Brooklyn Tweed is a knitwear design and yarn company founded by Jared Flood, a blogger, designer and photographer from the Pacific Northwest. From its origins as a blog in 2005 to its founding in 2007, Brooklyn Tweed has emphasized the artistic side of knitting and sought to reconnect with America’s rich history of textile production. Through it all, Jared and Brooklyn Tweed have revived attention in knitting as a form of expression in both art and fashion.
What first got you thinking about yarn and knitting?
My interest in knitting evolved parallel to my studies of fine art in college at the University of Puget Sound and then my graduate work in painting and 2D media at the New York Academy of Art. At first, knitting was a side hobby to balance my heavy academic workload. I didn’t really connect this functional craft with the fine art I was studying and making. I studied abroad in Rome to more deeply explore art history, particularly the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and at that time I became obsessed with photography. I had access to a dark room during my residency there and worked hard to hone the craft, taking pictures of architecture, art, and people. All the while, I was also improving my knitting skills.
I moved to New York City in 2005, seeking inspiration from a vibrant new place. Without a social network or a job and trying to adapt to the chaos of summer in the city, I turned even more of my energies to knitting. When I did find a 9-5 job, knitting helped me cope with the commuting rat race in and out of Manhattan. I was mostly knitting for myself and felt the pickings were thin for fresh, modern men’s garment patterns. So I started figuring out how to bring my own ideas to life.
What inspired you to start Brooklyn Tweed?
I started the Brooklyn Tweed blog in the hope of connecting with a community of creative people. It gave me an outlet for my knitting, design, and photography passions. At this point all of my “fine art” photography had been on film and my digital photos were just point and shoot, but in 2006 I purchased a DSLR camera and all three of those passions came together. I found I could make in-progress yarn and knitting projects the subject of still life photography, which I’d always been drawn to in studying art history and in my own work. My blog imagery improved greatly and a Brooklyn Tweed signature style began to emerge.
After two years, blog readership had increased dramatically and I was also beginning a career as a knitwear designer. That meant I needed models to show my work, and my interest in figurative photography was born. I started grad school to further my classical training in figurative media, but Brooklyn Tweed was taking on a life of its own at the same time. I finished my MFA and my first full design collection in the same year, and at that point I took the (then terrifying) leap to make Brooklyn Tweed my full-time job.
I went to my first trade show (The National NeedleArts Association, or TNNA) in 2009 and was surprised to find that very little yarn was being made on U.S. soil with U.S.-sourced fiber, at least not on a commercial scale. I was also taken aback to learn that most yarn companies don’t have people who source and develop their own yarns with care—most of the yarn is pre-designed at mills overseas then sold to yarn companies “out of the box”. I realized the depth of my naiveté about the yarn I was buying and knitting. I felt compelled to investigate what it would take to source fiber, scour it, dye it, and spin it into yarn in this country. The storytelling aspect of art and craft has always intrigued me, and I loved the idea of developing an American yarn from the ground up and sharing the whole story with the end-user in mind. Being part of the blogging world and seeing the rise of the Buy Local movement convinced me that handknitters were hungry for a story like that. And launching a Brooklyn Tweed line of yarns felt personally inspiring as a source of subject matter to further my own art—doing photography, designing knitwear, and collaborating with other creative people.
How did you find US-based locations to grow and produce your custom yarn?
I started with the mills. There are only a few functioning woolen mills surviving in the U.S. They were once the heart of industry in countless American towns, particularly in the Northeast, but cheaper goods began to flow in from overseas and the fashion for synthetic fibers put most of our mills out of business by the ’70s. I made an immediate connection with the people at the spinning mill in Harrisville, New Hampshire. They have a great story of their own—the mill district was preserved as a National Historic Landmark in 1971 and continues to operate to produce beautiful woolen goods and to educate visitors about the proud history of the mills—and their vision and values seemed right in line with my ideas for the Brooklyn Tweed yarn project.
The Harrisville team introduced me to wool brokers in Wyoming, who in turn introduced me to ranchers growing the Targhee-Columbia wool I wanted to work with. I did further research to find the Bolman Company in Texas to scour the fleeces and to connect with J.G. Littlewood and Sons in Philadelphia, one of the only commercial fleece-dyers left in the country. We’ve now been working with these companies and with the same small group of Wyoming ranchers for three years to offer a medium-weight yarn called Shelter, and in 2011 we added a lighter weight called Loft.
How do you stay in touch with your fans all over the world?
Since Brooklyn Tweed began as a blog, connecting with knitters online has always been the essence of the brand’s existence. Social media has opened up new avenues for independent designers to sell directly to their customers without the mediation of a traditional publishing house. Ravelry, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and—very importantly—Issuu let us reach a global market. The world is clearly moving in the direction of digital media distribution and Brooklyn Tweed has committed to being a part of that. All of our content is digital, and that model has also allowed us to develop flexible models for fairly compensating the independent designers who work with us, which has always been a principle we’ve held deeply.
How does Issuu help Brooklyn Tweed?
I chose Issuu because it’s a clean, elegant way to share digital content online. For each collection, we put together a look book, a digital magazine. I like that Issuu brings to mind the experience of flipping through a paper periodical and that its simple design is easy to use, both for me as I’m creating the content and for the reader. Issuu lets us roll out our design collections in a beautiful, juicy format that our customers happily anticipate poring over. It’s their first look at our new patterns and Issuu lets us tell a captivating story of knitting as fine art. When I’m putting together a look book, it means much more than launching a catalog of merchandise. I like to think of each garment as a work of art, and I get to be the curator. I get to do the photography of the finished pieces and savor the challenge of capturing two subjects—the model and the garment itself—and the relationship between them. The finished lookbook becomes my gallery space to tell the story of each piece and the collection as a whole.
Where do you see Brooklyn Tweed going in the future?
We want to continue to develop new yarns sourced and produced in the United States. I was not expecting the type of response we got to our first two yarns and have been working hard to keep up with that demand in the past there years. Making our products close to home is far from the “easy way” to do it, but we’re committed to helping support this historic industry and to giving knitters a product they can trace from the time it’s on the hoof to the moment it’s on their needles. We want to maintain high standards for quality and authenticity in those new products, and also in the company’s designs and in our interactions with professional creative people and customers.
I also hope to continue developing as a design house, pushing the boundaries of what people expect from the handknitting industry. Knitters have a built-in appreciation of “slow design”—even if they draw inspiration from the runway or street fashions of the moment, they’re still going to invest the time to make a garment with their own two hands, a pair of sticks, and a lot of string. I want Brooklyn Tweed to be a source that feeds their creative energy through thoughtful design with lasting appeal. Our garments should always be a pleasure to make as well as to wear because we’ve carefully considered the experience of the customer who’s working with our patterns and yarns. And I want to grow our community by finding new knitters who are looking for quality, transparency, fair practices, and a story that connects them to the products they use.
Most of all, I want to build a brand that feels authentic, that people will connect with. We are always trying to become better at everything we do while leaving the door open for new opportunities and inspirations that arise from our rapidly changing world.
See Brooklyn Tweed’s latest lookbook on Issuu, Wool People 7.