Founder interview with Anna Woodruff

Kindred spirit, stylist, and curator Mel Mikletic interviewed Francie founder Anna Woodruff for the Before March Makers Series.

Her questions were as considered as everything else she does at Before March. So we had to share the interview here.

Anna is photographed above by Jessica Grilli



Synonymous with the key pillars our curation is built on - timelessness & longevity, Francie knitwear offer lasting, chameleonic knits that quickly solidify themselves as repeat worthy staples. A testament to designer & founder Anna Woodruff's keen attention to quality yarn & a commitment to localised production. 

Upon each conversation with Anna, her integrity has continued to enhance our appreciation for her practice and make Francie's knitwear all the more beautiful than it already is objectively. Speaking to a true interconnection between herself and her craft. 

It is our pleasure to share a little interview with Anna below. 

 

Images above - Ilsa Wynne-Hoelscher Kidd


WHAT LED YOU TO LAUNCH FRANCIE & WHAT ARE YOUR EARLIEST MEMORIES OF THE BRAND?

I used to travel as a fashion buyer, where I got to see the work of beautiful designers all over the world. I realised that despite Australia's history with wool and knitting, there weren't many local brands designing more considered knitwear. Francie began humbly with just one design (The Doll's Jumper) which was based on the zero-waste Japanese method of designing around rectangular pattern pieces. I remember making the first prototype by cutting up and resewing a jumper from an op shop. It took over a year of sampling to perfect that piece, but it is still a key part of the collection today.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE FRANCIE'S APPROACH TO CURATING A WARDROBE?

Overall, our approach is to build up a wardrobe slowly. So that you can save up for quality pieces that sit beautifully, and will last.

A good place to begin is to examine the pieces that you adore. Try to work out why you love how you feel when you wear them and go from there. It might be the colour, the shape, the material, or a bit of both. For me, I always feel good in silhouettes that come in at the waist, and skim over the hips and legs. But for other people it's the opposite. Once you work out which shapes make you feel good, you can slowly build up a wardrobe of pieces that all work together. When I'm shopping, I try to think about the pieces I have that I love, and how a new piece might work with them. I will often go away, look at my wardrobe, and come back the next day to purchase it. It has taken a few years, but I now feel like I have a satisfyingly small wardrobe of pieces that all work together.


WHAT ARE THREE KEY WORDS THAT BUILD A SKETCH OF FRANCIE?

Sensual, understated and considered.

YOUR PRODUCTION IS SPLIT BETWEEN MELBOURNE & AUCKLAND, DID YOU INTENTIONALLY SEEK TO PRODUCE IN THESE LOCALITIES & WHY SO?

Initially, our desire was just to make beautiful knitwear, and it was also just a given that it should be made ethically and sustainably. We looked into a few places to knit, but we found that making locally meant we could be more connected with our makers and our pieces. Making locally means we are able to knit more sustainably, know that we are paying our makers properly, and maintain the high quality of our pieces too. 

CAN YOU DEBUNK ANY COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS OF THE KNITWEAR INDUSTRY OR PERHAPS SOME OF YOUR FIBRES IN PARTICULAR?

One of the big "wow" moments is when I tell people that Australia currently sends all of their wool overseas to be spun, and then we have to have to buy it back and get it shipped back to where it came. This is because there are no industrial wool spinners remaining here. We have begun working more and more with some New Zealand spinners to bring our supply chain closer - but it still feels quite crazy that there isn't any spinning here. I think people are thinking more and more about where things are made, so hopefully, there is more investment in local manufacturing in the future. 

 

Image above - Jessica Grilli


IT'S CLEAR THAT WE HAVE A PARTICULAR AFFINITY FOR YOUR SIGNATURE SHEER KNITS, HOW DID THESE CEMENT THEMSELVES AS STAPLES THROUGHOUT YOUR RANGES?

We love them too! All of our designs start with a yarn we like the look of (the mohair is a gorgeous one from Italy), and then we knit a swatch to see how it looks when knitted on our machine. The swatch usually "tells us" what garment it wants to be knitted into. We never really know how it will look until we start knitting,  and it was actually a happy accident that the mohair knitted up slightly sheer. As soon as we saw that, we began imagining the translucent mohair pieces that are now definitely firm francie favourites.

