We Are Upstate NY with ELEVEN SIX Knitwear Founder Catherine Carnevale
Welcome to INSIDE+OUT Upstate NY’s exclusive new interview series: UPSTATE STYLE, where you’ll meet the designers, entrepreneurs, creators, and the myriad talented “fashionistas” who call the Hudson Valley home. And who better to launch this series than Hudson Valley local, British fashion designer and entrepreneur Catherine Carnevale, creator of the elevated ELEVEN SIX brand.
Local INSIDE+OUT contributor, Nandini Austin, recently interviewed Catherine about her successful fashion journey, which began with her focus on Fashion Textiles at the prestigious Central Saint Martins in London, then Knitwear at the University of Brighton. Her distinguished career included designing for iconic brands such as Calvin Klein, Anne Klein and Club Monaco. Today, Catherine graces us with her beautiful knitwear collections and welcoming studio in Kingston, NY’s prestigious Fuller Building.
Read on for a peek behind the scenes with Catherine Carnevale as we learn about her fabulously feminine brand ELEVEN SIX, and how she chose to work with highly skilled artisans in Peru to craft products of uncompromised quality and beauty. And, of course, her take on the joy of living and working in the Hudson Valley.
Inside+Out: Tell us about yourself: Where were you born and how did you wind up in the Hudson Valley?
Catherine Carnevale: I was born in a town called Grantham (where Maggie Thatcher was from!), in England. I studied Fashion Textiles at Central Saint Martin’s in London. I then did a Knitwear degree at Brighton University before moving to NYC straight after graduating to seek work as a knitwear designer. Since moving to New York in 2002, I have designed knitwear for Calvin Klein, Anne Klein and Club Monaco, where my last role was Senior Director of Knitwear before starting my Brand, ELEVEN SIX. We lived in Brooklyn and worked in the city for 15 years, during which my husband, Nick, and I often enjoyed visiting Upstate NY on weekend trips. Soon after our first child was born, we bought a weekend house in Stone Ridge to have more space and work-life balance. Later, this became our full-time home in the Summer of 2017 after our second child was born. We’ve not looked back. We love living in the Hudson Valley full time and have been particularly grateful we lived here during these past two difficult pandemic years.
Where did you get the inspiration to start your business and what was your journey?
The inspiration and epiphany were born on a trip to Peru in 2014. Pregnant at the time and feeling a powerful sense of life change within, I saw before me the incredible artisanship and the exquisite fiber of alpaca animals. I had the vision to create a knitwear collection focused on working with artisan groups in Peru using yarn and material from its source. I wanted to work more consciously and ethically and know where my work was coming from, which was different from production in my previous corporate career–which was on a more mass, untraceable scale. I started planning the Brand and collection straight after the trip and launched our first Fall collection at Market in February 2015, leaving my corporate job soon after that. We are now seven years young since the launch.
Tell us about your clothing line and what makes it unique?
We exclusively produce ethical knitwear collections made by artisan groups in Peru. As I mentioned above, we focus on the fiber of alpacas as our material of choice. I don’t know that I can say we are entirely unique, but we do try to create knitwear products that feel special. We are known for our novelty hand knits and patterns that stand out in the marketplace. Some of our most unique styles are collaborations we’ve done with working artists such as a local Hudson Valley artist, Corinne Robbins, and a Tel Aviv artist, Shira Bazilay, an abstract line artist. We have the artisan maker sign the hanging label tags with an edition number for our handmade items to pass on some handcrafted love back to the new owner
The fashion industry is thought to be glamorous – how do you feel about that statement?
