Brooke Roberts: an Inspired Fusion of Brain Scans, Luxury Fashion & Digital Knitting
Brooke Roberts is Founder & Creative Director of her eponymous luxury knitwear label which explores links between science and design.
Brooke worked as a Radiographer prior to studying Fashion Design and uses her in-depth understanding of human anatomy, gained through her interpretation of x-rays and CT Scans, to inform and direct her textile design, cutting and construction techniques. Brooke continues to work as a Cardiac Radiographer in the NHS and private sector while running her fashion label, based in London.
Brooke programs her knitwear directly from x-rays, CT and MRI scans, body-mapping and contouring to achieve striking graphic effects through colour and texture. Her knitwear combines cashmere, extra-fine merino, cotton, silk, techno-plastics, reflective and metallic yarns.
For her current Autumn Winter 2012 collection, Brooke utilised natural and man-made yarns to create hightech hybrid knits and shot the campaign at The BMI London Independent Hospital X-ray Department, fusing medical imaging equipment and futuristic knitwear, in the clinical environment from which the brand ethos and concepts originated. The collection was presented at Paris Fashion Week to International press and buyers and will be in stores from July 2012.
Brooke develops her knitted fabrics through a process of digital and hand-operated knitting. The digital knitting involves ‘programming’ fabric designs from digital medical images, assigning a yarn selection to each pixel, ie. stitch, within the image.
We spoke to Brooke about her dual life as a Radiographer & Fashion Designer; the inspired moment which led her to fuse brain scans with knitting; and which aspects of running a company keep her awake at night.
TNW: How did you come up with the idea for your science-inspired luxury knitwear brand and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?
BR: After completing an Applied Science Degree in Sydney I began a career in Radiography before moving to London and studying fashion design. Working as a Radiographer while studying fashion inspired my idea to combine the two. I was performing a brain scan one day and wondered if I could create a digitally knitted fabric from it. I had just launched my label and it became the fundamental ethos of my brand from that moment on.
TNW: What makes your company different from your competitors?
BR: My product is truly unique, and comes from my specialist knowledge in two rather different disciplines. I have developed digital programming techniques for translating medical images into knitted fabrics, with the result being highly technical yet simple and wearable. I would say I combine very high-concept knitwear design with luxury and wearability in a way that no other brand does. My brand speaks to consumers who are tech-aware and style conscious.
TNW: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?
BR: This is an evolving area of my business. My team members tend to have a broad skill-base and adaptability because my business is small. The key qualities I look for are passion for the product and the industry in which we work, dedication, the desire to learn and grow with the brand, a solid skill-base in communication and one of the following: A degree qualification or equivalent experience in Fashion Design, Fashion Business, or Operations (supply chain and manufacturing).
TNW: Who were your first customers and how hard was it to attract them?
My first customers were friends and peers. They were very supportive of my brand, and assisted me in growing the business organically.
My first retail account was Browns. It took 18 months of discussions, emails and recommendations to demonstrate my label had 'legs' before I secured the Browns account'.
TNW: What is next for your company?
BR: Investment. I am working on attracting investment to grow my business. In addition, Autumn Winter 2012 production is in progress, while I begin my next collection, Spring Summer 2013, to be presented at London and Paris Fashion week this September/October.
TNW: Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?
- Be honest and clear with yourself about your vision, goals and motivations.
- There will be tough times, and you will wonder why you started your business, which is where point 1 comes in handy!
- Do it. It will make your character richer and you will discover ability and strength you never knew you had.
TNW: What does your day look like?
BR: It depends.
My business is self-funded, so I work in the hospital for half of the week, and the other half I am in my studio.
At the hospital I work in the Cardiac Catheter Lab, so I do angiographic studies of the heart. Generally I’m up at 7am and my shifts are from 9am-9pm, so I frantically check my emails in breaks and try to stay on top of press and supplier queries. I get home at around 9:45pm, follow-up on outstanding emails then watch TV to disconnect from the day. I’ll usually go to bed at around 1am.
On non-hospital days I work from my live/work studio in East London with my team, who are currently mostly freelancers. We deal with the current season’s production, next season yarn orders, design and mock-ups, press requests for product to be shot for editorial, interviews and invoicing/accounts.
I schedule business meetings with my PR, mentors and collaborators at The Hospital Club, where I was a Creative In Residence in 2011. I continue to work with the club on events for my brand and developing my industry links. I’ll then have dinner with my partner, who runs his own business and is thankfully very supportive and understanding. Bedtime is around 1am, or when we pass out on the sofa (whichever comes first!)
TNW: Do you lie awake at night sometimes thinking about the company? What aspects of it specifically keep you awake?
Financing my business and maintaining cash flow cause me the most stress and are the biggest challenges for me. They have certainly given me sleepless nights.
Factories not meeting deadlines is another.
TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?
BR: Being stocked at Browns in South Molton Street. The boutique is so prestigious, and is seen as a barometer of emerging luxury fashion labels, so this was a great achievement. Winning the Creatives in Residence Award at The Hospital Club and the support of Vulcan Inc. for my SS12 collection was also a huge highlight.
TNW: Do you have plans to expand internationally? Which countries and when?
BR: I am planning expansion to America, with a potential New York stockist launching the Spring Summer 2013 collection in December 2012.
TNW: Do you believe it is better to find customers then funding or vice versa?
BR: Customers, then funding. I have found in the initial stages of growing my business that it is important for me to learn and develop my product for my customers. Funding would not negate that, and could, in fact, be a distraction in terms of allocation of funds and potentially growing a brand too quickly.
I am a firm believer in organic growth in the early years of building a business. Customers are key to growth. If they remain integral to the brand the rest will take care of itself.
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