It’s Finally a Trend: “Fewer, Better Things”

I started Isle of Skye Cashmere over 15 years ago with the idea that I ought to be able to find top quality cashmere at a fair and reasonable price. It seemed like a simple concept, but it proved to be very challenging to execute. It was particularly difficult when the world was moving in the direction of “fast fashion” and rock bottom pricing for clothes mass produced in the Far East by mill workers earning less than $2 per hour and working 7 days a week.

Rita- Lake Como Italy
Rita at Lake Como, Italy wearing her Jessica Cardigan

I solved the first part of this equation by identifying Scottish yarn spinners and knitting mills as the best in the business. All of my sweaters use yarn spun and dyed by the 2 premier yarn makers in Scotland. And my sweaters are knit in Hawick, Scotland by 3 mills that make sweaters for the premier European designers such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Hermes. In 2012, Chanel publicly affirmed their belief in the supremacy of Scottish cashmere by acquiring Barrie Knitwear…a knitting mill in Hawick Scotland. Chanel saved this longtime supplier from bankruptcy and assured they would continue to be able to produce cashmere sweaters for their collections made by the finest craftsmen in the world. We use Barrie Knitwear as one of our suppliers… I source a number of the sweaters on my website from this mill. You can read about Chanel and their love affair with Scottish Cashmere here.

The second part of my equation was delivering Scottish Cashmere to my customers at a reasonable price. I accomplished this by sourcing directly from the mills in Scotland and keeping my overhead very low. My customers don’t have to pay the markups for several layers of middlemen, for expensive real estate on Madison Avenue, or for lavish advertising and promotion budgets.

Having said all of this, I know that my sweaters are not cheap…most are in the $250 to $500 range. However, Isle of Skye Cashmere Sweaters are foundation pieces – basics for your wardrobe that will last years and years. They will maintain their shape, their rich color, and their silky soft feel long after you have thrown away those cheaper “fast fashion” cashmere sweaters. And the quality of my sweaters is comparable to the ones produced by the high-end designers such as Chanel or Brunello Cucinelli- which have a price tag of several thousand dollars or more.

Now, more companies in the ecommerce world have adopted business concepts that are similar to the ones I started with. There is a lot being written today about “The Power of Buying Less by Buying Better”. The recent article in The Atlantic now describes this as a trend:

“There’s a big trend in the growth of ecological sensibility, the growth in demand for artisanal products, and more handmade items,” explains Juliet Schor, a professor of economics and sociology at Boston College who studies consumer behavior. “More people are rejecting mass-production for aesthetic reasons and because of the exploitation in the fast-fashion system.”

But I started my business this way in 2000, not because it was a trend, but because I believe in quality, craftsmanship, and fair pricing as principles of doing business. It seems that the number of other companies that are promoting these same ideas is growing, and I am really happy about that. The more that other businesses sell the power of “fewer, better things”, then the more customers will come to appreciate what Isle of Skye Cashmere Sweaters are all about.

Cashmere Care 101

Rita-Place-Dauphine

Nothing quite compares to cashmere when it comes to style, not even cotton is so gentle on skin: wear it with jeans, wear it with a dress or slacks and you’ll feel wonderful – of course you’ll look fabulous! But any garment so versatile and comfortable requires a minimum of care. Whether it’s new shoes, a new cut or a twinset, special items deserve special attention. My customers want the best return on their investment, and to that end I’ve always provided instructions: with each sweater comes a note outlining proper care – how to wash it, how to store it, etc. But we all live such busy lives! Kids are off to college, dogs need vaccines and houses demand renovation! Cards get lost (where’s a set of instructions when you need it!), so I thought to publish my instructions here. A blog ensures they’re easy to access; it ensures your sweaters –thank heavens they’re timeless!– will keep for years.

The instructions that follow are simple, straightforward. Taken as a whole, they amount to just a little TLC.