The glamour comes from polished photoshoots, fashion shows and Instagram feeds, which as a small brand, I get to enjoy an element of when creating our look books and campaign images. It’s a moment of creative escape when it all finally comes together, but this is a small slice of it all. Being a small brand, we’re involved in the whole 360 degrees of the operation. Many aspects are not glamorous but are essential operations for brand execution, like jostling and packing hundreds of boxes at wholesale shipping and then designing a collection the next day (or night). And production planning, doing technical instructions for the artisan to follow, production quality control, and pitching our weekly marketing concepts before hopping back into the serenity of our store to help a customer find the perfect knitwear for themselves. Any small brand, particularly in fashion, has to be a jack of all trades! I have always enjoyed the mix of all aspects, but when you know everything that goes on behind the scenes, glamor is the smoke and mirrors of fashion.
ELEVEN SIX 2022 SPRING | SUMMER COLLECTION
Who has been your biggest fashion influencer or icon?
I am a big fan of heritage 70s styling combined with some 90s minimalism. Sonia Rykiel, for me, was an iconic queen of knitwear. I adore what she created in the 70s with the head-to-toe tonal and monochrome sweater dressing, which greatly influenced the DNA of ELEVEN SIX. I love to draw inspiration from authentic roots and give a contemporary twist. I now realize that my late mum’s style significantly influenced my styling. She had an old-school way of dressing that leaned towards the 70s: long pleated skirts or a midi pencil with a coordinated blouse or sweater, often in a head-to-toe tonal color of bold purple, pink or cornflower blue. Although I thought it was old-fashioned and dated growing up, this feeling is so in vogue now! My mum would always dress smartly, even when running a quick supermarket errand. I believe this sensibility to always care about your appearance is subconsciously ingrained in me and how I design.
What is one question you’re constantly asked or what’s the biggest misconception about your business?
Now that I have my own brand, I am often told how wonderful it must be to “own” my creativity and design vision. While it’s important, design is a small portion of the time required to create three collections a year. That comes to around 100 designs each year. The entire process must be incredibly focused and efficient as the overall business operations demand much attention. I thank my corporate training and experience for teaching me the skill of planning a calendar and executing it. However, even if I am not always sketching my designs as regularly as people might imagine, every day, as a small brand, requires you to be a creative, nimble thinker. There’s always a design concept being developed in the back of my mind.
As a designer, do you feel the fashion industry still stereotypes women to be tall and thin? What approach do you take to make your clothes accessible to all?
Despite much more diversity showing up in fashion, slim models are still predominately portrayed. While we also use slim models, we try to make sure they are relatable in our collections and to our customers. We have a monthly series called ELEVEN SIX WOMEN. We feature a more diverse profile of women, sizes, and ages outside of a lookbook shoot which I feel is a broader showcase of women wearing and enjoying ELEVEN SIX. The nature of knitwear is very versatile to body size and shape, so when designing, I aim to present a range of styles and proportions that can suit a broad spectrum of sizes and ages. We were thrilled this past pre-Spring 2022 when Nordstrom asked us to do extended sizing. We couldn’t make the minimum orders for our own business until that point. More extended sizing or suited styles is something we want to offer more of, and we realize this is a small start. The retail store was a big part of wanting to hear directly from the customer about their needs.
What impact does your business have on your community?
I employ local people from the community where I can. I am also involved with SUNY and Marist’s fashion courses, having done industry presentations, acting as a brand case study, judging their graduating class presentations, and mentoring a few interns within our brand.
The Fuller Building (in Kingston, NY) has a very engaged small business community. We are collaborating to host a Fuller Market three times a year. As an “off the beaten track” retail business, we hope to provide something special for people to enjoy: a unique experience and one-on-one service, especially during the pandemic when in-person activity diminished.
What are future plans for ELEVEN SIX?
We want to develop more of our direct sales business and further grow our menswear and homeware line–and potentially children’s wear down the line. I also plan on the growth and expansion of our newly launched artisan give-back initiative. Another goal is to develop the presence of our store on the Upstate circuit and to have more collaborative brand events to create a reason to visit our retail store and the Fuller Building.
Tell us more about your give-back program and the company’s sustainable initiatives?
