How did your journey into knitting begin?
One day, when I was sick with the measles and home from school, my great aunt taught me how to knit. I’d always had a mathematical bent and was immediately hooked by the patterns and stitches. From then on, it became my passion. I’d knit garments but also large wall hangings and objects – I never knew any parameters so would always experiment.
I wanted to go on to textile college, but my academic mother had other plans, and off I went to university. After obtaining a PHD in music theory analysis, I became a professional musicologist. Though I loved music, knitting remained my true passion. On my fortieth birthday I realised that I might be turning one of those people who thinks “I always wish I had, but…” So I took the decision to leave music and opened a yarn store in Sydney. We travelled the world with our yarns and grew the store to become the largest in Australia.
After selling the yarn store you decided to start creating hand knitted sweaters, why?
I’ve always believed that there is something unique about a hand knitted sweater. It’s as if the passion and dedication of the maker transfers to the wearer and a special connection is created. At first, this was the driving force: to create beautiful sweaters using traditional hand knitting techniques. When I met my team in India, it became about what I could do for them.
I had heard that there was a group of ten knitters in a small village in Tamul Nadu in Southern India. On my first visit there was no translator present. Instead of talking, the women took me by the hand and lead me through their village. Showing me their homes, their children, their gardens, where they cooked. It was such a tactile and meaningful way to enter a community. Going home on the plane, I thought “I need to make this work”, so that I can help these women and their families. They became part of our first knitting hub – the ten has now grown to two hundred.
How has KOCO changed the lives of these women?
We have been able to change the lives of these women in ways I never thought possible. The majority of the women we employ have never been to school and have previously depended entirely on their father and husband for financial security. They had no employment prospects beyond that of seasonal labour and though they are mothers, daughters, wives, they had little sense of themselves as individuals or of their own value. By bringing these women together in knitting hubs, they are able to earn a stable income, to afford to send their children to school and, stitch by stitch, their confidence has grown. We train each woman we work with and the skills they have developed are remarkable, they have become artisan hand knitters in their own right and they now understand their potential. It has been the most rewarding thing of my life – watching these women blossom. And it has changed me, too. I know what a force for good business can be and my ambition and hope is to keep changing more and more lives.