When Steph Mundy first moved to Johannesburg from London, she looked for the perfect jumper. Unable to find what she wanted, she looked for someone who could knit her one from a sketch she had drawn. When others saw it, they asked her to design and make them one too, which lead to Steph forming the The Seen Collective, a group of women who make jumpers for all seasons. We asked her tell us more:
My mother is a fabulous knitter, and as was her mother before her. My grandmother was a beautiful French woman who could whip up a sweater for you with such ease. That rhythmic clicking sound of needles takes me right back to her home in France. It fascinates me that through looping and soft knotting of fibre you can create your own fabric. And with different knitters, you get variations in tension. Knitting is such a beautiful, universal craft.
Most of our collective live in a home for elderly women of limited means in the centre of Johannesburg. I also found an amazing local pattern writer. We work together with drawings and images to work out shape and fit. We meet once or twice a week for workshops and chats. The women make me laugh like a drain, they have seen so much of life. This exchange of information, and humour and stories is where the Seen really happens.
We hand make every piece. Love, care and attention is required. By the time a Seen jumper gets to its forever home it has passed through many beautifully worn hands, and heard a few good stories. We put our souls into making these pieces – you can feel it in our jumpers.
Our fibres are local. I source mohair from a rural-based spinner and dyer in the Eastern Cape whom I trust completely. I went to her initially because she has the most beautiful colour palette. All the dying is done by hand by women – a labour intensive process – which means the yarns have a wide and remarkable range of hues. They use cruelty-free mohair and wool fibres from the Karoo region. Mohair and wool are renewable, natural resources.
The colour palettes are inspired by art. We often work from a painting, or the work of a specific artist whose colours resonate in some way. I love the painterly quality you can achieve by softly knitting different tones of the same colour into one piece. Each jumper seems to take on its own spirit. The fits of our current collection are loose and easy, it gives a casual ease to such a soft fibre. Mohair and wool are both naturally breathable, but also remarkably strong and durable. The result is a sense of soft encasement.
You don’t buy a handmade mohair jumper to wear for one season. You spend many cosy winter days in that jumper’s embrace, you squeeze it into your beach bag to wrap around your shoulders when the sun sets. Investing in one of our jumpers is an investment in a story, and a belief that if we support those around us in our community, in an ethical way, then we are choosing to make this world a better place.
The journey I have been on with the brand has been eye opening. It started off being so simple: I wanted to design jumpers. But it has become about something so much bigger: the beautiful connections I have with remarkable women. I learn so much from the knitters, far more than I could ever teach them. Their energy and narrative is a key part of our story. Our clients are special people too. I never saw myself as a sales person, but the interaction I have had with people so far has been wonderful.
You can find us on Instagram; in Missibaba, on Bree Street in Cape Town and from late September our collection will be available in Lallibella in Notting Hill Gate, London. Our pieces retail for between R2500 – R3000.
Photo credit: @hugo_bodenham below from left are: Stephy Mundy, Felicity Asvat and Geli Ngcobo