After wearing three or four times:

  • Hand wash frequently. Avoid heavy soiling.
  • For best results, soak for five minutes in cool water with baby shampoo. (We recommend Johnson’s Baby Shampoo with Lavender Scent.)
  • Agitate gently when washing.
  • Rinse thoroughly in cool water until the water runs clean.
  • Squeeze gently to remove excess water. But don’t twist or wring out your sweater.
  • Block carefully into shape. Do not twist or ring the fabric.
  • Dry flat. Avoid direct heat or sunshine.

A note about pilling: A few small balls of fiber may form at the surface of your sweater after wearing the first few times. These balls, or “pills,” are caused by loose fiber tangling during wear. Pills can easily be removed by hand.

A note about moths: they love cashmere! We suggest that you keep your sweater in a storage bag to protect it.

Finally, proper care will ensure your sweater lasts for years! I’ve even found my sweaters’ softness to improve following the instructions above. I know! It’s hard to believe! But you’ll find your sweater’s quality gets better and better.

Notes on Starting a Business: Isle of Skye Cashmere

RitaNote to Reader: Customers often ask how I got started and I thought to respond in greater detail with my blog. Below is the overview of a conversation I recently had with our chief blogger.

Feel free to ask any questions you may have!

Question:

Why did you start Isle of Skye Cashmere?

Response:

We had just moved back to the States after spending years in South America. Venezuela –our home away from home– was warm enough to make sweaters unnecessary, so I needed to update my winter wardrobe.

After shopping at high end boutiques and department stores across the country my choices were surprisingly clear – in fact I was shocked by my limited options! Cashmere came in only two kinds: loosely knit and liable to pill, or of high quality but more expensive than dinner at The French Laundry!

Why did I want cashmere – in particular, Scottish cashmere? Not only is it whisper soft and stylish, but a cashmere sweater is so gentle on skin. Allergies had always bothered me and back in the States, the fall pollen was especially taxing. Also, winter was on its way and looking over my closet left me feeling unprepared.

But I needed something I could afford, something that would last…

So just like that, Isle of Skye Cashmere was born.

I ended up buying one of those sweaters more expensive than The French Laundry –I needed something! – but I also researched its origins, trying to find its actual cost.

Pretty soon I’d convinced myself to start my own business – never mind I hadn’t worked in business for over 10 years!

High quality, affordable cashmere – my wardrobe needed it! – but more importantly, I thought what I wanted was representative: maybe other women had spent days shopping at the best stores, frustrated. Maybe they even needed it due to sensitive skin, like me.

I contacted a mill in Scotland (the research I mentioned above), my husband helped with a website, and just a week after receiving my first shipment from Scotland, my first order came in: a twin set in periwinkle blue.

I was surprised, even thrilled.

Things were slow at first (I stored inventory in a room next to my home office.) But one order led to the next and then… Real Simple Magazine called! But that’s a story for another time.

A few years later I opened my first store, surprising everyone – most of all myself.

Looking back, you could almost say I found my way into the business the way people say you find your way into anything that makes good sense! What I had was one really good idea. But I learned that when you’re starting a business, good ideas are the key to sustainable growth and long-term success!

Legendary Quality and Iconic Style: The Black Cashmere Turtleneck

My last blog post dealt with “uniform dressing” – a simpler, more stylish way to dress. Prior to that, I made the case for a different kind of wardrobe, one with “fewer, better things.”

For today, I’d like to offer a simple starting point – one I’m sure will make uniform dressing work: the black cashmere turtleneck, one of my favorites!

Elana Fishmen, in her piece The Insanely Versatile Top Your Winter Wardrobe Needs, says it perfectly:

The plain white t-shirt may be your go-to wardrobe basic during the warmer spring and summer months – but in the fall and winter, it’s all about the black turtleneck.

Some clothes –a handful of classics– are unaffected by trends. They look great always.

Audrey Hepburn, Jackie O – they’re two from many of the most celebrated fashion icons that have made the black turtleneck a winter wardrobe staple.fashion-icons-black-turtleneck

Today, we still find pop-icons like Taylor Swift looking stylish and modern in a black turtleneck.

taylor-swift-black-tn

Kristen Iversen has a great piece in Brooklyn Magazine called The 35 Most Important Women in Turtlenecks.

