My 9 to 5: Rosie Sugden, Knitwear Designer

Rosie Sugden

When sitting down to think about who I should profile for the November instalment of the #My9to5 interview series one woman kept coming to mind… Scottish knitwear designer, Rosie Sugden. I first met Rosie earlier this year, on a photoshoot, and I was so inspired by the passion she displayed for her namesake business.

Rosie’s knitwear designs are all produced in the most dreamy Scottish cashmere. And, since launching her label in 2011, Rosie has steadily grown the business, and is now stocked internationally at the likes of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. Here Rosie reveals exactly how she made it all happen…

When did you first develop an interest in knitwear? And how did your journey begin?

I grew up around textiles in the North of Scotland. My father worked at a mill and used to take me around all of the different departments after picking me up from school. He was very hands-on and knew about every process the cashmere, wool or merino went through. So I think his passion for textiles that seeped into my life.

I enjoyed being creative from a very young age, and I attended Northumbria University, where I studied fashion design and specialised in knitwear.

About a year and a half after leaving university I decided to start my own business. It all happened very organically and felt like the right time. I moved back home, wrote a business plan, designed a small collection, attended local classes on book-keeping, and then everything took off from there.

Rosie Sugen Cashmere My 9 to 5

You started your brand at a very young age. What motivated you do create your own label? And how did you manage the fear that comes with taking such a big step?

I didn’t really overthink it, and perhaps that was somewhat naive. But I just felt a burning passion to create my own brand. And I actually thought that being young was a huge advantage, because if it didn’t work out it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

My parents were very flexible about me living at home for a year, and that allowed me to keep my overheads low. And I’m so lucky that my father has worked in textiles throughout his life. He is endlessly experienced in sales and production, which are the two areas that I really had to push myself to learn. He’s always been there for me, and he loves to see my designs.

And when I launched the brand my brother was conveniently working in sales, so he helped me with my pricing structure.  So, in general, I didn’t feel too much fear because I had such amazing mentors surrounding me. And I was careful not to rush anything too. My first collection in 2011 was tiny. It was really just to test the waters. But it worked, and in 2012 I began setting targets and moving into wholesale.

Rosie Sugden Cashmere

What does your typical workday look like? If such a thing even exists…

I usually wake up at 7am, when my six-month-old pug Daphne starts squeaking. Then we have cuddles and peppermint tea in bed, and I slowly wake up. Daphne usually has a lie in while I check emails and do my Instagram post for the day. I find Instagram quite draining, as I feel a lot of pressure to post frequently. And I’m always stuck for captions. I try to draft them when I’m feeling creative so they’re ready to go whenever I need them.

Daphne and I usually go for a quick whip around the park at 8.30am, and then I make breakfast and head to my desk. My go-to breakfasts are smoothies or avocado on rye toast. But, with the weather getting colder, I think I’ll be back on the porridge soon!

Once I’ve been through my emails, I’ll take a look at the orders that need to go out and see which couriers I’m expecting for collections that day. If I can, I try to go to the gym for a circuits class at midday. I find I need a break from my computer, and exercise helps me feel more focused in the afternoon.

Every two weeks I head down the Scottish Borders to visit the mill. During peak production time in June and July I’m there at least once a week. Those are my favourite days, I love driving to the mill with Daphne by my side and seeing what’s going on down there. Like my father, I’m very hands on and I find it hard to stay away!

During the summer I usually clock off at 5.30pm. But winter is the peak time of year for me, and there’s always so much to do, so I’ll often work until 7pm.

Rosie Sugden Cashmere Socks

How do you like to unwind after a busy day?

I find cooking relaxing. It keeps me from scrolling mindlessly through my phone all evening. Occasionally I might go for a swim after I finish work, but more often than not you’ll find me glued to a Scandi murder mystery on BBC4. My boyfriend calls me D.I. Sugden because I love detective dramas so much!

I also love going out for Mexican food with friends during the week. Our favourite is El Cartel on Thistle Street in Edinburgh – delicious guac, tacos, and frozen margaritas!

What’s the biggest challenge that you currently face in your 9 to 5?

It’s hard to delegate when you’re running your own business. And sometimes I’ve cursed myself for trying to do too much all by myself – for example, staying up until 1am barcoding 600 unites.

I always have to be conscious of how I use my time. My sister-in-law recently started practising the Alexander Technique at work, and as a result she’s encouraged me to do everything in a more considered manner. It sounds so obvious, but just doing one task at a time really helps me stay focussed. So – rather than having five email chains on the go, iPhoto open with images to edit and invoices half drafted – I just focus on one thing at a time and I really do think it makes me more productive.

And, thankfully, I’m slowly getting better at outsourcing and recognising when I need help. I think it’s just a process of learning how to adapt to your business as it grows.

And, on the flip side, what is the biggest perk of your job?

Definitely being my own boss! I’m able to work at full throttle when I choose to, and move at a slower pace when I feel like it. I also love the fact that my business takes me around the world. My cashmere is sold in some of my favourite cities – including Tokyo, New York and Paris – so I always have a good excuse to travel.

Knitwear Designer Career Profile
Knitwear Designer Career Profile

As your own boss, how do you continue to stay motivated and remain productive?

I’m extremely lucky that I really love what I do. So, overall, that keeps me motivated. Also I know that if I don’t finish a task there’s no-one else who will step in and do it for me!

In terms of productivity, I always have to step back and check that I’m working efficiently. The Alexander Technique really helps with that. I also have a notepad that I write in every evening, because I find that’s when I get my best ideas. I jot any ideas down in the the notebook, and then refer back to them in the morning when I can take action.

Which other women working in the industry inspire you on a daily basis?

I admire all women who work, whether that’s full time, part time, or choosing to raise a family full-time – because that looks like bloody hard work to me! I’m a passionate feminist and I feel very strongly about creating equal opportunities for women and men.

Within the fashion industry I’ve always been inspired by Stella McCartney’s innovation and the fact that she’s so dedicated to sustainable fashion. She’s always looking to the future so that we can stop exploiting the planet and animals for the sake of fashion.

And, finally, what is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given? And who gave it to you?

Work hard! My father definitely taught me to graft and hustle. I also came up with a mantra for myself during my first year of business. I used to find it hard not to take rejection personally, so I needed a way to boost my morale before emailing buyers and editors. So, before pressing ‘send’ on an email, I quickly remind myself of all of the good things that have happened because I’ve been “polite, patient and persistent”. And those three words quickly became my mantra. I honestly don’t think you can go wrong if you’re always polite, patient and persistent!

Follow Rosie Sugden on Instagram at @rosiesugdencashmere and shop the Rosie Sugden Cashmere collection at rosiesugden.com.

Catch up on the previous #my9to5 interviews here >>


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