Get To Know Knitwear Designer Freya McKee

The South-West London designer shares the inspirations behind her latest collection, her love of Comme Des Garçons and her dream fashion show.

When 24-year-old knitwear designer Freya McKee first started designing t-shirts for her Depop store during lockdown, she had little idea of how her brand would grow in just a few short years.

Born and raised in South-West London, the young creative has already proven she has many talents, releasing a single in 2021 called ‘Oob’ while developing her design aesthetic and growing her loyal online following.

Throughout her brand’s evolution, McKee has remained committed to sourcing and producing sustainable garments, utilising a made-to-order business model and creating lines of one-of-one pieces from second-hand yarn. The result is a blend of effortless contemporary pieces and showstopping, one-off creations, celebrating her materials and the uniqueness that recycled garments can offer.

Since launching, the brand has bloomed on social media, garnering tens of thousands of followers on TikTok – no doubt thanks to McKee’s eclectic styling guides and at-home lookbooks – and has since caught the attention of fashion-forward celebrities including Emma Chamberlain and Sabrina Carpenter.

For her latest collection, McKee has launched new knit dresses along with top, skirt and zipper shorts designs. Equal parts dainty and daring, the soft yarns balance with officewear-inspired garments, complete with thigh-high splits and bows galore. Mckee cites Junya Watanabe, Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier as design inspirations, influencing her attention to detail as every hem and fasten appears considered and unique. Her garments are now stocked at APOC Store and were hosted inside the new Marc Jacobs Heaven flagship store in Los Angeles.

Below, Freya McKee shares more about studying photography, her love for Comme Des Garçons and her dream fashion show.

What were your earliest inspirations to study/practice fashion design?

I have always loved styling myself from a young age and enjoyed searching for unique pieces. I think my love for fashion picked up even more once I got to university and I started researching runways, which opened me up to a whole new catalogue of designers I hadn’t heard of before. 

I had many design ideas but it was just a case of figuring out how I could transform them into real pieces. It was too expensive to find a manufacturer and I had no previous fashion experience to make the pieces myself so I decided to start learning the very basics. I first learned to crochet before anything and I felt so excited when I finished my first project, an ear flap hat. It gave me the motivation to learn and expand my knowledge so I could have free rein and make pieces that emulated my personal style.

How was your experience studying fashion and how did your practice develop while you studied?

I ended up going to university to study photography in Bournemouth. I didn’t enjoy the course too much but it was through experimentation on photo shoots that led me to realise I much preferred the styling aspect of the shoot as opposed to being the photographer. For a little while, I thought I wanted to be a stylist, but then I found so much more excitement in designing and making my own pieces – I really felt like I found a purpose.

I think the most valuable thing I learned from university was to trust your own instincts and not let criticism deter you from creating what you want to. It goes without saying that art is subjective and if you are passionate about something, you can achieve your visions.

I think the most valuable thing I learned from university was to trust your own instincts and not let criticism deter you from creating what you want to.

Freya McKee

What barriers, if any, have you experienced in accessing the industry? 

A main barrier I have faced in this industry is having my designs plagiarised by larger brands. It is very damaging for our sales when a fast fashion brand rips us off and they sell it for a shockingly competitive price, I have even seen my top as low as 99p (in which they will also use my photos to advertise it) on Aliexpress. It is disheartening to see a design that you work so hard to put out, that takes months of preparation, to then be stolen within 2 weeks of launching. But the most upsetting aspect is knowing there’s no chance someone is getting their fair pay to make these plagiarised clothes if they are selling a knit piece (that I know takes hours of work) for pennies. 

The fashion scene can also definitely feel like a daunting environment to be navigating by yourself. Although it has been very challenging to build this brand on my own, I am very lucky to have found a community that is so supportive of each other and far from the toxic side of the industry. I have managed to meet a lot of wonderful people when I do my pop-ups and in particular at my friend Mya’s pop-up called 2o2st. She’s built a really encouraging atmosphere that allows creatives to network, collaborate and inspire each other.

