Two white women with brown hair wearing sweaters

Meet Sustainable Sweater Brand, ELEVEN SIX!

Dec 6, 2021

We are thrilled to introduce you to Catherine Carnevale, Co-Founder & Creative Director of ELEVEN SIX in this Q&A interview! You’ll learn all about her brand, how she came up with the idea, how the clothing is designed/made, her experience opening & owning a store and more. After you read the interview, you’ll find some shoppable photos of some of our favorite ELEVEN SIX styles from their most recent collection! **Use code STYLETHATBINDSUS15 for 15% off on their website

Tell us about ELEVEN SIX!

We are an ethically produced knitwear brand. Made in Peru by artisan-knitters and designed in Upstate NY. We focus on the eco-friendly and natural fiber of alpaca as it has incredible qualities and it is right at the source of our production. ELEVEN SIX offers an effortless, yet elevated approach to knit dressing. As a mother, wife, and entrepreneur, I design for the modern woman in need of a versatile and timeless wardrobe to suit a lifestyle of work, travel and play.

What led you to start ELEVEN SIX?

The brand was conceived while pregnant with my first child. I was in Peru, in the Andes mountain on a trip with my husband (also brand co-founder) when the epiphany happened for the brand. I felt a strong desire to create change for myself and the way I worked knowing I had a big change ahead becoming a Mother and wanted to have more control over my working time by being my own boss. I knew I had a desire for entrepreneurship and the catalyst happened in this time, in this place, I saw before me incredible artisan skill and fell in love with the beauty of alpaca yarn. I knew I wanted to create knitwear through and from this source. At the time ‘sustainable’ wasn’t a buzzword and I wanted to do something that was “thoughtfully created” as well as know and trace where my direct work was going.

Your business was mainly focused on wholesale in the past, but you’ve recently expanded your D2C business, how is that going?

We launched in market Fall 2015 at the WOMAN show as a wholesale brand where we showed in New York and Paris. On the second season showing we were approached by the Goods and Services showroom whom have been our represented our wholesale ever since. The D2C has been a channel since the early days growing slowly but surely year on year at our online store. Despite an initial downturn at the start of the pandemic, we did see good growth as customers were relying on online shopping and also as the category of knitwear was an important component to the home lifestyle. The recent store opening in Kingston, NY was also another channel for us expand our DTC experience whether in person or through virtual appointments into the store we are striving to give our customers a special and personal experience.

How have you navigated selling one category, knitwear, when retailers are used to selling multi-category collections?

When we first launched it was common feedback from key stores stating they wouldn’t buy just a knitwear line as it is not part of a full collection. My specialist expertise and training came from Knitwear, so I clear from the beginning that I wanted it to just be this niche focus. In the past few years there has been a marked change and I believe the pandemic sealed the importance of this category. As part of our collections, we offer sweaters, pants, skirts, dresses and sometimes jumpsuits so there is an opportunity to style head-to-toe. This past year, we saw our key major wholesale client buying across the collection with head-to-toe options to really showcase the knitwear point-of-view.

How is your brand sustainable?

The spectrum of sustainability is so very broad and something that is ever evolving. Our brand is sustainable as we use yarns at the source of our production to reduce carbon footprint and to better support the local infrastructure. We use alpaca yarn that is natural, sustainable, eco-friendly and ethical. We work with two prestigious Peruvian Mills who commit and strive to achieve the highest standards of sustainability and care for the animals during shearing. Both mills are fair-trade certified. We work with multiple small artisan workshops and know where our work is going.

This year, we further launched a give-back initiative where a percentage of our online sales between the peak selling period of September-February will be donated back to our Peruvian artisan-makers to support their businesses, workshop development, educational and welfare needs. At ELEVEN SIX, we strive to be as thoughtful as possible in our approach to design and development. I design and create collections to be timeless, pieces-to-keep and worn throughout seasons and potentially generations. Although striving to feel modern, we reject the notion that fashion is disposable and a seasonal trend.

We develop our collections carefully and efficiently, usually adopting and producing almost all styles we prototype. Our bulk production is crafted to-order to also prevent additional waste and surplus. Finally, we made a push to source and use compostable bags to ship our knitwear and by doing so we can reduce landfill and the negative impacts associated with plastics and they decompose. 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 being responsible through our actions for the future of the planet!

What does style mean to you?

I believe style is innate and of course such a personalized thing to each individual. I am biased…I believe head-to-toe monochrome knit-dressing for me is beyond stylish and can is the epitome of refined yet relaxed! I am certainly influenced by my late Mother who was often smartly dressed and coordinated in monochrome look even when popping to the super market…she inherently taught me the importance of being put together!

Any tips for self-funding a business?