 

CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU'VE FACED IN BUILDING YOUR BRAND?

The last few years in particular have meant that truthfully there are more than I can count! But the silver lining to that is we have learnt to problem solve at a very quick rate. Covid related lockdowns have managed to cause problems at every step of the way for years and we are still in it. Lockdowns have effected our yarn spinners, our knitters, and our stores, even just trying to photograph our pieces was almost impossible at times! The main thing we have learnt throughout is that if you are transparent, honest, and kind - most people will understand and do the same for you. I think that this is something that applies whether you are in a pandemic or not.

Image above - Ilsa Wynne-Hoelscher Kidd


WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK AND FEEL LIKE TO YOU?

Right now it already feels like success to have this meaningful label as my full-time job. I don't have any plans to take over the world - but my next goal for Francie is to get the business to a point where i could potentially step away for a month and everything would keep going. We aren't quite there, but we are close! I'm sure many small business owners can relate to that being a pretty big thing to achieve. 


WHAT MAKES FOR A MEMORABLE DAY ON THE JOB? AND WHAT ARE SOME HIGHLIGHTS THUS FAR?

The most memorable moments are when we get to see or hear that one of our designs have had a real effect on someone. Whether it's someone who is trying to put together a more thoughtful wardrobe and is just discovering how beautiful natural fibres are, or someone who is going through a change with their body ( whether it's age, weight, gender, etc) and our knits help them feel themselves again. We spend so long getting different people to try on all of our knits to perfect the shapes, and those moments when we get that positive feedback are the best. It sounds a bit soppy - but we really just love that effervescence when our designs help someone feel great.


WHAT'S BEEN FEEDING YOUR INSPIRATION OF LATE? 

I have always loved people watching - nothing beats sitting down for lunch on smith street and seeing who walks by. I also just love spending time with anyone who is passionate about what they do - whether it's fashion, photography, music, the law or anything really. Passionate people are always inspiring.


IN TIMES OF FLUX AND UNCERTAINTY HOW DO YOU CENTRE YOURSELF?

A dose of perspective always brings me back down to earth. An old boss of mine who has a label used to say "Don't forget, it's just fashion, no-one is going to die". In the fashion world there can be a tendency to think that the stakes are high. But when i'm getting stressed about something, I remind myself that my friends and family are healthy and safe, and in this crazy world there are much bigger issues out there than what ever hiccup has just occurred for Francie. I think the slow ethos of our label helps us ride through the storms too. For a fast fashion label, the clock is always ticking on everything that is produced. Where as for us, we are always working on our range with longevity in mind. If a design takes a bit longer to perfect, we know it will be just as adored whether it gets released on time, a month late, or a year late.

 

Image above - Jessica Grilli


WHAT MIGHT YOU BE LISTENING TO AND/OR READING THAT YOU MIGHT LIKE TO SHARE?

I'm listening to a NY based musician called Photay, and I have a bit of Marlon Williams on repeat a lot of the time (swoon) . I also often have a podcast on the go - one of my favourites is a design podcast called "99% Invisible".  I've been reading "Invisible Women" - which is about how so much of the world around us is designed without women in mind. From seatbelt design, to work safe standards, to everything in between, the "Average human" is usually based on an average male, leading to poorer outcomes for women in almost every aspect of life. I find I can only read a chapter at a time before I get just too worked up! But it does make me feel even more passionate about continuing to create and advocate for fair working conditions in our industry. On a lighter note - I also just bought myself an amazing book about the work of Josef and Annie Albers. He was a colour theorist, and she was a weaver - so they were a real design power couple. I love finding inspiration from artists and textile designers, rather than fashion designers. Art and design feels more timeless, while "fashion" can feel more transient.

ANY FINAL FERVENT THOUGHTS TO SHARE? 

One of the biggest things I have learnt while creating this label is just how precious and specialised local knitwear design and production is. As so many brands now make off-shore, Australia and New Zealand have very few knitting machines left, and even fewer people who are trained in how to operate them. If we don't support the local knitwear industry we are at the risk of losing them (and their irreplaceable knowledge) forever, which is why we are so passionate about knitting here. And why we are so chuffed that people like you support what we do.


Thankyou again to Mel from Before March for her interview.
You can visit the iconic Before March store in Northcote, Victoria or online.

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