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

The High Costs of Cheap Cashmere Sweaters

I started Isle of Skye Cashmere with a simple concept in mind: everyone ought to be able to buy the highest quality cashmere at a reasonable price.

The best cashmere sweaters –almost as a rule– are knit and hand-finished in Scotland, and the same Scottish mills that knit sweaters for Chanel and Hermes knit sweaters for Isle of Skye Cashmere.

This means that the cashmere sweaters at Isle of Skye Cashmere are as well made as any cashmere sweater you’ll find at Chanel.Rita Jones - Isle of Skye Cashmere

But it also means that through direct sourcing and low overheads, I’m able to offer cashmere sweaters of the highest quality at a reasonable price.

My experience shows that you’d be hard pressed to find sweaters made in Scotland priced more attractively than mine.

That being said, there are plenty of cashmere sweaters on the market today that are far less expensive than the cashmere sweaters I offer at Isle of Skye Cashmere.

But here’s the rub:  these lower cost cashmere sweaters –without exception– are mass produced for companies where standards of construction are lackluster at best.

Indeed, companies that mass-produce cashmere sweaters cut costs by making inferior products – cashmere sweaters that sag at the elbows, cashmere sweaters that pill, and cashmere sweaters that are knit at a low gauge.

More alarmingly, the workers that mass-produce these cashmere sweaters often earn only a few dollars per hour.

Conversely, knitters in Scotland –the knitters that knit for Isle of Skye Cashmere– earn a livable wage; they produce sustainable knitwear; and they adhere to environmental and labor regulations that are similar, if not more stringent, than those enforced in the United States.

In short, companies that mass-produce cashmere sweaters make compromises to achieve a lower cost that Isle of Skye Cashmere is not willing to make. The result of these compromises is a compromised, inferior product – a ‘mass-produced’ cashmere sweater in the worst sense of the word.

For mass-produced sweaters, the first area of compromise is often raw materials – the cashmere fibers.

In sourcing cashmere fibers, it’s true that you pay for what you get.

The best, most expensive fibers are thinner, softer and longer. They are therefore less likely to pill. They are also whiter (color purity when dying).

When mass-producers want to save money, they start with inferior fibers. These fibers are thicker, coarser, shorter, and therefore more likely to pill. They are also off-white (muddy dyed color).

Unfortunately, to the untrained eye, inferior cashmere fibers are extremely difficult to detect. Often, it’s only after wearing and cleaning the cashmere that you’ll notice the difference.

The low-quality fiber shows! The sweater looks and feels worn. It has lots of pilling. It’s not as soft as you would like it to be. Nor is it colorful and bright.

The second compromise mass-producers make: quality of construction – and here it’s easy to cut corners.

Scottish mills –the mills that knit sweaters for Chanel, Hermes, and Isle of Skye Cashmere– use a technique called “fully fashioning” when finishing sweaters.

During this process, individual pieces are linked together with cashmere yarn. And this is done by hand.

This process provides our cashmere sweaters a flexible, comfortable fit. It ensures that our sweaters will retain their shape.

Conversely, mass-producers often do anything but “fully fashion” their sweaters.

Mass-producers often sew sweaters together with machine and thread. This creates a less tailored, awkward fit. (Note: Another small area of compromise is the quality of buttons: Isle of Skye Cashmere uses mother of pearl buttons, whereas mass-producers often use plastic buttons, resulting in an inferior product.)

The third compromise mass-producers make: less cashmere in each cashmere sweater.

Mass producers do this by knitting at a lower gauge (density of knitting stitches).

The Scottish mills that knit for Chanel, Hermes, and Isle of Skye Cashmere knit 2-ply sweaters at 21-gauge. This gives each cashmere sweater a silky, soft drape.

Conversely, you’ll find inferior sweaters are often knit at 15-gauge. This saves money because the lower the gauge, the less cashmere.

Low gauge results in cashmere sweaters that are loose and gauzy. These cashmere sweaters lose shape over time. They bag at the shoulders and elbow.

The fourth compromise mass-producers always make: they knit cashmere sweaters in developing countries, often paying workers only a couple of dollars on the hour.

Isle of Skye Cashmere sources cashmere sweaters from Scotland – primarily from a family-owned company that pays skilled workers a living wage. Further, Scotland has environmental regulations similar, if not more stringent, to those in the US. The steps required to keep the water and air clean are costly.

Many developing countries fail to impose environmental regulations on mass-producers. Accordingly, there are few costs incurred to mitigate the impact of production processes on the environment.

It is an unfortunate reality, but a reality nonetheless.

So the next time you’re looking to buy a cashmere sweater, I hope you’ll keep the information above in mind.

Look at the label. Does it say “Made in China” or “Made in Scotland”?

I have no problem trying to save money on cashmere sweaters; but I do want to provide a clear and transparent alternative to consumers who value craftsmanship and lasting quality. I want to provide cashmere sweaters to consumers who are concerned about the impact of production on workers and the environment. (I have grandchildren!)

These are the values Isle of Skye Cashmere is all about.

Rita Jones
Founder and Owner – Isle of Skye Cashmere

 

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.

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!