She writes:

The turtleneck is about as universally flattering as a garment can get, drawing the eye up to a woman’s face, as if it rests on a pedestal, only so that the eye can travel back down again.

It’s my feeling that a black cashmere turtleneck always elevates a look: the high neck elongates the torso, and, of course, black is the ultimate visual body slimmer.

What’s more: with a black cashmere turtleneck as a foundation piece, you have so many stylish outfit options.

The sweater can look totally dressed up in one outfit but laid back in another.

Wear it with jeans, and you’re downtown chic. Pair it with a pencil skirt or tailored pants, and your look is uptown luxury and elegance.

Or, for your go-to outfit for a black tie event, try wearing your black cashmere turtleneck with a long skirt and statement necklace.

You can use your black turtleneck as the centerpiece of an elegant monochromatic look, or you can pair with almost any other color.

And just because the black turtleneck is a basic, don’t think it’s too conservative! You can pair it with something unexpected if you want to go a bit adventurous in your styling.

For example, we love this look below: Blair Eadie, famous fashion blogger at www.atlantic-pacific.com, wears her black turtleneck with a white tutu and black Christian Louboutin’s. Her look is simply stunning!

black-turtleneck-white-tutu

We think our Caroline Cashmere Turtleneck sets the standard in a high quality investment piece. The fit of the Caroline is perfectly versatile – snug enough to wear comfortably under a blazer, but not too tight to wear on its own.

Of course, the turtleneck design provides cozy warmth, but the 2-ply weight makes it a great layering piece. We knit our Caroline Turtleneck at 21 gauge – much tighter than turtlenecks of ordinary quality. This gives our sweaters a silky, smooth drape and helps ensure that they won’t lose their shape over time.

By now, I hope I’ve made the case for the black cashmere turtleneck as a timeless standard – a wardrobe “must have”.

But, for a bit of wardrobe variety, don’t be afraid to try a winter white, a classic camel, or rich brown. These are great basic and versatile colors that add depth to this timeless look.

If you are looking for a size and color of our Caroline Turtlenecks that are already sold out, please contact me by phone (888-343-6771) or email (info@isleofskyecashmere.com). More are on the way from Scotland and I will hold one for you.

Rita Jones
Founder and Owner – Isle of Skye Cashmere

Fashion’s Dirty Little Secret: Uniform Dressing

The past few weeks I’ve made the case for a different kind of wardrobe, one with “fewer better things.” Today I want to take a more practical approach, sharing a sense of style I learned about when I was living in France for the year called “uniform dressing.”

The most fashionable French women don’t follow trends or fads, but each has an individual style rooted in personal choice. Each wears what looks good and feels good to create their signature look.

Most buy a small number of high quality investment pieces to mix and match; of course, this doesn’t mean they’re wearing the same outfit every day, but it does mean consistency in style, silhouette, and color palette.

Tim Gunn, of Project Runway fame, explains the concept like this:

“By uniform, I don’t mean a Stepford Wives blueprint of exacting sameness. I mean a cache of separates that can successfully interact.

“It’s essential that you identify looks, not merely items of clothing, but combinations that will be worn together – the silhouettes, proportions, colors, and textures that flatter and enhance you. Then, stick with them! Do not stray! And don’t ever forget about fit!”

He continues:

“The best in “the fashion industry don’t buy into all the trends and fads of fashion – most of them develop a style their own and stick with it. It seems to free them from insecurity and the kind of fashion slavery the rest of us are victims of…”

In case you’re still a skeptic, here’s another proponent of French uniform dressing: Ines de la Fressange.

Ines is a French model, fashion designer, and member of the International “Best Dressed Hall of Fame.” What’s more: she’s an iconic example of French uniform dressing.

One of Ines’ foundation uniform pieces is a navy cashmere sweater. She pairs it with white jeans or black pants, or layers it under a blazer.

uniform-dressing-navy-cashmere-sweater

Here’s what Vogue had to say about stylish French women (Ines in particular) and uniform dressing:

“We’re talking about the most intensely coveted sartorial secret of all: effortless, indubitably stylish uniform dressing. No deliberate statement-making, no peacocking of designer freebies, no trends. Rather than trying to squeeze oneself into someone else’s image—whether it’s fresh off the runway or vintage-sourced—uniform dressing involves making a piece of clothing a natural fit for the wearer’s own style.”

