Lou Dungate founded her line of cashmere basics in 2016. You’ll find Lou’s garments around the corner from our Boxpark store amidst an achingly cool collection of clothing, homewares, print and coffee at Modern Society on Redchurch Street, where eclecticism meets modern minimalism.
Lou also holds seasonal ‘Lou Hosts’ events where she brings together a bunch of female founders for business breakfasts.
Hi Lou, tell us everything! Starting with your background, education and training.
[LOU] Everything, sure! Born & bred in Surrey, and both my parents are keen gardeners, so I spent a lot of my childhood outdoors. I had a cat called Dash, and a million small pets from hamsters and gerbils to guinea pigs and rabbits. Always loved reading fashion and art magazines, and generally being creative but wasn’t sure about a career. I studied Psychology (which I don’t regret for a second because it was so interesting and useful) at uni and then went into advertising. I then picked up knitting as a hobby, though it soon turned into a small business as my friends kept placing orders for my knitted hats and scarves. I’m completely self-taught when it comes to knitwear design and the business of fashion, and definitely still learning.
You’ve brought your vision to reality and your products can now be found out there in retail stores. Talk us through the key milestones in your journey to date?
[LOU] My first sale! A really simple knitted headband to my friend, was one of the first things I’d made - the fact that someone wanted to buy it was a bit beyond me at the time. My first sale to a stranger! Being picked up by my first ever stockist - Young British Designers. Then, when I wanted to start outsourcing production - I had a meeting with the founders of my now main supplier - I was terrified, had no impressive numbers to present to them, just my business idea which they supported from day one.
[LOU] I think, for me, it seems more like why not? Cashmere is a truly beautiful and sustainable fibre, but its value and perception have been lost somehow through mass production and irresponsible sourcing. High quality cashmere is warm, it’s light and just feels insane to wear. And with proper care, should last a lifetime. I’m partial to wool too, but cashmere just felt like a good place to start a slow knitwear label.
For all the product creators out there who are embarking on the wholesaling journey, what’s been key to your success in building relationships with your stockists?
[LOU] I think the key approach is understanding that you are working as a partnership; it’s important to provide support to your stores, whilst at the same time utilising the opportunities to find out who your customer is - what are they buying, where are they from etc. There’s so much to learn about your business when you see it through a retailer’s perspective. The buyers are vital, they know the industry inside out. And because you can’t be at the stores all the time you really rely on the retail team. I really enjoy meeting the retail team and getting their feedback. I’ve worked on the shop floor too, so I know how much of an insight they have. I like to pop in to ask them for their take on recent sales patterns, usually in exchange for chocolate.
There are plenty of networking events for us gals out there yet 'Lou Hosts' is unusually intimate, stimulating and essentially very special. You’re like the Cilla Black of business networking. What’s the motivation behind Lou Hosts?
[LOU] Being compared to Cilla Black has quite possibly made my year, thank you. Motivation? I have to admit, breakfast. I love breakfast, so any excuse to make an occasion of it is makes me happy. Though perhaps more importantly, I really love to champion other founders - especially women. From my own experience, we don’t toot our own horns as much as we should so I’ll happily do it for you and encourage you to celebrate your achievements. Also, I’m truly allergic to most “networking” events - I’ve been to a few and they’ve been painful. As founders, and as women, we’re busy. And there’s always more that could be squeezed into our week. So I’m super aware that to ask people to give a few hours of their time, to come and hang out with me, and some other founders - who can’t help you directly as such, i.e they’re not buyers, they’re not press or investors - is a huge ask. However, there’s so much to be gained from chatting to other self-starting people for breakfast! Oh and it’s always somewhere with amazing food and I like to encourage a chilled vibe for meeting really interesting people such as Sidonie Warren - co-founder of Papersmiths.
Anything is possible. Share five goals you’d love to have achieved in the next five years.
[LOU] Starting a family, getting a cockapoo, helping Lou Dungate become a business with a circular fashion model and offering a knitwear recycling facility, supplying stores around the world, and expanding into more categories - starting with knitwear (jumpers, cardigans).
Your brand shows a consistency and originality that we admire. What are your core values?
[LOU] Honesty, integrity and creativity.
How do you stay true to them?
[LOU] I’m hyper-vigilant about sourcing yarns and manufacturing, every process is very well considered from all angles - but mostly environmentally and ethically. From a creative perspective, I flood myself with sources of inspiration constantly in all forms. Films, podcasts, reading, going to exhibitions and plays - anything that allows a bit of escapism, that seems to be when I get a lot of ideas.
Will you share another inspiring female creator with us?
[LOU] My dear friend, the fine jeweller, Bear Brooksbank. She has been to every breakfast I’ve hosted! And she is incredibly talented, she knows her craft inside out and has the biggest warmest Yorkshire heart. She’s killing it in so many ways, but she’s so down to earth and unaffected. And hilarious. I could talk to her for hours about everything. Bear also made mine and my husband’s wedding bands - I couldn’t have trusted anyone else to make them as beautifully as she did.