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Cream of the crop: Welcome to plant based knitwear

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Georgina Wilson-Powell

16 October 2017

Kate Morris conjures primary coloured, pop art clothes out of her knitting machine a little like a 3D printer can create an object out of layers of stringed plastic. Welcome to the world of knitting as engineering, where flatpack designs are weaved into award-winning fashion collections.

Don’t be scratching your heads about plant-based knitwear. The path to ethical fashion is rife with haute couture hurdles. For many vegans, wearing wool doesn’t sit right with caring about animal welfare, whereas plant-based (in this case organic cotton and bamboo), can be grown sustainably, quickly and without harm. It’s then knitted using a machine and voila, awesome low-impact knitwear.

CROP's designer Kate Morris has taken several concepts - a love of pop art, an appreciation of knitting, a desire to create less waste and wanting to create a vegan-friendly collection and come up with something that’s eye-popping and feels like a new spin on ethical fashion. The guys behind the EcoChic Design Awards certainly thought so too, they awarded her first prize for her fry-up and pick and mix inspired range made from completely from textile waste, this summer.

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Morris won first prize at the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition in Hong Kong

After training in fine art, Morris realised she wanted to do more than just create, she wanted to help restore some of the balance in the fashion industry, spurred into action by the Rana Plaza disaster, which was a pivotal wake up call for many young fashion designers. She combined that with her knitting hobby as the platform to make clothes that do less damage to the world.

Her take on sustainable fashion is one that’s inspired by post modern pop art, cheeky culture references and she injects a sense of style and fun into her clothes, that many don’t associate with fashion that does good.

“Sustainable fashion has the image of being a bit beige and hempy which is something I want to challenge,” she explains.

The bright colours she uses are something that Morris feels strongly about. Like all ethical fashion brands, the process to becoming totally sustainable isn’t an easy or a quick one, each brand has to find the points where they can and can’t compromise. 

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Morris' sketchbooks share a love of pop culture as well as eco fashion

What’s a minimal seam?

Where CROP is really clever is in its low-waste concept. Whilst doing a Fashion Knitwear Design MA, Morris became inspired by the minimal seam movement, which reimagines clothes as some kind of flatpack engineering problem - imagine trying to create a 3D product out of a single piece of fabric with as few seams as possible.

“There’s no cutting in minimal seam work. It increases production efficiency and you knit it all at once, so less seams, less chance of it coming apart. The clothes last longer and are easier to deconstruct once they’ve reached the end of their life,” says Morris. “Plus less seams means more comfort, so this technique is often used in sportswear.”

Because the dimensions and shapes are worked out into one piece of fabric, there’s minimal waste.

“We have tiny tiny amounts of waste with machine knitting, the machine casts on a bit of knitting first but that’s about it,” she explains. “ I did a tiny project where I collected all my waste of offcuts of yarn and made a stuffed pom pom knitted tube with all my waste but mostly the tiny scraps go into recycling.”

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CROP's care labels are knitted into the clothes to save on extra material

Taking it one step further, her CROP clothes have the care labels knitted into the clever jacquard designs, giving the wearer washing instructions and a handy reminder of where her clothes are made. It’s important to Morris that her clothes are low-impact, both in the production process and after they’re sold, so no micro-plastic particles will get washed into the sea and her pieces aren’t just seasonal but adaptable, enabling the wearer to mix and match them as layers for continual use.

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Gorgeous modern jackets will see you through the seasons at CROP

CROP is also vegan friendly as Morris doesn't use wool. While many imagine knitting and yarn to only relate to wool, knitwear can be made with a range of plant-based fibres, many of which Morris tried out before settling on bamboo and organic cotton. She’s also looking at using alternative fibres like nettles in the future to make her clothes even more sustainable.

“There’s research going on at the moment at De Montfort university in the UK because nettles could be the next cotton,” she says. “Nettles can be grown everywhere quickly, they don’t need any fertiliser, can even be grown on waste land. Nettles fibres aren’t available in bright colours yet but it’s early days.”

Tencel is also on her radar for the future. A much-lauded eco-fibre, Tencel is made from eucalyptus trees which can be grown on low grade land and are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

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Crop's dresses are knitted as tubes then fitted to the customer

As part of her prize from EcoChic, Morris is spending the next few months in Hong Kong working on collaborations with other ethical fashion brands and focusing launching her CROP collection properly next year. The future's definitely bright for this one.

Discover other people passionate about ethical fashion in the pebble pod

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