Head Knitwear Designer Annie Lim on the Sweater That Started It All
September 21, 2018 | Filed in: Your Closet
Ever wonder what it’s like to specialize in a particular area of fashion design? We decided to sit down with our head knitwear designer, Annie Lim, and hear exactly how she developed her interest and expertise in all things knit. Read on to learn about her love of craftsmanship, the part of her job that feels like Christmas morning, and the one sweater from her teens that started it all.
ON GETTING INTO KNITS:
I didn’t devour Vogue at a young age or avidly follow fashion trends—I just really loved the craft of making clothing. I’ve always loved making things with my hands and I was a very crafty kid. My mom was a painter, so my brother and I were constantly doing art projects when we were growing up. From grade school onward, I was never particularly interested in schoolwork, but I was passionate about art class. In college, I knew I wanted to pursue art, but I wasn’t sure what medium interested me most. I knew how to sew, so I decided to give fashion design a try. I discovered that designing clothes was the perfect combination of technical skill and hands-on craftiness that I’d always loved.
I started to learn about knitwear through an intensive class that met for four hours every Sunday—so if it hadn’t been something I really wanted to learn, I definitely wouldn’t have stuck with it. I remember being surprised by how much I enjoyed the class: We were knitting using a machine that was a lot like a keyboard, and it was very technical, almost like playing an instrument. I loved that with knitwear, you’re engineering where the actual fibers of the yarn are coming together, so every stitch has to be deliberate. If I wanted one part of the garment to be more stretchy than another, I could knit that section with a different type of yarn—essentially designing the garment from the fiber level. Having so much control over how a piece came out was such a rewarding challenge.
ON THE TINY DETAILS:
I don’t think people realize just how many details go into even the most basic knitwear piece. To start, I’ll sit down and sketch a lot of ideas all at once and then consolidate and refine them. When I’m doing this, I have a certain yarn in mind for each piece, and I’m already thinking about the types of stitches that will work for the texture I’m going for. For instance, if you’re trying to design the perfect chunky sweater, you first have to find the right yarn to create the body you’re going for. Then you have to manipulate the yarn through the right stitch pattern. It’s so exciting when something you dreamed up on paper is going through the final fitting stages. Both the artistic and technical sides come together in the end, and what started as a drawing becomes something that will hang in someone’s closet.
ON THE SWEATER SHE’LL NEVER FORGET:
The majority of my childhood was spent in Florida. Florida is not exactly ideal sweater territory and probably seems like a weird place to fall in love with knits. In high school, I got my first job working in a boutique at the mall. I remember walking around on a break and going into a store and seeing a sweater on the mannequin that I immediately wanted to try on. It was slightly oversized, ivory wool cable-knit, super chunky and absolutely perfect. It also cost several hundred dollars and was wildly impractical for a 15-year-old in Florida. I would go visit it for weeks until I had saved up all my money from my paychecks, and the second I could afford it, I marched right up to the sales associate and handed her the cash. I wore that sweater for my school picture on one of the hottest days of the year, looking wildly out of place amid my shorts-clad classmates, with a giant smile on my face.
Looking back, it’s really cool to be on the design side of the emotional experience that people have with clothing. Now, I can identify the specific and very intentional design elements of that sweater that made me feel the way I did when I saw it as a teen. I didn’t know then that it was a heavy gauge wool funnel neck sweater, or that it had slightly belled sleeves and was purposely oversized so it could be worn in a tunic style. I did know, however, that I really, really loved it. That experience is what I strive to give to anyone who purchases a knitwear garment from us. Whether or not our customer is aware of every tiny stitch or fabric choice, or how many iterations the design went through, I want her to put on one of our knits and have that inexplicable emotional connection to it—where, whether or not she can put her finger on why, she just feels incredible.
ON THAT “CHRISTMAS MORNING” FEELING:
My favorite part of the design process is getting prototypes. I work a lot with overseas seamstresses, and we’ll create a digital package to send to them containing all of the details of our designs, the stitching, and fabric suggestions, and they create the final product. We put all of these ideas and time and work into these packages, and then we have to wait for them to send over a prototype—it’s like waiting for Christmas morning as a child. Finally, the prototypes will come back, and you get a box with all of these samples of your designs. It’s the first point in the process where you’re seeing a design fully come to life and exist as a garment and not just a sketch—it’s magical. The first time Miyako and my team see a piece on a fit model, there’s this moment where we’ll look at each other and all just kind of grin, like “Wow, this is amazing.”
With knitwear, it’s all about the experience. Throughout the design process, you’re making decisions with the end goal that a customer puts on your garment and has this immediate reaction of ‘Oh, it’s so cozy’ or ‘It’s so warm’ or ‘It’s so soft.’ We want our pieces to give her that feeling of strength or power or confidence, and we worry about every detail so that she doesn’t have to ever think about any of it.
I totally geek out when I see people wearing our knits. I love to see how our stylists and our customers pair our knitwear with other pieces and how the styles are working on various body types or in different dress codes. Besides being a total dork about the technical elements of knitwear, I really love the versatility. I get so excited seeing these pieces work nicely for such different scenarios, lifestyles, and working environments. Even though I’ve been in this industry for many years now, it’s still crazy to me how these beautiful pieces start with an idea, simple sketching, and some thread.
Searching for a sweater you’ll never forget? Shop our latest knitwear pieces here.
Photographs by Yan Ruan.