It’s not about fitting the clothes, see: It’s about the clothes fitting you.”

“Just look to French style icon Ines de la Fressange, who has become almost synonymous with her daily uniform…”

“This utterly refreshing lack of label-mongering is the cleverest way to always look appropriate and never dated, and it’s the tried-and-true secret among French women of her generation.”

“It’s the epitome of personal style, of the art of dressing like a real woman, one with a job, and a life, and things to do beyond going to an event to get her picture taken. And what’s more effortless—or chic—than that?”

So if you’re looking to build a wardrobe of “fewer, better things,” consider starting with styles you find flattering in basic colors – navy, camel, or gray.

Our Caroline body style is a great choice – it’s fit is flattering on most women. It comes in different neck styles (V-neck, crew neck, turtleneck) and the fit works in both a cardigan and pullover. The 2-ply knit weight works as a 3-season sweater, and it’s perfect for layering.

If you need any help with your selections, or you want a color or size that we don’t have in stock, please give me a call at 888-343-6771 or email me at info@isleofskyecashmere.com. We have more sweaters coming in from Scotland each week, and I can help you find what you want to begin you journey towards “uniform dressing”.

Rita Jones
Found and Owner – Isle of Skye Cashmere

Carrie Bradshaw’s Stylist: Classic Pieces Worn in Interesting Ways

For almost 15 years, Isle of Skye Cashmere was both “brick and mortar” and online.

What I liked best about the “brick and mortar” store was helping customers find clothes that looked great on them.

I saw too many women following what I consider misguided fashion advice – advice driven by the media’s focus on “fast fashion” and an obsession with the latest trends and colors.

So much of the fashion business is focused on getting you to buy the newest thing, not on helping you look great.

If you’ve shopped in my store, or if you’ve read my thoughts about personal style, you know that some of the ideas I’ve tried to help my customers avoid include:

  • Choosing clothes based on the latest fashion trends.
  • Becoming a walking billboard for a designer’s logo or initials.
  • Dressing like your young daughter.

In fact, my advice in selecting clothes centers on a few simple principles I articulated almost 15 years ago.

I built my business around these principles:

  • At Isle of Skye Cashmere, our selection of clothes is based on a personal aesthetic that values classic style and quality over fashion and fad.
  • Our style sense starts with the idea that a woman’s wardrobe should be built on a foundation of high quality, classic pieces.
  • Classic styling is all about your personality taking center stage, not your clothes.

Despite what you read in the popular press, if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll find that the most successful professionals in the fashion industry believe in the same ideas.

I recently read an interview with Patricia Field, the costume designer for “Sex and the City” and a legend in the fashion industry.

Based on the fabulous wardrobe she created for Carrie Bradshaw, many people may imagine her style philosophy centers on an edgy, trendy look.

But in an interview New York magazine, here is what Patricia Field had to say about her own style sensibility:

“My style has always been about classic pieces worn in interesting ways.

“Trendy pieces felt silly because they’re just too locked into a time period, and they haven’t had a chance to prove themselves, so to speak. They come and go.

“Even though many people see me as an edgy type of fashion person, at the base of my fashion philosophy is classics.

“When I’m getting dressed today, I have a closet full of pieces that I’ve had for many years and continue to enjoy without looking “vintage.” That’s what I’m talking about – classics that are timeless.

“You could have a Chanel jacket and you could put it with a pair of jeans. You don’t have to wear it with Chanel head to toe. That’s the example that people understand.

“You could wear a string of pearls with a white T-shirt. It’s perfectly fine; they’re both classic. But it’s how you put it together. It’s about the styling.”

This past week, I sent an email to my loyal customers about the Coco Boatneck Cashmere Sweater. I mentioned that this sweater is a great basic that could be paired with slacks or skirts for a sophisticated, dressy look.

