This month we spoke to Lisa Roberts, a womenswear and knitwear designer who relocated from London back to her Welsh roots to set up her knitted childrenswear brand, MABLI, launching in the autumn of 2016. Lisa tells us about her decision to work for herself, the influence of her Welsh heritage on the designs and her future plans for MABLI.
Can you tell us about your background and setting up MABLI?
I graduated with a BA in Fashion Design at Birmingham Institute of Art & Design in 2003, but it wasn’t until after my degree that knitwear became my focus. I went on to work as a womenswear designer, specialising in knitwear, ever since. There’s nothing much cuter than a tiny piece of knitwear, so I had always envisaged my designs in miniature, thinking how great they could be, and how much sense it made to me to make mini versions of things that would appeal to the sort of customer I was designing for in my roles with brands such as Toast, where I designed for many years.
I was living in London and juggling working full-time with being a Mum to my then 2 year old, Mabel. Honestly, (and this is no dig at one specific company!) the lack of flexibility in the fashion industry to support working mothers was a huge part of the reason I decided to make a big change and work for myself.
So whilst pregnant with my second child, Otto, I moved with my family home to Wales, nearer to extended family for support, and also where we would have less financial commitments so would be in a better position to start a business.
MABLI is the name that stuck. I can’t even remember any of the others now! It’s the Welsh derivative of my daughter’s name, Mabel. Given that we were back in Wales, and also using a lot of inspiration from Welsh heritage in the designs, it felt like the right name.
The collection that I created for the first season was really everything that I wanted my baby to wear! The first samples arrived when he was 4 weeks old so he was the perfect fit model. Lots of vintage influence, and a Welsh Tapestry jacquard that has been a key MABLI statement knit in various forms ever since.
You use exclusively merino wool for the MABLI product. Why is that? What are the benefits?
From my experience in the industry over the years, I think I kept a file in my head of all things that would be perfect for babies and childrenswear. For yarn options, merino wool (and specifically the one I use), was always the one! It’s really soft, hypoallergenic, machine-washable, itch-free, thermos-regulating, is durable, and has amazing depth of colour. It also has a price point that felt the right balance of luxury and practicality that I envisaged for the brand. We have since gone on to introduce other natural fibres into the collection, such a organic pima cotton, linen & baby alpaca. But our core merino wool will always be the main focus.
Is MABLI seasonal? How many ‘collections’ do you launch per year?
I started with one winter collection for the first season, but decided that I needed a summer offering, so SS18 is our first collection for the spring/summer season. Since some of our styles are basics that will run year-on-year, I continue to run a core wool collection throughout the year. Our wool jumpers are still great for a chilly UK summers evening, and we have many southern hemisphere customers too so the year-round wool works for them as well.
What is the ethos behind MABLI?
Our ethos is to create designs with a ‘slow fashion’ aesthetic, that will be loved, and handed down to the next child, to buy less, buy better, and to ensure our products are great quality, practical and versatile. I find these statements are thrown around often by brands. I really want to do everything to ensure that these words are true in MABLI’s case.
In 2017, you received awards for the Junior Design Awards. Can you tell us about this?
We received the Platinum Best Fashion Newcomer, and also a JADA (Junior Absolute Design Award) which highlighted the 20 ‘best of best’ from the winners. To be recognised at these industry awards was so amazing. Whist I had the experience in fashion and knitwear, the childrenswear sector was completely new to me. Half of what I had been doing was down to my knowledge and experience, the other half had (and still is!) learning and adapting as I went along. With no colleagues or managers to give you feedback you do have many moments of doubt whether what you are doing is right. So thanks Junior, it meant a lot!
As a product, how and where do you think knitwear positions itself for sustainability? What are the positive impacts of knitwear as a product and what do you feel needs to change or can be improved?
Wool is a great sustainable resource, but there’s more to it than just that. We work with a mill that takes sustainability seriously and focuses on improving this at every stage. For example investing advancements in water purification and re-use of heat generated by the dyeing process. This is not finite. There are so many areas to continue to focus on in terms of what, where and how we choose to run our business.
Creating knitwear that will stand the test of time and people will want to keep and hand down, rather than throwing away is also a positive step in moving away from an unsustainable throw-away culture.
What is next for MABLI?
From the start, customers have asked, ‘can you make that in grown up sizes please?!’ We already have adult socks and accessories in the collection which have been very popular, so probably I will go full circle and end up designing womenswear again, as part of MABLI.
We couldn’t agree more with those customers Lisa, a pre-order for an adult-sized Troelli skirt in Sienna, Bara Jumper in Soft Navy/Peanut and Carthen Cardigan in Duck Egg please!
Photo credit: MABLI