From her early beginnings as a Depop seller to the showcasing of her designs at the Marc Jacobs Heaven store, Freya McKee has maintained her commitment to sourcing and generating displays of distinctive expression that offer an antidote to mass-produced fast fashion. Channelling her creative flair into knitting, she has cultivated a brand consisting of pieces that subvert traditional forms. Her sustainable garments incorporate second-hand sourced yarn, delivering a vision influenced by a unique blend of Japanese streetwear and '70s British punk. Now counting the likes of Emma Chamberlain as fans of the brand, McKee has amassed attention to her designs on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, where she showcases her artistry and shares guides to styling her pieces.
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Could you tell us a little about your upbringing? What led you to begin your career in fashion?
I grew up in South West London where I lived with my mum, dad and older brother. I come from a very creative household with both my parents having worked in the music business. I had always been interested in fashion from a young age and wanted to wear pieces that represented my identity. I ended up studying photography at university, which I really didn’t enjoy and felt very stuck at one point, but I think it helped solidify the fact I enjoyed the styling element most out of the whole process. I had been selling vintage clothing on Depop as a way to pay my bills during uni, which I continued when I left.
Last October, for a pop-up shop, I decided that that particular week I wanted to learn how to knit. I am always interested in learning new hobbies – during the lockdown, I was making punch needle rugs for a while too, but I always tend to fail to stick to anything. I decided to experiment for this pop-up and made a few cut-out tops, which I also filmed a TikTok about. The video did quite well and when I went to list the pieces online they sold out! I had never experienced something like that in my life and I felt super excited that people liked my designs enough to want to wear them. Since then, I have continued to make new pieces which would sell to a point where I was able to start designing as my full-time job.
Who or what inspires you when initially designing a piece?
My main inspiration for my designs and style is definitely Japanese streetwear. I adore Fruits magazine and it really opened my mind to how I could style pieces together and the types of pieces I could make to accompany that style. The majority of my pieces revolve around the idea of subversive basics and how the design itself is quite simplistic but with little details that make it more interesting than a plain top, leaving a world of possibilities to style it. I focus more on the shape of my pieces such as cut-outs, asymmetry and neckline details rather than complicating the colours and patterns.
Another big inspiration of mine is Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s Sex store. When my boyfriend bought me a massive box of mohair for Christmas, I was debating what to make with it. My dad is also into fashion and he showed me some of these amazing mohair jumpers worn by the likes of Johnny Rotten. I adore the rebellious nature of the pieces and take inspiration from that through colour schemes and alternating a traditional jumper by adding an unexpected cut-out feature.
You predominantly work with knitwear – what drew you to this medium specifically?
Through trialling many different hobbies. I have attempted skills like sewing in the past but it never quite drew me in like knitwear has. I always like to be doing something else whilst watching the TV and can’t really sit still; knitting/crocheting just became the perfect way to occupy myself. It’s not only therapeutic but I adore how pieces come out, and I think there are endless possibilities to play with textures, shapes and different yarns.
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All the yarn used in your designs is second-hand sourced, with many pieces being on a made-to-order basis, ensuring the ethicality and sustainability of each piece. Why is this aspect important to you? Have you seen a shift in fashion more generally in the direction of sustainability as of late?
I have always been very passionate about sustainability in fashion. Even before my own brand, I hadn’t purchased new in many many years. Not only is it beneficial to the planet to be more cautious about what we buy but I think buying second-hand or from small businesses has so many more advantages. You are more likely to find a unique one-off piece from second-hand purchases than new ones. I love the idea of finding a piece that is completely personal – this is how I hope other people feel when buying my one-off pieces that are made from second-hand sourced yarns. I also only have a small team of three, including myself, to ensure that the brand doesn’t overproduce and all pieces are of very limited quantities.
I think there has been a shift in fashion with apps like TikTok. It has almost become a trend to shop sustainably. You have people recommending the best charity shops, boot sale vlogs and even second-hand hauls which are slowly taking the place of Shein hauls. Whilst brands like that still heavily exist, at least there are more and more videos being created and going viral that are exposing such brands and spreading awareness as to how damaging they are.
Many of your pieces are adorned with cut-out features, adding a unique spin on traditional silhouettes. What inspired this signature element?
The cut-out started with the first top I ever made and has kind of stuck since. It came about when I was knitting my first top because I was still learning. I was just trying to make a simple panel top but I thought it would be a bit boring so I decided to experiment with decreasing/increasing some stitches and seeing what happens. I loved how unique it made the piece look while remaining simple enough to be a practical top to wear with a range of outfits.
What was the experience of having your designs feature in the Marc Jacobs Heaven store like? How were you able to blend your own artistry with that of the vision behind the Heaven clothing line?
It was such a surreal moment to receive the email in January! I had been a massive fan myself of the Heaven store in particular and I had only been knitting for 3 months at this point; I was so flattered that they wanted to feature my pieces. They left a lot of the creativity up to me which was great! I gave them many options on what I could make for the store, and they selected some of my traditional cut-out pieces along with an order of One of One pieces. When sourcing the yarns for this I tried to cater to colours that I had previously seen amongst Heaven’s palette, but still stuck to the traditional foundation of the jumpers with the colour blocking and cut-out feature.
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Blocks of colour feature in many garments to produce bold, harsh contrasts of hues, immediately drawing the eye. How do you decide on a colour scheme when creating a piece?
Because all of my yarn is second-hand sourced I begin by sourcing a range of colours before deciding what palette I want to go with. I see what colours I can find and then lay everything out in front of me before beginning a piece. I’m a very indecisive person, so this is probably the hardest part for me. I will usually just play around and create different piles of potential colour palettes before testing them out on my iPad so that I can better visualise the end result, swapping any order of colours if need be. I enjoy the unpredictability of sourcing the yarn second-hand as it pushes me to use colours that I usually wouldn’t go for. In my personal style, I keep my palette quite neutral, so with my mohair pieces, it’s fun to experiment a bit more
I understand you initially began selling clothes on Depop before progressing on to launching your own designs. How did you progress from this point to where you are today? Were some of your current pieces inspired by the vintage designs you initiated your path into fashion by sourcing?
I initially started selling clothes on Depop so I could pay for my bills whilst studying. When leaving university I continued to do it full-time. I really enjoyed curating a page that was specific to my own style and gave people the opportunity to buy unique pieces. Through the sourcing process, I discovered a lot of brands and designers that I wouldn’t have otherwise uncovered – specifically Japanese vintage, which really helped develop my own style. I think I always knew I wanted to progress my platform further by making my own clothes, but for a while, it was just the big question of how to do so. Depop definitely gave me that initial platform to sell my pieces as I had already been growing my page for around 5 years.
Emma Chamberlain recently sported one of your designs – who would you next like to see in your pieces?
I think my all-time goal is to see Harry Styles in a mohair jumper of mine!
What new projects do you have planned? What’s next in your journey?
My next project is focusing on my Autumn/Winter pieces – I’m trying to plan far in advance! I also have a couple of collaborations with other small designers coming up, which I’m excited about. A big goal of mine is to also put on a show at some point, which is definitely something I will work towards
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