We have always been self-funded which has meant growth is organic and sometimes challenging. It hasn’t felt right to take on funding yet, so we haven’t sought it out. One security we do have is insuring our big wholesale orders with a factoring company so we can rest assure we are covered. This adds some more ease during big growth periods with large wholesale partners. I would say don’t ever rush to grow without a thought out business plan in place.

How are you working to give women economic opportunities like jobs?

By providing work to artisan Knitting groups based in Peru, we are providing work and giving women in particular empowerment and some financial independence. Once prototypes and quality control has taken place these women are often able to work at home around their family lives. On my trips to visit the workshops I have been able to explain (with the help of the translator) that this was one of big reasons I started ELEVEN SIX which is always a time of mutual understanding woman to woman even though our worlds are very different. Through the give-back initiative we have just piloted, we hope by donating back to our Peruvian artisan-makers so we can support their businesses, workshop development, educational and welfare needs and this has a big impact on economic opportunity especially for women.

Congratulations on opening a store! What has the experience been like?

Thank you! We were not planning to open a store just yet and during the pandemic our wonderful landlord: local architect, Scott Dutton, owner and creator of The Fuller Building (a converted industrial shirt factory in mid-town Kingston) offered us a wonderful retail space on the ground floor of our studio building that we couldn’t refuse! Opening a store felt like a very natural path to take post pandemic after being deprived for so long from special and personal experiences…retail, being one of those things.

The store has been a wonderful place to outwardly present the collection and our brand DNA in person and virtually. The store is an off-the-beaten-track destination so feels like a discovery when you arrive. We operate on a Friday and Saturday open schedule and then appointments throughout the week. As our Studio and operations are within the building we can be very spontaneous and fluid with appointments. I have always loved direct contact with customers to really immerse them in our brand and being able to help to find the right thing for the right person to make them feel good is very special experience.  

Any tips for breaking away from the viscous markdown cycle?

As I am very much in the women’s market, new collections that markdown are part of the cycle we are in. However, we plan not to break sale until the end of the year to stay true to our key selling knitwear season. Of course we participate in a series of flash sales prior (one being our namesake date: 11.6) for natural ebb and flow, but we are trying to strike the balance between buying right for the growth we anticipate as well as not having too much too much inventory to clear at the end of the season.

Our men’s and home products are more timeless and we don’t markdown as these pieces as they live on. We believe in our product for the quality and the market is well priced, and I think more than ever it is important to educate your customer base or potential customers why something is priced as it is as well as promote and encourage investing in considered pieces and thus quality over quantity.

Any tips for our entrepreneurs on starting, running or growing a business?

To start any solid business there must be a story and meaningful focus to stand the test of time in this competitive market place. Being an entrepreneur can be very hard as everything is down to you so you must love, really love and truly believe in what you are choosing to do in order to get through the highs and the lows of everyday business.

Walk us through designing a collection.

My inspirations are often drawn from artwork, cultural references and from the lifestyle I find myself in. I am aware that even when I am in the thick of business operations I am subliminally collecting, absorbing, considering creative ideas. We produce three collections a year: Fall, Pre-Spring and Spring. I tend to have a tight window of about two to three weeks each collection to focus on conceptualizing, designing, presenting and creating technical instruction packages for my artisan makers in order for them to create the first prototypes.

I do thank my corporate training for the ability to work to and execute a tight time and action calendar. In knitwear, we are essentially making a recipe as we are making the fabrication from scratch into a made to measure garment so my design process is significantly technical in regards to the process I go through. 6 weeks after the protos are made, we make corrections if needed which can take another 3-4 weeks for final samples to present to the buyers at fashion week market. To conclude, it is at least a four month process to design, develop and photo shoot a knitwear collection ready to present within our current infrastructure.

Tell us about the ELEVEN SIX girl!

I don’t believe it is just one girl. Our product is timeless and ageless in many ways. Mother and daughters and those beyond and in between can easily select from our collections even if they might style things differently. Our woman enjoys the versatility of our product – she can often dress it up or down to be more casual.

What’s next for you?

Opening the store has been quite a big step so I want to continue channeling growth here. We would also like to further expand our product offerings into capsule collections for men, kids and home also.
 
In addition, we want to continue to try to expand our extended sizing offering which comes down to minimums (we have been able to start this past season as Nordstrom requested size extensions so we were able to add on).
 
We also have an exciting artist collaboration launch this Friday Dec 3rd with an Israeli artist: @koketit where we have for a second time translated her impactful abstract line drawings into patterned knitwear. This will be our seventh artist collaboration we have launched.

Sweater (*Use code STYLETHATBINDSUS15 for 15% off on their website)

Alison + Delia

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