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£30,000 funding helps kick-start North East’s first sustainable facility

North East entrepreneurs, Jo Lennon and Jo Storie, founders of KnitLab North, have won £30,000 grant funding from the Rural Growth Network to purchase machinery enabling them to offer the latest in sustainable prototyping for the knitwear industry.

Having applied for a grant fund, under the North of Tyne Rural Business Growth Service Programme, KnitLab North will expand its business capacity with a Shima Seiki WholeGarment knitting machine and the latest in 3D virtual prototyping software.

The duo, who have also just been named as finalists in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, offer a knitwear design studio with onsite facilities to support clients, bringing together prototyping and micro-production with commercial and marketing expertise, to help new brands bring products to market.

The design studio that brings a design and collection to life, from sketchbook to shopping basket, is looking to support anyone looking to create British knitwear collections. It also promotes responsible and sustainable manufacture, offering more manageable solutions to fast-fashion and aims to support clients bringing their own products to market.

Commercial development lead, Jo Lennon, at KnitLab North, said: “KnitLab North is the collective effort of myself and knitwear designer Jo Storie, who has over 25 years of experience in the knitwear industry in New York and the UK.

“We have had a very busy start to the year. We located to our first office premise at B.Village, Cramlington and also launched a crowdfunder campaign to help expand our prototyping and manufacturing capacity.

“The £30,000 funding has helped contribute to the £100,000 we raised as a business in this first round of funding and plays an important part in the growth of KnitLab North.

“The benefit of the Shima Seiki WholeGarment Machine is that it offers seam-free knitwear knitted in three dimensions directly from the machine. The entire flow from planning to production, through to sales, helps us achieve sustainable manufacturing.

“Some of its benefits include micro-production, 3D development, zero waste and efficient planning, as high-resolution samples are created digitally before designers need to knit a single piece, reducing time, cost and materials.

“It is the most advanced technology and from a waste perspective it is the future. It also enables us to prototype offering key pieces and quality, as opposed to fast fashion.

“We want to help support anyone looking to create knitwear – whether it is students, start-ups or professionals and to really champion British design.”

Jo Storie, said: “Launching a business takes determination and a huge amount of effort. The grant that we received was a huge boost to assist our own efforts to raise enough money to purchase the machinery we needed.

“We’ve been through the design and development process in the UK and we struggled to find the support we needed to make small volumes to test the market.  We experienced a number of challenges and want to support other people who may face the same barriers we faced when taking their product to market.

“We want to create a hub by bringing the industry together and to foster talent. There is a real skills gap and our goal is not just to prototype but to educate and inspire the future generation.

“We want to nurture and support anyone looking to build a knitwear business whilst championing British design with a specific focus on promoting sustainable and quality yarn.  There is a real gap in the market and following BREXIT there has never been a better time to buy British goods and support British manufacturing.”