Born in Lincolnshire, Catherine learned the art of knitting from her mother and grandmother. She perfected her knitting and design skills at the University of Brighton, England, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Honors in fashion textiles. Though she held various designer positions in New York, Catherine decided to leave the corporate world to pursue her passion and start a company with her husband. Inspired by a trip to the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru, ELEVEN SIX is the manifestation of Catherine and Nick’s love for handcrafted and beautiful products. They work with artisan women from Peru and Bolivia to create a truly unique knitwear brand.
Mood of Living Q & A
Mood of Living: What brought you to New York City?
Catherine Carnevale: After being attracted to the energy and opportunity New York had to offer whilst on an internship placement, I returned to NYC after graduating with my portfolio to find a position in knitwear. I told Nick (my boyfriend at that time) that I would stay for a couple of years to get experience and here we are together fifteen years later!
MoL: Can you describe your current role?
CC: I am the co-founder and creative director of my own knitwear brand: ELEVEN SIX. I design and develop three collections of knitwear a year for ELEVEN SIX. We produce in Peru with a small family factory and artisan groups, as well as in Bolivia with an artisan cooperative. Seeing as we are a considerably new company, I work on almost every part of the process, from concept to getting our product to our customers. I am certainly getting to exercise an extended skill-set beyond just the world of knitwear design, which makes the ELEVEN SIX experience very dynamic. I also offer my services as a knitwear designer and consultant.
Mood of Living: Where did you go to school?
Catherine Carnevale: Central Saint Martins School of Art & Design in London to achieve my Art & Design Foundation, and then to The University of Brighton to achieve a BA HONORS in fashion textiles with a business degree specializing in knitwear. The third year of the degree was a year in the industry, which was an incredibly valuable experience working in London, New York, and Milan.
MoL: What inspired you to become a knitwear designer?
CC: My mother and my grandmother were huge knitters and most of my clothes were handmade growing up. Being the eldest I think I was influenced the most. I started basic knitting, and any kind of sewing craft I could get my hands on, at a very young age. The roots of being a creator and a maker were definitely there from the beginning!
MoL: Where did you learn your craft?
CC: The roots came from my family but the true technical machine training came from my knitwear degree at the University of Brighton. 80% of the courses were working on the knitting machines learning to technically create fabric and techniques that could then translate into clothing. With knitwear you control every aspect of the process. You create your fabric where you determine the gauge (thickness), the stitch, the tension and then with technical understanding of how it will react you determine a made to measure technical package of measurements and finishing instructions that result in a garment. I like to describe knitwear design as a recipe.
MoL: What jobs did you have before you started your own business?
CC: My latest position was Senior Design Director of Women’s Knitwear at Club Monaco. Prior to that I was a Senior Knitwear Designer at Calvin Klein, and before that I held a series of design positions in knitwear as I gained my early years of experience.
MoL: What inspired you to create ELEVEN SIX? What inspired the name?
CC: ELEVEN SIX is an expression of wanting to create a lifestyle change. I was three months pregnant in Peru hiking in the Sacred Valley with my husband. Whilst being in the powerful mountainscapes of the Andes, I was struck by a strong sense that it was time to make a life change due the new life I had growing inside me. I decided I wanted to leave the corporate world as Nick had also done some years prior when he left the fashion industry to start the Gasoline Alley Coffee business. I wanted to create a more flexible world for the family we were about to have. The concept of ELEVEN SIX followed shortly after. Inspired by the skills of the artisan women in both Peru and Bolivia, I decided to form a knitwear line that would be produced there, with a focus on the use of baby alpaca, the specialty Andean fiber. I wanted to empower and support these artisan women with work. The name ELEVEN SIX was born from a combination of my birth date 11th of June (from the European date form), and then Oliver’s due date: 6th of November (US customary form). I have always liked numbers, and I liked that the name could be easily applied to other areas of products within a lifestyle brand.
MoL: Is it rewarding to work with the artisans in Peru and Bolivia?
CC: It has certainly been a rewarding, more personal and fulfilling journey knowing how and whom I am giving work to. By giving work to women in Peru and Bolivia, ELEVEN SIX empowers and gives women an opportunity to support their families. They are able to work at home so they can balance work with their family lives rather than having to work in factories. My most recent visit to both Peru and Bolivia was the most insightful into understanding further the world of the artisans. It was incredible to meet the actual women who translate my designs and learn more about their backgrounds and culture.
MoL: What are the pros and cons of being and entrepreneur? Are you enjoying the process?
CC: I am very much enjoying working for myself. It was change I was ready for after working in corporations for fifteen years prior. The pro’s: I get to organize my work time around my life commitments and family; I make my own decisions, and achieve an even greater work satisfaction from all the hard work I put in for myself especially when the results are achieved! The con’s: I am responsible for every aspect! While I enjoy being part of all areas at this early stage of shaping the ELEVEN SIX brand, it can sometimes be a challenge to wear every hat of the business and achieve all the goals I have to the standard I would like. I feel very fortunate to have gained experience in workload planning, and I honed my time management skills within my corporate career, which has allowed me to execute the business thus far almost single handedly. I look forward to growing a small ELEVEN SIX team in the near future.
MoL: What are the challenges of combining entrepreneurship, and maintaining a balanced life as a mother and wife?
CC: Being your own boss you are responsible for all aspects of the business; it can sometimes be hard to switch off a busy mind and to draw the line to have quality personal and family time. As I am in business with my husband we have worked on guidelines that divide work from our home life, otherwise it can become all-consuming and not a healthy balance. Having my son Oliver has definitely taught me to be much better at switching off as your priorities suddenly shift and become very clear, giving my working time even more focus and drive.
