At Maker’s Mgmt we love to support the independent Makers, those busting their buns to make beautiful things with skilful hands. But more than just peddling their handsome creations at Maker’s Mrkt, we want to share with you the passionate people behind the product.
Our first Meet the Maker features New Zealander Nicole Leybourne, the tiny but mighty woman behind the Knitter. Unlike any hand-knitted jumpers we’ve ever seen, her’s are generous in fit; both sculptural and voluminous, yet sweet and adorable as the maker herself. We got to know Nicole, discovered a carefree spirit with a curious mind and uncovered the secret to her woolly empire’s success.
Tell us a bit about your creative background and how you became interested in knitting.
I bought a yellow, hand-knitted jumper. It made me feel so happy so I decided to teach myself how to knit and make woolly things too. I felt so inspired that I could make something with my own hands. I trawled through hours of YouTube videos to learn the craft. The first jumper I made I didn’t end up sewing it together because I felt it wasn’t really worth it; the four knitted shapes that are supposed to be a jumper, are still sitting neglected in a box somewhere. I’d like to think my knitting has since improved.
We’re surprised to find that you are a mostly self-taught knitter. Do you think being curious has been an important part of your development as a maker and a business?
I definitely think being a curious person has helped me. Also, being naive to how frustrating running a business can be has helped too. Not really knowing about the tricky or boring bits before you begin can be really helpful. It forces you to just work through things along the way. My dad is wired really similarly, and his desire to create, along with his natural ability to make something with his own hands, is part of my DNA.
Supporting small communities and a slower pace of life is important to you, can you tell us more about why this is and did growing up in NZ shape you?
A few times a year my family and I would escape south to the Hawkes Bay. We would pick berries in the summer, visit the local honey factory and swim in scary-looking swimming holes. There were probably eels in there. The simplicity of this typical kiwi lifestyle has made me a more carefree person, which I feel has influenced the fact that I don’t want to get so caught up in the dramas of the world. I know we cannot escape what is going on, or turn a blind eye, but I want to keep my business model as simple as possible, work with and support kind people and stay happy and carefree too. I do want my business to be like skipping through fields of daisies most of the time.
Earlier this year the Knitter. saw you flying to the most fast-paced city place in the world – New York. Can you tell us a bit about what happened there and how you found it – energising or exhausting?
Considering NY is such a contrast to the comforts and slow pace of New Zealand life, I thought I would hate it. But I loved it and never wanted to leave. The people were so kind and helpful, there was none of this tall poppy syndrome thing going on, and people would just stop and chat on the street. Being able to step out at four in the morning and grab a bagel or a slice of pizza was mine and my sister’s favourite thing to do. And sitting on a fire escape with wine, listening to the rubbish trucks drive by in the early hours of the morning too. Apart from that, I met with Vogue and the cool people at Harper’s Bazaar. I showed my knits to a few buyers and it wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be.
What’s keeping you busy at the moment?
Working with my team of new hand knitters, having them sample my patterns, adapting each pattern to suit each knitter, and chatting to them over the phone or via email. I love my knitters; they keep me busy.
What’s next for the Knitter. – any long term/short term goals you can share with us?
I really need to get onto my Vogue feature sooner rather than later. I also really want to have my knits stocked at my favourite little shop in NY and Paris, so I need to work on that. I’m just currently working on finding really clever hand knitters to get behind me and help me fulfil my larger online retail requests. That’s my main drive right now. Upscaling, but not too much. Small enough where I can still visit my knitters and have chats over the phone, but big enough to actually be able to save a few dollars here and there.
What advice would you give other skilled makers who want to make their passion a business?
Perseverance and patience. Keep perfecting your art, work hard at it when you can, but don’t get too caught up in it either, you still need to have a life outside of what you do. If it is meant to be, it will happen in its own time. Most importantly, be kind to people and never think you are better than anyone else because that’s not nice.
Being humble and living simply – is this the secret to your woolly empire’s success?
I think so. I’m not really sure why it’s taken off this year, but I like to think that my knits just make people happy when they wear them. If so, this makes me super happy and then everyone can skip through fields of daisies together.