the weekend starts here...joy bates

I'm pleased to have caught up with the very talented Joy Bates, the woman behind Seven Gauge Studios with it's range of gorgeous knitware (perfect to brighten up your spring!)  Joy is marvellously creative and has such a wealth of experience, it was a real treat to find out a bit more of her story.                                                

patternbooth: How did you get into knitting?

joy: After my art a'level I chose not to go onto college.  Looking back that was probably a mistake, but at the time I just wanted to earn some money.  I left school and got a job in a small printers, back in the days of letraset and Rotring pens.  I got made redundant and struggled to find another job I wanted, I couldn't afford to go to college and so I just stopped and really thought about what I wanted to do.  I'd always loved to knit so I started making small garments and it all grew from there.

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patternbooth:  How did you go from hand knitting to machine knitting?

joy: I realised it was too labour intensive to hand knit.  I didn't have any money, but my dad believed in me and he was kind enough to buy me my first machine if I promised to stick at it! I taught myself from a book.

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patternbooth:  How did you go from teaching yourself to machine knit to having your first business?

joy: I had a friend who was a shop assistant at Paul Smith's first shop, here in Nottingham, and she had just left there to set up on her own. She needed someone to share the studio space so I moved in. This was back in the early 80's. I made a bag of garments, put them all in a suitcase and went to London. It was really scary, but I walked around cold calling on shops, and I got orders (including some sweaters for Paul Smith!).  Unfortunately the profit margins were so small I couldn't keep it going long term.

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patternbooth:  So then what did you do?

joy: I had to get a regular job, and after some time working at local knit factories, I decided to give working for myself another go.

I made knitted swatches. and for about 15 years I had a business selling knit swatches to fashion houses via an agent in New York. I was pretty successful at it, and had designs used by fashion houses like Ralph Lauren, Nicole Farhi and Donna Karan. Eventually though the recession hit and the bottom fell out of the market.

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patterbooth: So with the experience of your two previous knit based businesses under your belt, what did you do next?

joy:  I opened a shop and called it 'Joy'.  There were bits of it I really loved. Doing the displays, choosing stock.  But, having the responsibility of a lease, and stock and staff was a big stress. A huge amount of building works began nearby and footfall dropped dramatically. It was quite a scary time. Although I kept it going for over 3 years I eventually closed the shop and went full circle back to renting a studio.  

I made some scarves for a local supplier. These got spotted by Nick Holland, who commissioned a range from me, and there I was, back to being creative again. I set up my own range, Seven Gauge Studios and haven't looked back.  I took my first range to Pulse and got a great reaction. The business has been growing ever since.

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patternbooth:  You have had a hugely varied career so far. Can you pick three key turning points?

joy:   My dad funding my first knitting machine has to be the first one.  Next I would say my time selling my garments down in London. It was a huge learning curve; very scary, but it gave me invaluable feedback that I could then build on.  Finally I think having the shop and failing was a big turning point. Even though it was stressful I really don't regret it.  Nothing is a waste of time, and sometimes it is your failures that teach you the most powerful lessons.

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patternbooth:  You've tried lots of different ways to make your living creatively, and must have learnt so many lessons.  What advice would you give someone starting out?

joy:  Learn as much as you can. If you're at college, get the best placements you can and ask your tutors everything you can.  If you're not at college try as many different things as possible; find as many ways to learn as you can. 

Enrol on a business course.  Learn anything you can about the processes you're interested in. Use the internet. Research, network and mix with as many people as possible.

Work hard, be determined and don't give up!

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If you want to see lots of beautiful knit then head over to the website of Seven Gauge Studios to see more.  I found Joy's energy for business really inspiring, what about you?