Who or what has inspired your upcoming/most recent collection?

One of my all-time favourite brands is Comme Des Garçons and I have definitely felt inspired for this collection. In particular, my mum gifted me a skirt which she bought from a Comme x H&M collection back in 2008 and it gave me a whole range of new ideas, like the aspect of having multiple fabric shades layered with different material textures. As always, Vivienne Westwood is a main inspiration of mine – I like to look at old runway shows and draw ideas from isolated features. In particular, in this collection I looked at how to close a garment in a more interesting way by adding multiple functions such as buttons, zips, ties etc on one piece.

I would like to see more brands work towards sustainability. It’s hard for fashion to be fully sustainable but even just making small sacrifices would help make an impact. 

Freya McKee

Can you describe your design process? 

I am constantly designing pieces on my day-to-day. I have a whole catalogue of ideas on my iPad and sometimes I will think of something I want to try and I have to draw it down straight away to visualise it and see if it has the potential to be a real design.
In terms of inspiration, I look to multiple sources such as exhibitions, my favourite designers’ old catwalks, Pinterest, Tumblr and old vintage pieces. I usually see a specific feature I like on a garment and take a photo or write it in my notes. Instead of looking at a garment as a whole and trying to mimic it, I get drawn to one feature and then combine it with my other ideas to make something new. 

Are there any materials that are significant in your work? 

A prominent material I still use in my work is mohair. I like to create one-off pieces from second-hand sourced mohair and it has been a continuous range. What started as just jumpers has developed into hats, balaclavas and now handbags. 

Who would you love to see wear your designs?

I’d really love to see Rina Sawayama, Troye Sivan and Harry Styles in one of my designs!

How do you like to present your work? 

I like to present my work with a mixture of shoots and sharing more personal aspects through styling the designs on myself for Tiktok and Instagram Reels. I think the course of fashion has already changed where there used to be an expectation to present everything professionally and “high end” but with the surge of TikTok and casual posting, I think more brands are using this approach to engage their audience. Interestingly, when I do professional shoots, these never seem to perform as well as when I’m doing a more casual post.

How was your recent experience at fashion week?

I have only attended one fashion show before which was the Jacquemus show last June. It was a really special experience and felt like a full fever dream, but it also really inspired me and gave me something to work towards in terms of hopefully having my own show one day!

The biggest goal of mine now is to put on a show – I think it will push me to create outside my comfort zone and in general it will be an exciting project to work towards.

Freya McKee

How would you like to see your work develop and how are you approaching this?

The biggest goal of mine now is to put on a show – I think it will push me to create outside my comfort zone and in general it will be an exciting project to work towards. I am already starting to plan ideas but it’s something I don’t want to rush, so I am waiting until I feel more experienced before taking the big step.

How do you think the fashion industry will evolve over the next five years? How do you feel about that change?

I think the industry will evolve with more people shopping from small businesses and second-hand, but also larger brands striving towards sustainability. I think there has already been a huge shift in people wanting to have an ethical wardrobe and most fast fashion companies are spoken badly on. I think especially with social media, people are sharing their thrift/small brand hauls and inspiring others to do the same. It has almost become trendy, which is definitely not a bad thing! Subsequently, I have been seeing a lot more hate comments towards people doing fast fashion hauls/partnerships with these brands.

What changes would you like to see, if any, and how is your brand contributing to this? 

I would like to see more brands work towards sustainability. It’s hard for fashion to be fully sustainable but even just making small sacrifices would help make an impact. 

My brand contributes to this by working with only dead-stock fabrics and second-hand sourced yarns where we can. All our knitwear is made-to-order only and fully fashioned to avoid making excess stock, so we’re only making a piece when it 100% has a home. We are a small team of 3 and therefore will never make a huge run of pieces and avoid the risk of having surplus stock.

To shop Freya McKee’s latest collection, visit her online store.

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