Katie Lane - the Alstonefield-based designer of the ‘Hugget’
- Credit: Archant
In need of a warm comforting embrace? Katie Lane, the young designer and maker from Alstonefield, talks about her life and how the ‘Hugget’ came about
Twenty-five-year-old Katie Lane was born in Cambridge but her family returned to Nepal where her father worked for Water Aid. When Katie was three the family moved to Alstonefield. In 2000, they moved to Malawi because of her mother’s job with Save the Children, but kept their Derbyshire home. Katie finished her education at the International High School in Blantyre and now has friends scattered across the world. After taking A-levels in Malawi, she attended university in London and has now returned to Alstonefield.
What are your links with Derbyshire?
I had a wonderful childhood here. I went to Ilam Primary School, a lovely village school which at the time only had 70 pupils, and spent a year at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Ashbourne before we moved to Malawi. While we lived in Malawi I loved returning for the summer and seeing the friends I made at Ilam to whom I am still very close. Derbyshire will always be home for me.
What sparked your interest in the fashion industry? Did you have any formal training?
Growing up I always had an interest in fashion and knew from the age of 15 that was the direction I wanted my career to take. A summer Introduction to Fashion Design course at Central Saint Martins in London helped to confirm it. After A-Levels I moved from Malawi to Surrey to do an Art Foundation course at the University College for the Creative Arts in Farnham. I followed this with a degree in Fashion Design at the University of Westminster in London. This included a self-organised year in industry. I wanted to see as many sides to the world of fashion as I could, so after a week at Kilgour in Savile Row I spent two months at Austin Reed in London, followed by a month each at an ethical fashion brand called Mother Earth in Bangalore, India; the Self-Employed Womens’ Association in Ahmedabad; a high end Indian design house called Abdul Halder in New Delhi; a brand called Deborah Lindquist making up-cycled cashmere in Los Angeles; and organic lifestyle brand ‘Creem Collection’ in New York City.
How did you develop the idea for Hugget?
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After graduating I was lucky enough to get a job designing hats for the Fair Trade Panama hat company, Pachacuti, in Ashbourne. It was for a trip to visit our weavers in Ecuador that I made the first Hugget jacket. I wanted something that would keep me warm and cosy on the long flight, but that would look smart and professional while there. After shopping around unsuccessfully I concluded the only way to get this garment was to make it. After trying out several different designs I came up with the Hugget jacket. It did the job of being both cosy and smart on my Ecuador trip better than I could have imagined. When I wore it into the office after the trip my colleague and good friend loved it and asked me to make one for her. We found the fabulous sheep print fleece and the first Hugget jacket was sold! After that, I got more and more requests from friends who wanted to buy them, and I realised the concept might be worth pursuing as a business, which I began in March last year.
Talk us through the design
The Hugget jacket is a hug and a jacket in one. The key to its cosiness is that both front pieces are the width of the body, so when wrapped over and fastened you end up with a double layer of fleece across the whole front. A Hugget can be worn in several different ways: wrapped over and fastened at the shoulder, as described above, which creates a cosy cowl neck; closed and fastened with a belt to emphasise the body shape; or left open to let the front panels fall with a lovely waterfall effect. At the moment the Huggets are all made of fleece which is a hard wearing and forgiving material, as well as being soft and very warm. In the future I plan to develop into other fabrics. I began by making them all myself at home but by August I just didn’t have time to do this as well as keeping up the website and taking the product to markets, and everything else! I still make special orders myself but most of the jackets are now made at a family run manufacturer in Leek who have been making clothing since 1826. Having the jackets made in the UK is very important to me and it’s even better to be able to support a business so close to home.
Have your travels influenced your business at all?
Yes they definitely have. I have been brought up with my parents doing development work and living in developing countries. It is very important to me that in my life, whatever career I do, I am able to contribute something to people who are less privileged than I am. Hugget has a campaign that gives a fruit tree to a schoolchild for every jacket sold. This is a project developed by Funwe Farm, the social investment programme that my parents run in Malawi. The philanthropic side to the business is as important to me as the profitability and I look forward to being able to expand this as the company grows.
Who do you have in mind when designing your pieces?
The versatility of the jacket is the real key to its success. All the jackets are made in the same design, and currently all in fleece, but the people who wear them are aged from newborn babies right up to 80 year olds and everyone in between. I subdivided the range to appeal to different groups of people so while the shape stays the same the features are altered to suit the individual needs and taste of the different customer demographics.
