of the fabric. He explains that it is bringing in human ingenuity, sensibility, and contemporary design.
While his South African heritage is a major part of his work, and the bulk of his clothing is handmade on the country’s eastern capes and western capess, the designer insists that the label isn’t confined to one region of the globe. “Our brand is international; We don’t pertain to one place of manufacturing,” he said, explaining that he partners with Italian producers for pieces that are more industrially produced.
Mdingi details: “With these partnership, our brand can achieve this hybrid that is not only refined, but also has an sincere and honest spirit which comes down the inherent craft element in knitwear.” It’s the collaborative spirit that I seek in our brand DNA as well as in our pieces.
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Lukhanyo Mdingi Wool-Silk Sweater Vest
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Lukhanyo Mdingi Colorblocked Wool-Silk Sweaterdress
The Roberta Einer (opens in a new window) Kylie Jenner is a woman. Megan Fox is her stylist and Jorja Smith is her hairdresser. She wears sweater dresses with rib-revealing cut-outs and flirty crochet mini skirts (opens in a new window) They are not the same granny squares that you are used to. Her style exudes unapologetic sex appeal. She’s also a sexy, confident woman. You—whoever that might be.
Marie Claire is told by Einer over Zoom that if you are open to experimentation, and have an interest in fashion, you can join the club. The University of Westminster and Central Saint Martins graduate smiles, “Our brand is meant for a variety of women: From Swedish girls who live in Atlanta to girls who travel to the French Riviera or party in Miami,” she said. “It’s for strong women who, when you look at them in our clothing—which has a lot of character— it doesn’t feel like it’s wearing them. They’re They are empowered by the clothing they wear. This is Roberta Einer’s perfect mix of all of it.
The London-based label has been around for six years, but it really began to attract its diverse and eclectic crowd of supporters in 2020. That was during the dark days when there was no way to escape the pandemic. The Estonian designer shares that social media helped to create a community of people who hoped for a better life following COVID.
Einer, who started her career at Alexander McQueen’s legacy house Balmain, has now mastered the art of Instagram dressing. You’ve Certain seen her signature Bianca gown (opens in a new window), a backless, asymmetrical knit number laced with sheer panels (opens new tab) You can see it all on your feed. Her work has more to it than just statement dresses for photo ops. It also carries an important and intentional theme.
“I’ve been working for a while to create a new style of sensual womenswear, primarily knitwear. It empowers me. Short, see-through and long, open-back dresses, colors and patterns that would otherwise feel kitsch or cheap, or what one would perhaps even think of as anti-feminist—in my head, I see it the opposite way,” the 30-year-old creative says. Einer claims that her provocative knit dresses and crochet tops help women find their power. “My idea behind [Roberta Einer] is that we’re selling a dream—a woman you could be; only then you realize you already are her.”
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Roberta Einer Bianca Knit Maxi Dress Violet
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Roberta Einer Angel Mini Dress
Yarn the color of a verdant forest floor, webbed knitting akin to a spider’s web, felted wool resembling a cocoon plucked freshly from a tree branch—perusing Lily Yeung’s (Opens in new tab It is evident that nature is an important theme in her work. Yeung says that her knitwear brand is inspired by organic shapes and lines she saw while walking in nature. She also recalls memories of water and earth interactions. But beyond just a point of influence, the London and Los Angeles–based designer intimately understands and respects the natural world.
Yeung, who is Navajo-Chinese and is of Chinese descent, said that material can be a repository for so many stories. They are a way to connect with a place or land, and to incite memory and emotion. So, letting the natural beauty of these materials—like naturally-dyed fibers and Navajo churro wool—influence my designs makes me feel more connected to the land. Yeung adds, “I believe that thoughtful choices about the materials can open up discussions around sustainability, indigenous histories and cultural significance surrounding them.”
Yeung believes that intention has been essential. Yeung was raised in fashion and used traditional Indigenous crafts and textiles to connect to her roots. She decided to concentrate her efforts on knitting after she became interested in crocheting during the pandemic. Lily Yeung was officially launched in 2021 by her.
Yeung has kept her brand’s emotional core intact with every collection. The self-taught knitter says that knitwear has a personal touch, and is more tactile than other forms of knitting. “The imperfections and subtle expressions left behind in the textiles give a soulfulness to a garment that makes it feel human—and people connect to that. In a fashion world that is saturated with options, it’s important to find something unique and authentic.
Lily Yeung Salt Water Gown
You know that life is not always what you expect. The old saying, “We plan, but God laughs,” is true. Aisling Camps (opens in a new window)This sentiment is very familiar to the founder of the knitwear brand eponymous. Camps was unable to make it in the fashion industry after years of persevering. In 2013, she decided to return to Trinidad. Even with two degrees under her belt—one in mechanical engineering from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology—the artist couldn’t secure a visa sponsorship to secure her stay in the United States.
She describes, “I had all these big dreams, but the circumstances forced me to take a detour.” Camps is grateful for all the unexpected twists and turns that life threw at her plans. “It taught me that I don’t have control over my life and forced me to accept it. She also shared that she was reintroduced as an adult to her country and culture and was able see the beauty and wonder of Trinidad in a completely new light.