We launched our GIVE-BACK initiative last September, where we allocate a percentage of our online sales (between the peak selling period of September-February), to be donated back to our Peruvian artisan-makers to support their businesses, workshop development, educational and welfare needs.
ELEVEN SIX uses materials and yarns at the source of our manufacturing to reduce our carbon footprint. Our manufacturing is predominantly in Peru, thus using Peruvian alpaca yarns for our Fall/Winter collection and Peruvian Pima cotton for Spring/Summer. We promote the use of Alpaca yarn that is natural, sustainable, eco-friendly and ethical. We work with two prestigious Peruvian Mills that commit to achieving the highest sustainability standards and care for the animals during shearing. Both mills are fair-trade certified.
We strive to be as thoughtful and responsible as possible in our approach to design and development. Our collections are timeless designs–pieces to be worn throughout seasons and potentially generations. Although our collections have a modern feel, we reject the notion that fashion is disposable and a seasonal trend. We design carefully and efficiently, usually adopting and producing almost all styles we prototype. Our bulk production is crafted to-order to prevent additional waste and surplus. To avoid yarn wastage, we predominantly use stock service yarns, and where possible, we up-cycle any dead stock, reusing unsold pieces into new developments. Last year we committed to shipping our products using 100% compostable poly bags. Trade regulations require that each production product must be packed in a polybag. By using compostable bags, we can reduce landfill and the negative impacts of decomposing plastics.
Our latest initiative is planting a tree for each order. ELEVEN SIX has partnered with One Tree Planted https://onetreeplanted.org/ organization to plant a tree for each online order in the Andes region close to our Brand’s knitwear production.
ELEVEN SIX is continuously striving to improve our sustainable efforts and standards. We are not perfect, and ‘reducing our impact’ is a work in progress. We want to be as transparent as possible about our sustainable developments, like the Andes mountain-scape that inspired us to start our Brand. The task is vast, and as our Brand evolves, we must keep climbing the mountain of sustainability and be responsible for our actions for the planet’s future!
What is missing in the area (or town) that you wish we had?
Japanese baths or hot baths–somewhere to engage in the baths and steam room culture during the fiercely cold Upstate winter. However, I am particularly excited that Alexis Arvidson, an acupuncturist in the Fuller Building, is opening a bigger space with a by appointment sauna facility!
What are your must-have items in your wardrobe?
Sweater knit sets and head-to-toe tonal looks are a must! I’d go for a pull-on tube skirt with a cozy matching sweater in winter, and I’ll pop on a strappy knitted pleated cami and skirt set that you can dress up or down with ultimate refined comfort in spring. If I am not wearing an ELEVEN SIX knit set, you’ll find me in a pair of ecru pants or jeans to style my sweaters, with a white boot or slide. I do unapologetically wear ELEVEN SIX every day! 😊
Can you share your favorite Spring/Summer trends?
Knit sets and head-to-toe monochrome are a big trend for Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Crochet is also another big trend. My approach to crochet is to use heritage stitches and keep it feeling clean and modern in pattern, color, and proportion. In this Spring’s collection, we have the Tia crochet tunic brought back from the archives of a past collection and worn by Princess Caroline of Monaco in Saint Tropez, which felt very apt with our collection concept of “Cote D’azur Dreaming.”
Tell us something about yourself people might be surprised to learn?
I used to be a competitive table tennis player in my teens (only county standard but would play in many tournaments). I still love a racquet sport today!
Name three things you always have in your fridge.
Outside of food: Ginger (for my morning hot water), Whole milk (for my in-house barista husband to make me a Cappucino), and Athletic Greens formula (a foundational nutrition source).
What would be your dream Hudson Valley Staycation?
I think an escape to the newly opened INNESS in the Spring/Summer (once the spa opens) would be an amazing combination of so many beautiful things!
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ELEVEN SIX | SHOP ONLINE HERE
Monday – Saturday By Appointment Only
Open first Saturday of Every Month 11 am – 5 pm
45 Pine Grove Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401