The ‘Classic Collection’ is the Hugget jacket for every day (priced from £40-£55). It comes in several different colours and two weights of fleece. The plain colours are popular for people to wear to work while the patterned ones bring some colour to cold days sitting in front of the TV! The newer ‘Peak Collection’ ranges from £60-£70 and is the height of luxury leisurewear. Black Watch tartan, rich teal, wool pockets and cuddly leopard print make up this collection, with handmade feather brooches, superior metal fastenings and embroidered Hugget logos. The ultimate piece to aspire to this year is the reversible Hugget jacket. Priced at £95 it is perfect for stepping out on a crisp winter’s day. Charcoal grey on one side and stone grey on the other it is twice as warm as the rest and can be worn whichever way round you like! Lastly the childrens’ collection, Mini Hugget, has sizes for girls from age 0 to 10 in a variety of fun colours and prints.
So although my customers range in age and lifestyle I always keep them in mind when developing the products to ensure there is a Hugget jacket for everyone. I think it is crucial to build a personal connection with customers so I encourage mine to send in photos and testimonials which are displayed on the website. This helps me keep track of who is wearing the product as well as showing future customers the advantages and versatility of the jacket from other customers first hand
Do you take inspiration from any other designers?
I have a keen interest in the world of high fashion and like to keep an eye on what’s happening on the catwalks, but sadly that is all too often worlds away from what real people actually want and need! It is important to me that the Hugget brand remains true to its customers and continues to provide products that are stylish, elegant and unique while still being practical and warm. Ugg is an example of a company that has done well by this ethos: it continually introduces variations and developments but always remains true to the fundamental principle of comfort and warmth that brought it into fashion and onto the feet of millions of people across the globe.
What obstacles have you had to overcome to set up your own business?
It has been a difficult and exciting journey. When I began, my knowledge of business was from A-Level Business Studies and from observation at the different companies I had worked at. Every step has seemed like an obstacle but I am quite a practical person and have taken each problem as a learning curve and simply dealt with it. Everything has been a challenge, from registering my trademark, learning how to do bookkeeping, developing the website, sourcing fabric and components, producing marketing materials, organising photoshoots – the list could go on! However I have been lucky to have friends, family and colleagues who have helped and supported me along the way and I am determined to do everything in my power to make it work, and so long as I can keep that positive attitude I think it will!
What are you working on at the moment?
I try to waste as little material as possible so I’m always looking for ways of using left-over scraps of fleece. This is partly why I started making the Mini Hugget jackets, as their pattern pieces are so much smaller they can be efficiently cut in the gaps left by the adult ones. I developed Hugget earmuffs, which proved a great seller at the Christmas markets and together with my sister, who is into crafts as well, have made draught excluders and rugs for the house, though these are not quite up to retail standards yet!
There is a lot of potential to develop the Hugget jacket design in terms of finishings, colours, patterns and of course different fabrics. So far I have used sweatshirting, polar fleece, cuddle fleece and micro fleece. As the business develops I’d like to introduce more natural, sustainable and luxury fabrics such as bamboo jersey, wool and cashmere.
What advice would you offer to anyone thinking of starting out in the industry?
I think the three things crucial are: a good idea, common sense and hard work. Personally, I didn’t look to start a business and then come up with an idea. I came up with an idea, tested it and only when I was confident of the strength of the design did I take the risk to start the business. Once a business is focused around this key product it is simply about dedication and the ability to keep calm and take every setback with a clear head. Whenever I get an email with bad news I make sure I leave at least a day before replying. It is important to look at every business decision from every angle and I think a negative outcome of the efficiency of modern day technology is that it is so fast it makes it very easy for decisions to be rushed.
What essential pieces do you take when travelling?
I get very cold on planes but do my best usually to travel to hot places, so layering is crucial. I wear an organic cotton vest top; my Orla Kiely for UniQlo Heat tech top, these are a mixture of polyester and rayon and are great because they are very warm but extremely lightweight; then of course the staple Hugget jacket, perfect for wrapping up cosily on the plane, and smart to arrive in style. I also never go away without a pair of Toms shoes. These are very comfortable and extremely lightweight canvas shoes, perfect for travelling. They come in loads of fun colours and prints and the great thing about Toms is that for every pair of shoes they sell they give a pair to a child in a developing country, so you get the feel good factor too!
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to see Hugget grow in to a large and thriving business. It would be fantastic to start selling globally, then I could travel more! I’d also like to start working with schools and youth groups to encourage young people to gain the skills and confidence to go into business.
Where can we buy your products?
www.hugget.co.uk has the full collection on sale or cal me on 01335 675185 for details. I also take the products to markets around the Midlands: a list of upcoming events can be found on the website. This winter we had a very successful trial having the Hugget jackets stocked in a clothing boutique in Ashbourne so I am working hard to get them into more shops across the UK for this coming winter. A full list of these will be on the website within the next few months.