At the height of the Covid lockdowns, many of us turned to familiar childhood hobbies or newfound creative pastimes to help distract from, and soothe, mounting inner anxieties.
From those much-needed personal lifelines, many incredible new ventures have sprung. A wonderful one to behold is Manchester-based handmade knitwear brand Nfôöwear, focused on sustainability and self empowerment.
“I started Nfôöwear during the pandemic,” founder Anuarita Morel tells me. “As far as I can remember, having a clothing brand of my own has always been a goal of mine, so when the pandemic happened in a strange way it gave me everything I needed to create my own brand – the time, the challenges and the courage to start building it.”
Anuarita has a background as a Fashion designer, having studied Fashion Design for 6 years in France, their home country, as well as experience at the London College of Fashion as part of an Erasmus program. “I then started to work for a French childrenswear company,” they say, “but after a year felt the need to take a break to give myself some time and experiences in order to figure out how to start my own brand, which was a total mystery at that time!”
“I learned how to knit when I was 10 and kept doing it as a hobby on and off since then,” they say, “but it never occurred to me that my clothing brand could be a handmade knitwear brand until I started to knit all day everyday during the first lockdown, and enjoyed it so much that I started to sell my creations.”
The name of Nfôöwear is an homage to their Cameroonian heritage. The word Nfôö comes from a Cameroonian language called bulu and represents the idea of brightness and shininess which can be used to describe the world Yellow. “Beside being my favourite colour, it also represents for me positivity, joy, hope and kindness, which is what I hope I can share with my brand,” says Anuarita.
I hand make every piece to order, which gives me the freedom to create items that correspond more closely to my customer’s needs and desires.
Being a hypersensitive person, Anuarita tells me their creative process is very intuitive. “I use my senses a lot to generate inspiration. Taking my first collection called Cereals; it was all about nature, the richness of it and what it brings to me in terms of emotions. I like working from a very abstract idea and interpreting it in my own way. I am currently working on new designs for my next collection which would be around Object. It could mean so many different things to different people but I have a very precise idea of the narrative I want to create around, whether it is the shape, the techniques or even the colours.”
When it comes to knitting, Anuarita tells me the process is pretty much the same. “I also rely a lot on my intuition. Knitting is quite a technical craft and I love to play with it and find unexpected ways of using the different techniques. I usually sketch my ideas first, then figure out how to translate them into knitting techniques. I also create the pattern along the way while testing it on myself. It usually takes me a couple of trials, which involves a lot of undoing until I am satisfied with the result!”
Anuartita only works with natural yarns because they believe it is the best option in terms of sustainability and quality. “I especially love working with cotton because of its softness, ease of manipulation and sturdiness,” they tell me.
“I also love wearing colour; it is the first thing that draws me when choosing what to wear,” they say. “Comfort is so essential as well, as I don’t want to feel restrained because of what I am wearing. I am quite versatile and, depending on my mood, like to wear clothes that make me feel sensual or androgynous. Interestingly enough, when I choose to wear oversized, colourful mix-matching clothes I then tend to be drawn back to more fitted, minimalist and natural colour designs. I think it just represents the two sides of my personality that somehow cohabitate inside me. Maybe it has something to do with my gender identity, being non-binary and seeing clothes as a free way of expression.”
Sustainability and craftsmanship sit at the heart of the Nfôöwear brand, with Anuarita operating a zero-waste policy by making all pieces to order, preventing overproduction or overstocking. “I think because making, designing, and wearing clothes has always been something that brought me such positive energy and emotion,” they tell me, “at some point I began to struggle with the fact that something so positive to me could have such a negative impact on the world. During my studies I started to learn a lot about the “dark side” of the Fashion industry. When you think of pollution, overproduction, huge amounts of waste, workers’ conditions and restrictive standards of beauty, it makes you question a lot of things. I guess you could say I was facing a lot of cognitive dissonance, and the only way for me to continue doing what I love the most was to find a way I could participate in this change, however small. The good thing is nowadays there are more and more brands that share the same vision. This is a very comforting and stimulating thought.”
Anuarita’s passion for craftsmanship is evident. “With trends that change all the time we tend to see clothes as more disposable,” they say, “and the very low prices charged by fast fashion brands are depreciating the craft of clothes making, which demands so much energy, creativity, time, blood, sweat and tears. With Nfôöwear, I hand make every piece to order, which gives me the freedom to create items that are made-to-measure and correspond more closely to my customer’s needs and desires. I think that when you own something that was specially made for you, it adds more value and makes you cherish it even more.”
An advantage of hand knitting is that there is little to no waste, and during the design process Anuarita reuses the same yarn over and over to create a sample piece which is then used for promotional photo shoots, and is then sold afterwards at a reduced price. “Something we don’t necessarily realise is that for big companies the waste starts even before selling the clothes,” they say. “During the design process a lot of samples are usually made for each product, which are then thrown away because they can’t be sold.”
When it comes to their adopted hometown of Manchester, Anuarita tells me they draw great inspiration from the local museums. “When I go to the People’s History Museum or the Lowry Gallery in Salford Quays I can feel a sense of community and pride in the production of the people from the North, which reminds me of the region where I come from in France, la Bretagne (Brittany), which is also located in the North West. I can tell support and community means a lot around here. Manchester has such a creative vibe which drew me to move here, and it felt like the best place to start my brand.”
“When I first moved to the city I discovered the Manchester-based brand Bukky Baldwin. I have great admiration for their dedication to supporting marginalised groups and providing fair opportunities through different workshop projects, while creating sustainable, funky, bold and original handmade clothes and homeware.”
Although currently working on their own, Anuarita tells me they would love to grow Nfôöwear as a collective and work with like-minded creatives that share the same vision. “I also want to eventually develop my own yarn,” they tell me, “so I have a better control over how my materials are produced and am able to work with 100% sustainable products. Keeping Nfôöwear as a small local production is very important to me as I look to grow my brand, however I would love to create a worldwide community to help spread the vision!”
All photography © Elle Brotherhood, used with permission.
Kate is the founder and editor of Fabric of the North, borne out of her passion for supporting mindful, aesthetic and sustainable small businesses. Based in the North West, by day she helps thoughtful small brands and solo business owners achieve meaningful growth through 1-2-1 guidance, intentional strategy and considered content creation. She is also a veteran blogger, having launched her award-winning interior lifestyle blog Fabric of my Life back in 2009.