Interviewed in London in November 2016
Cats Brothers is an award winning ready-to-wear luxury knitwear/street-wear label with a crafted approach to design, specialising in knitwear techniques and a sense of humour.
Lindsay; Cats Brothers is four years old; we launched on Day of the Dead, 1st November 2012. The tagline for the brand is ‘clothes that are as fun to wear as they are to make’.
At the time, myself and co-founder Anna were working for a textile design company, researching vintage prints. On a trip to Hungary, we came across a surreal and bizarre piece of art in a warehouse. It was a painting of two demented looking, cross-eyed cats, like cat fan art – with ‘Cats Brothers’ painted in a skater font. We realised at once it had mystical significance so we took it home and kept it. It was so amazing that it went on to become our logo. In addition to the painting, the first collection ‘Crazy Homies’ was inspired by our favourite bar in Westbourne Grove, with a California/Latino vibe, all 90’s hip hop and tacos; Snoop Dogg and Mexicana. Anna and I used to drink margheritas there and plan the fantasy knitwear collection we’d like to do, utilising all the knitwear skills we’d trained in.
We poured all our creativity into Crazy Homies, and held a launch party alongside a jeweller friend who made embellished skulls. We went to town on every single thing because we weren’t thinking about production, just how cool it was all going to look.
A journalist friend gave us a list of press emails and fortunately, someone from British Vogue turned up at the launch party and loved the collection. So much so, that we were invited to Vogue House, to show the collection. A week after that we were in Browns Focus showing to the buyers there and they wanted to know prices.They placed a big order and repeat ordered quite quickly. That first collection was well received and we got a lot of international interest, as being stocked in Browns equals kudos.
My background is knitwear design at Winchester School of Art, then working for a number of different companies in Belgium, New York and London. I would recommend anyone to gather as much varied experience in the industry before setting up your own business – I worked in various small, independent businesses from retail to restaurants as a student and in early days of my career, and then later for textile design studios and small fashion labels, which allowed me a great insight into the overall variety of skills and work ethic required.
I’d always done side projects for fun and I had a ‘side project/day job’ ethos. Originally, Cats Brothers was a creative outlet, and I wasn’t thinking of it as a serious business proposition. I’d worked in a lot of companies but I didn’t know much about production schedules, sales, and budgeting as I’d always been on the creative side, so with Cats Brothers I was learning it all as I went along and that’s been the story ever since.
Looking back, we timed it really well; ‘90s rappers were trending and the sports luxe movement was just about to start – so embellished sweaters were in demand. Generally, the collections consist half of knits and half tees, sweaters and accessories plus a few bits of outerwear and maybe a denim jacket. Everything we do is made to order for wholesale – we don’t carry stock ourselves. Our bestseller is probably the embellished sweaters.
I gather inspiration from music and pop-culture references with some fun and humour thrown in. It’s generally some current fixation that I have at the time, for example the SS17 collection began after binge-watching This is England, film and then all series and re-living that whole skinhead street culture I remember from the early 80’s which led to a fixation on the photography of Gavin Watson. As I’m not a fashion designer I don’t design with a piece of clothing in mind I’m more about surface design and technique and hand made finish with an element of craft to it.
Cats Brothers is a small business and it’s self-funded; I don’t have investors. I don’t have many overheads and I have another job in a textile design studio two days a week and I keep the two roles very separate.
Now we’re getting to the point where I’ m being invited to do events like workshops or talks as our name gets out there. We featured at Design Week and we’ve done some fun collaborations recently – customising jeans in-store at Uniqlo, a new edition of Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit, and a shoot and launch party with style magazine Puss Puss. We also design a capsule collection exclusively for Selfridges and in the past we did a sister line called CATS BROS for Topshop.
I generally find that I am approached by people inviting me to collaborate with them in rather a formal way – they already have a project in mind, or they’re using a formulated way of collaborating which has worked for them in the past.
Having said that, there’s a collaboration in the pipeline with a label I have loved for years, which came about by a chance meeting at an event and some general, mutual appreciation! It’s a fantastic opportunity to join forces – if you enjoy working with other people as I do – and obviously broaden your customer base. It’s a good tip to make friends with other people doing the same. Other small business owners will offer you support, ideas, and hopefully recommendations as new problems/situations arise.
On a larger, more corporate scale, collaborations can be a good way to make some hard cash! (Although I feel somewhat that hasn’t happened for me yet). Even working for a large company isn’t necessarily very well remunerated – although it’s good PR value. At this stage it’s about networking and gaining exposure.
PUSS PUSS capsule collection AW16
My business partner Anna had to commit to more time elsewhere to make a living so I was doing more Cats Brothers than her. As the business took off our workload increased. She was also starting a family and so she’s no longer involved. I have interns who come in and help – often St Martin’s students as I have a friend who is a tutor there. I also have a very hands-on practical friend who came in and helps and I’ll also hire freelancers at busy periods.
The highlights so far include; a lot of support from the Scottish Fashion Awards and Scotland Re-Designed. Sara Maino from Vogue Italia supports me and she put me in upcoming designers in Vogue Talent in Italian Vogue, who funded me to showcase menswear at Pitti Uomo which was amazing.
My market is UK, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong – I have regular stockists and others who come and go. I’ve learned a lot, like thinking about the climate in Hong Kong and LA – I remember one AW collection which was way too heavy and I lost stockists. Other buyers will watch you and watch you and wait – they want you to prove yourself for a few seasons before they’ll buy from you.
We sometimes sell on our own website but it’s difficult to drive traffic, so we concentrate on wholesale. Instagram is a good tool – people get in touch asking to buy and you’ll see people spread the word by tagging their friend in the comments. When Pandora Sykes instagramed herself trying on one of our jackets in a shop the other day we got 500 new followers.
My advice to anyone starting their own thing is; it’s tough but there’s nothing more satisfying than having your own business and being your own boss. I might not have any free time, but I have the freedom to do whatever the hell I want and that’s more important than earning a lot of money. And I do something that I’m proud of.