Coco Cashmere Boatneck Sweater

If you need a bit of help in imagining how to make the Coco Cashmere Boatneck Sweater work for you, look no further than fashion icon Olivia Palermo. For style inspiration rooted in the classics, I love so many of Olivia’s looks.

Olivia is well known in the fashion industry as a model, stylist, and style ambassador. In New York, she is one of the fashion paparazzi’s favorite subjects.

For her wedding last winter, Olivia paired a cream 3/4 sleeve cashmere boatneck with a tulle skirt to make a stunning wedding outfit. I love the look – simple, understated elegance.

The boatneck works beautifully to frame her face and balance her silhouette. Nothing could better illustrate Patricia Field’s concept of “classic pieces worn in interesting ways.”Her personality and natural beauty take center stage, not the clothes.

Olivia Palermo Cashmere Boatneck Sweater

If you need help in finding a classic cashmere sweater that helps create your best look, please call (888-343-6771) or email me at info@isleofskyecashmere.com.

At Isle of Skye Cashmere, our sweaters are designed and made to look better, feel better, and last longer than any other sweaters you own.

Also, if you’re looking for a size or color already sold out, please get in touch with us. More are on the way from Scotland. We’ll hold one for you.

Rita Jones
Isle of Skye Cashmere – Owner & Founder

 

From Great to Amazing…

Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about the importance of building a stylish wardrobe from a foundation of classic pieces. But, we also know that the secret weapon of every stylish woman is the unexpected item(s) that turns a great look into an amazing one. As shown on the left, Heidi Klum knows how to style a classic jeans/blazer/cashmere sweater look with great heels, jewelry, and the pushed up sleeves.

At Isle of Skye Cashmere, we have lots of ideas on how to get that amazing look. Our favorite way to do this is with a great looking cashmere sweater in an eye-popping color. But we also love to add gorgeous shoes, a knockout handbag, a piece of signature jewelry, or a cashmere scarf in a “wow” color or pattern. Here is some advice we give our customers as we work with them to add drama to classically styled outfits:

  • Color – Try accenting your black or white basics with dramatic colors such as a Caribbean Blue or a Ferrari Red, or your personal favorite “statement” color. You can add these accents  with a cashmere sweater, a tailored cotton shirt, or a  silk skirt. Chose colors that work best for you…not what the fashion magazines say is “in” this year.
  • Great shoes – Ballet flats and  pumps are the classics, and black is the most versatile. But Repetto Ballet Flats and Christian Leboutin pumps come in great colors that add “wow” to any outfit.
  • Prints can be risky, because a print that is too bold or busy can be unflattering to many body shapes. A great place to start is low contrast prints, such as soft toned plaids and floral pastels. Worn with a complementary solid piece or accessory, they can look great on most women.  One way to be more dramatic with a bolder print is with a scarf.  Try accenting your classic pieces with a beautiful Cashmere print, or a Hermes silk scarf.
  • A great handbag means great proportion, perfect size, and mouthwatering colors. The Hermes Kelly and Birkin bags are classics, but not practical for many women. But these classics have inspired other similar designs in handcrafted Italian leather. Consider choosing a classic style in a color that makes a statement.
  • Belts – with jeans, over a sweater, nipping the waist of a tailored dress. A simple, elegant and beautifully made belt can be the perfect accent piece to any outfit.
  • Jewelry – The French believe that a woman’s life story lies in her jewelry box. Your classic style can take the exuberance of your most dramatic statement jewelry. But it will also look amazing with the simplest stud earrings or pearl necklace. Accessorize with jewelry that tells your story.
  • Fashion Fun – Add an interesting piece representing the latest fashion trend. Fashion items come and go, so it’s fun to buy an inexpensive, but trendy item to add some drama to your classic pieces.

A key to getting that amazing look is knowing when to stop with the accent items – sometimes you have to experiment to get it just right. Stylish dressing is all about understated elegance –  if there are too many pieces competing to make a statement, then its usually just one loud mess.

Cashmere Princess
Fashion Apprentice – Isle of Skye Cashmere