MoL: Do you have a favorite knitwear piece or line that you have designed?
CC: I would say the Sophia Jacket from our first season FW15, which we have continued as a technique in future collections. The piece is hand crocheted by the Bolivian artisans and always gets such an emotional reaction. I like to think the piece is almost timeless; if you like it personally and want to wear it, it is the kind of unique statement piece that you can wear dressed up or casually, wear at any age and can continue to pull out of the closet for years to come! I want this timeless approach to appeal to many of the hand crafted ELEVEN SIX pieces.
MoL: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you could really do this?
CC: High up in the Andes mountains!
MoL: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
CC: I would like ELEVEN SIX to have developed into a lifestyle brand expanding the women’s knitwear line into home, men’s and possibly kidswear. I would like to have our own retail concept stores which could be where we marry the coffee business Nick knows so well with the world of ELEVEN SIX. We have dreamed for many years that perhaps we might own a boutique B&B which would also perhaps be an extension of the ELEVEN SIX brand. From a philanthropic point of view, I would like to be involved in helping to support the education of the younger generation of knitters in Peru and Bolivia. I want to contribute to an educational program that informs how these women might use knitting as a skill that allows them to be creative, and perhaps develop into a design career rather than just seeing it as an old craft of past generations.
MoL: Where do you look for inspiration?
CC: Inspiration is absorbed from all around… travel, interiors, art, movies, music. I love to seek out original vintage gems and find authentic textile patterns or garments that can be translated in a modern way through knitwear. I am continuously inspired by the notion of head to toe knit dressing, which is part of our brand identity so I particularly enjoy looking back at old Sonia Rykiel collections from the 70’s and 80’s. She was the queen of knitwear!
MoL: Do you have a hobby?
CC: Last year we bought a house upstate, so I have enjoyed working on the interior aspect and transformation of the house. I also love hiking and being out in open nature which, pre the house and having my son Oliver, I would have travelled to seek out. We are most fortunate to have some great upstate national parks on our doorstep where we hike with our son Oliver strapped on our backs. It’s a piece of local paradise! I ride my bike pretty much everywhere, which is not technically a hobby but an important part of my life. Finally, I find yoga essential to centering myself amongst all of life’s demands. I try to get practice in a few times a week. It’s a gift to one’s body and mind!
MoL: What is your favorite quote?
CC: Where there is a will there is a way!
MoL: Who is an influential figure in your life?
CC: My husband, Nick. We have been together 20 years and lived both near and far! We met young; I was sixteen and Nick was nineteen. We have definitely shaped and grown with each other through many phases of our lives.
MoL: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
CC: Stay true to yourself; follow your dreams, as you never want to regret that you didn’t try something!
MoL: Do you have a favorite scent?
CC: I do have a thing for peonies and have always adored the Stella fragrance by Stella McCartney for many years! However, my latest carefree and favorite scent for the summer months is the Coqui Coqui Coco scent. Yes, I also have a coconut obsession!
MoL: What’s your favorite book?
CC: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy was a favorite read! I read it in 2006 whilst in Kerala, India where the book is set. Nick and I were celebrating 10 years together on the trip and stayed for a few days on a houseboat that journeyed the incredible Kerala Backwaters, which is also part of the story setting. The book was a particularly powerful read being amongst much of the exquisite descriptive sensory that Roy beautifully portrays. Roy’s writing style is heartbreakingly stunning!
MoL: Where do you go for peace of mind and spirit? Do you have a photo you would like to share?
CC: Into the beauty of nature: to the mountains or near water. I have found the Andes to be particularly peaceful and spiritual. It’s hard to articulate the immensity of these mountains in a photo but this is a favorite photo I like to look back on.
MoL: We find that people who make beautiful things are more likely to lead an artistic lifestyle. Do you spend much time creating a beautiful home? Do you entertain? Do you cook? If so, do you have a favorite recipe you would like to share?
CC: I do love home making. I see it as an extension of what I do creatively. I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of transforming our new upstate NY home. The house is a Swiss chalet style so it has a lot of character and charming features which we have been able to use as a simple canvas for our own personal expression. It is wonderful to have a bigger space to display and enjoy some of the treasures and objects we have collected from our travels over the years such as Moroccan rugs and textiles, Peruvian throws, a Columbian reed pot and different print/artworks from multiple destinations.
We do like to host, and enjoy the company of friends with food both at our Brooklyn apartment and at the house upstate. With my husband being half Italian, our cooking generally has an Italian sensibility. We adore the simple, non-fussy approach that is really about quality, fresh ingredients. A favorite recipe is Saltimbocca. It is an Italian recipe and literally translates to “Jumps in the mouth“. Traditionally, the dish is made with veal but I like to use chicken instead. The meat is rolled and combined with prosciutto ham, garlic, and sage. It is then wrapped up securely with a skewer. Once pan sautéed, it becomes the most delicious, flavorsome package, living up to its name. I do have a fantastic new Peruvian cookbook- I need to take time to experiment with this cuisine soon!
You can find Catherine’s go-to recipe for Saltimbocca here.
MoL: What advice can you give anyone interested in starting his or her own business?
CC: Seek out experience if the business is not within your professional field, in addition to doing thorough research. Be sure to have a clear brand story and identity before launching. Also be sure there is a market or desire for your product or service. Selling your service and brand is everything!