But what can a knitwear designer do to adapt to the Caribbean climate? She explains that the Caribbean climate doesn’t require wool sweaters. I had the skill set to specialize in knitwear, and was able to help new clients who needed clothing for hot, humid climates. Also, we’re not a conservative bunch in the Caribbean—[my work] had to be sexy. It was a design viewpoint that focused on shocking knits with cut-outs, loosely-woven macrame and designed to flash skin.
Camps was able to win the green card lottery in 2014, and she returned to NYC shortly after launching her knitwear label. However, her second visit to the Big Apple was a success. Famous celebrities like Gabrielle Union and Cardi B began to notice her sexy sweaters. Aisling Camps was officially “It” after a collaboration with Pyer Moss, Kerby Jean Raymond’s Pyer Moss.
Camps tells Marie Claire, “Knitwear is so rich in history, but most of the material is European. Traditional knitwear designers tend stick to traditional shapes and stitch designs. But that never appealed much to me.” Even though she’s now based in Brooklyn’s Dumbo studio, where she still makes the majority of the brand’s crochet and macrame pieces by her hand, Trinidad is always top of mind. “Why make work that’s been done before, especially if I don’t have any cultural connection? That’s not exciting for me. I [want] You can try something new without having to conform to the existing rules. Supposed How to knit a sweater
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Aisling Camps Collarbone Cold Shoulder Shawl
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Top made of Kora Cutout Cotton-Blend.
Ambitious feels too small of a word to describe Copenhagen-based designer Nadia Wire (opens new tab). Central Saint Martins graduate and iconoclast, Peter Pilotto, Iris Van Herpen, and StineGoya are just a few of the big-league names on her resume. Marie Claire begins her conversation by saying, “I’ve always known that I wanted to become a fashion designer.”
The Danish designer explained that she wanted to create a brand in which the manufacturing was integrated into the brand’s structure. This would allow her to work closely with the production. Naturally, her solution was to create everything from scratch. “In 2020, before launching my brand, I established my own knitting factory, a team, and a production facility. “It was important that all aspects within the company worked together under one roof,” says the founder. Her brand’s clothing—think graphic sweater vests (opens in a new window), transparent ribbed dresses, and 3D-knit jacquard trousers—is all made-to-order in the Denmark-based factory.
Wire says that this careful production process reduces waste because eco-consciousness has been a core value of her label. However, she says that it is impossible to say that sustainable fashion collections are possible when you work in the fashion sector. She claims that just the fact of adding inventory to an already overloaded and over-produced system is antisustainable. However, she tries to minimize the brand’s impact.
When designing new collections, I always refer to my textile archive for inspiration. Wire explains that every collection is based upon something already in existence. She also says that no scraps are allowed as nothing is waste. “We also code and program all our fabrics directly to the knitting machine, which means every product comes out of the machine fully-fashioned”—or, in layman’s terms, without excess material.
Even though her brand is two years old, it’s astonishing how much Wire accomplished. She’s not yet satisfied. The knitwear entrepreneur has high hopes for her production facility to grow and her closed-loop manufacturing. She says she doesn’t know the future beyond that.
“I’m on a continuous knitting adventure that will continue in directions I can’t predict!” I not only want to pay homage to knitwear but also challenge it. Knitwear is an expansive concept and an adventure that can go beyond what exists. Fashion is fun if you don’t have any fun.”.
Nadia Wire Secret Stripes Dress
Nadia Wire Squiggle Trouser
In the colorful and kaleidoscopic world of Zankov (opens new tab)Minimalism doesn’t exist. Geometric prints that purposefully play a trick on your eye and five-shades-at-a-time color blocking reign supreme under founder Henry Zankov’s (opens in new window) purview. The knitwear label’s take of argyle is closest to neutral: A distorted, clown-ish and distorted diamond jacquard pattern in off-white and camel with black pops.
“I believe color has power to transform, so print can be its playground,” says the designer. He first discovered knitwear design at Donna Karan, Diane von Furstenberg and Edun. “By using natural fibers and yarns that are strong in color and pattern, I hope to establish a visual language.” [with Zankov] This has obvious recognition and longevity. And this, to me, can become timeless—something you always go back to as a foundation and then build upon that.”
Zankov was launched in 2019 and has established itself as a ready to wear brand. It values whimsy, quality craftsmanship, and, as you would expect from any luxury knitwear label. I prefer to work with small producers that are still family-owned and operated. The St. Petersburg-born designer describes the Alpaca Mill in Prato, Italy, their hand knitter based in Brooklyn, and the women’s cooperative located in the Lot region in France—who raise special heritage wool that we used in our Fall/Winter 20222 handknits,” Zankov details.
The FIT graduate has become a popular poster child for the dopamine-dressing movement in fashion. You can see his multicolored polo shirts, chunky and comfortable cardigans, as well as his tubular, Piet Mondrian-esque, tubular dresses that inspire hope.
According to the Russian-American designer, “Fashion has the power to affect how we feel.” “So when I feel happy about a color, or a silhouette, it is because I want others to feel that way.” [happiness] Also,
Slowly but surely, Zankov is making a capsule wardrobe of vibrant, easy-to-wear turtlenecks for maximalists. His investment ideas include: “What I love is knitwear is that it feels timeless, hand-touched, and precious. It’s like an heirloom.” “Creating something from just a few threads of yarn is an exciting process, with endless technical and visual possibilities.
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Zankov Kevin Paneled Jacquard-Knit Organic Cotton T-Shirt
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Zankov Antibes Striped Open-Knit Organic Cotton Mini Dress