Interview with designer Lindsay Mason
Fall is here, which means trading flouncy floral dresses and airy cotton tanks for luxe wool blazers and mocknecks galore. Fast forward to late November as the brisk autumn weather turns cooler, it’ll be high time for chunky knit accessories to keep cozy all winter long. Enter: French Knot. Recently transplanted to Lafayette, designer, Lindsay Mason, is passionate about bringing ethically-made and quality knit hats, headbands, and handwarmers from Nepal to the States. In this exclusive interview with PATTERN, Lindsay dishes on her passion for the fashion industry, commitment to offering fair trade products, and building of her thriving, woman-owned, small business.
Monica Sallay: How did you develop a fascination with fashion and textiles?
Lindsay Mason: I developed an interest at 16 when I worked retail at the GAP. Our uniform—a white button-up shirt over khakis—made me cringe, so I embellished the tops and replaced the buttons to make it more fun! I would even buy items (skirts, in particular) to trace the pattern and recreate it in a more colorful fabric. My supervisors weren’t always happy, but I was!
MS: How did your interest in fair trade products and ethical practices begin?
LM: After 7 years of experience in the fashion industry, I realized I enjoyed working with artisans the most. It’s satisfying to be able to provide work for and empower Nepali woman, and it gives an added meaning to both the product and the time I spend developing it.
I also believe that ethical manufacturing is the only way to go as a business owner. Businesses have to make a lot of choices that often boil down to deciding between keeping costs lower or taking the responsible route. I wouldn’t feel good about French Knot if we didn’t go about sourcing in a responsible way.
MS: What is your connection to the Nepali people and Nepal, in general?
LM: We work with over 1,000 artisans in Nepal. We work closest with the owners of the knitting co-ops. My goal is to learn more Nepali so that I can better communicate directly with the knitters that don’t speak English.
We have a real love for Nepal and the Nepali people. Every time we visit, we learn and admire them more. The people of Nepal have far less in the way of material things than most Americans, but they are the happiest people we’ve ever met.
MS: What inspired you to build a business in fall/winter accessories with your father? Was he supportive throughout the starting processes?
LM: I had wanted to start a business since 2006 when I graduated from college, but I knew I didn’t have the experience and knowledge at that point. I wasn’t ever completely satisfied designing for other companies. My dad bought me a book for Christmas one year about starting your own business. It must have been 500 pages! I brought this book to work and would pore over its pages during lunch.
After I was laid off from my job as a knitwear designer in 2012, I decided it was the right time. With 7 years of industry experience under my belt, I felt confident in designing the products, but had to quickly learn how to swim amongst the sharks of the business world. I was originally approached by investors who wanted 50 percent ownership. When I talked this over with my family, my dad thought it was a bad deal and said that he and my mom would help me any way that they could.
We didn’t have much money to start, but my parents gave me a place to live and my dad built me an office out of his barn. They worked on the weekends to help me build a booth that we took to our first trade show where we sold over 12,000 pieces. It was then that we knew we were on to something!
MS: What was the motive behind opening a French Knot design and operations office in Lafayette? What has the reception from the community been like?
LM: My husband was offered an Assistant Professor position at Purdue University and we worked together as a team to decide whether the move would work for both of us. I was originally skeptical about uprooting the business, but after coming to Indiana a few times, I fell in love! Lafayette is very supportive of small businesses and the historic downtown area is charming and inspiring. We also work with the students at Purdue and have a fabulous team of interns.
I also think it’s particularly important to support women-owned businesses. If women succeed, I think it will only inspire other women to become entrepreneurs and help eliminate the gender gap.
MS: What is your favorite French Knot product?
LM: Oh geez. All 150 SKUs are like my little babies. It doesn’t seem fair to pick a favorite! But if I have to, I do favor the Fiona Hat because of its bold pattern and elaborate embroidery.
MS: Why do you feel it is important to support small businesses like French Knot?
LM: By supporting local businesses, you are also supporting your community. Small businesses create more jobs locally and the tax dollars go to local schools etc. I also think it’s particularly important to support women-owned businesses. If women succeed, I think it will only inspire other women to become entrepreneurs and help eliminate the gender gap.
MS: What advice would you give to people who would like to start a fair trade and ethical clothing business, but don’t know where to start?
LM: Find your niche. If you’re a designer looking to start a line, work in the industry and understand what sells and also where there are needs in the market. I can’t stress working for other companies enough. It’s important to see all sides of the industry and the different roles that everyone plays in making the business run smoothly.
When it comes to ethically-made items, your cost of goods is going to be higher than other companies. Stand your ground and be sure to communicate the difference between your product and mass-produced items found at large retailers.