Setting up a knitwear company was never my plan
I thought I would let you know how I began.
In 1952 my dad (aged sixteen), found a knitted hat in the bilges of a boat while sailing off the north coast of Scotland. It was covered in oil and dirt, he took it home, washed it and wore it for the next 67 years.
When growing up I was always keen on sewing and knitting, so whenever dad had a hole in his hat, I would fix it. This started when I was about ten, as you can see, it took a while to hone my darning skills. I started off knitting patches and sewing them to the inside before I realised you could weave a darn through the existing knit.
At the age of 15 having decided I was going to art school, and keen on my image, dad's hat really fitted my look. Much to his annoyance I would steal it and wear it. This caused arguments and I was told to find my own hat. I searched all over Glasgow - nowhere sold a hat like this. I loved the simplicity of this hat.
Current hat still using the same pattern from 25 years ago
My dad – Cameron Gordon
A few years later, I was home in Scotland for the weekend while studying for an MA in millinery at the Royal College of Art. Mum and dad were out and a bag of jumble sale stuff had been left for collection. A lady arrived, looked in the bag and was delighted to see lots of knitted jumpers. Vilma had just finished a technical machine knitting course in Glasgow. I grabbed my dad’s hat and asked if she could replicate it. She said it was very easy and would take about half an hour. Vilma came round the next morning with a perfect replica of dad’s hat. That moment was the starting point of my company. Vilma introduced me to a yarn wholesaler in Glasgow and she started knitting the hats. I would sell them at lunchtime in the Royal College of Art canteen to help pay rent - they sold like hot cakes.
Vilma knitted for me for the next ten years along with her team of friends from the Technical Knitting College. The hats were selling all over the world including Barneys New York, Liberty London, and across Japan. Eventually Vilma and her colleagues could no longer meet demand, and I moved production to a knitting mill - but Vilma carried on knitting samples and special pieces.
Kiss of Death – V&A permanent collection
When I left The Royal College of Art, my millinery continued alongside my knitted hats. I was making couture hats for Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, Thierry Mugler, Hussein Chalayan, and the V&A Museum acquired one of my couture hats for their permanent collection. The knitwear and the millinery businesses grew. Life became very stressful with a lot of travel and very little sleep. Something had to give. I loved the knitwear more. I loved working with wool. I loved the people I was working with, and the history and heritage of wool, and Scottish knitwear. It was part of where I was from. The knitwear prevailed and the rest is history.