We all know the fashion system is changing dramatically. In fact the industry is in so much flux that the majority of established brands are struggling to keep their heads above water.

How can you maintain an antiquated brand in a new world where the old systems are flipping on their head at breakneck speed? The status of ownership, the exploding re-sale market, the diversification of fashion trends, the emergence of speed manufacturing, the disruption of the wholesale market… It’s a scary time but arguably the most exciting period in fashion history since the mini-skirt.

Obviously the best way to figure out our fashion future is to talk to younger brands who are re-inventing the playing field. Eleanore from Knorts is one such woman; level headed, smart and confident, she’s building her own knit denim empire whilst kicking in the foundations of our existing fashion system.

We met up to talk about the beginnings of Knorts, her ideas around the future of fashion and the launch of her new rental program.

Eleanore Guthrie, Knorts

So why rentals, Eleanore?

We’ve been renting or loaning designs to stylists forever and it’s something that’s kind of hush hush in the industry. There’s this insider fashion world that know that’s a possibility, whether they pay for it or not, who really knows… but designers like to project that those items are sold to those people and that’s not always the case.

-That’s very true! So say when say… Lady Gaga is wearing your pieces, do people ask ‘did she buy it?’

To me it’s funny because why does that even matter?  Designers try to project this certain image because that’s what the industry has expected of them, but consumer and spending habits are changing and ownership just isn’t as important as it used to be. We’re seeing shared spaces, like Air B&B’s, co-working spaces, cars, renting Netflix movies and music.

-Exactly, so it makes sense that clothing is next.

And it’s already happening; Rent The Runway is getting more press recently because they are doing so well. I’ve even been reading about furniture companies starting to rent out furniture, it’s just becoming more prevalent, I’ve even had more inquiries about renting my designs outside of the stylist circle.

Josephine Lee, AKA Princess Gollum in Knorts

-Oh really?

Yeah, some of it is influenced by social media, people also want to project a certain image and they might not have the money to buy the designs outright, or they just don’t have a need for it and they just want it for one occasion.

– Sounds like there’s two mentalities going on: there’s the more narcissistic side where consumers want a certain piece for a picture and once they’ve got it and uploaded it, it’s done. But then there’s the anti-waste thought process, evolving away from ownership.

I believe fast fashion has influenced over-consumption. I’m not saying that we need to stop that type of mentality, but rather we as business owners need to change our business models to accommodate that type of behaviour in a more sustainable way. So my response to fast fashion is rentals because people still have that fast fashion experience, without actually wasting. What you see in this showroom are just samples. I only make what is demanded.

Lil Miquela wearing Knorts

-Right! Why make 10 or 100, or 1000 of something when you could just make one. It’s an interesting time.

-It really is. And that’s why I need to spread the word about my rental program. It is the future and I want to be ready for when it really pops off. Urban outfitters just launched their own rental program, and so did American Eagle… I’m just building a business that is catering to the demand. I don’t measure success by standard retail sales only.

And that’s another thing in the fashion industry right now, at least with designers like me who are emerging; success is measured by old standards, like sales to retailers, pieces to stylists, maybe direct to consumer, but even so it’s still really all about what stores you are stocked in. That system is becoming so irrelevant with the social media induced shift in consumer shopping habits. I don’t know why people care so much about it!

So let’s switch to the Knorts’ story for those who don’t know. Tell me how the concept came about.

Throughout college, I rode my bike all over Salt Lake City. In the summer months I wore my knit shorts and felt cute and comfy in them. However, in colder months I wore my non-stretch jeans. I liked how I looked, but I didn’t like how I felt. So when I decided to start a clothing line I wanted something that could offer the same comfort and elevated style as my knit short, but was appropriate for all seasons.

Knit Shorts: Knorts. Get it?

-I feel like Knorts is both very gender and size inclusive as well, because knit is just so universal. So what other plans have you got as far as design is concerned?

I don’t ever put a time limit on myself because I know much things change in a small amount of time. I don’t know what to expect even in a year from now. But I do have a goal of being a big brand: a household name, like Levi’s. I feel like there is a place in the market for that. I was just reading an article about this the other day that talks about a timeline of how we have evolved into athleisure and we have been evolving that way since clothes were first made. In ways as simple as getting rid of corsets or wearing smaller bathing suits.

-How long have you been running Knorts now?

Well I started with a business plan while I was in college about 5 years ago in Utah. My first collection was in 2016.

Milo Clare in Knorts

-That’s amazing! So how are you doing now, I see your brand around a lot, to me you’re doing well. Is this your full-time gig or do you support it with other work?

Well, I’d say this is the first year that I’ve felt really good about where my business is, it’s still not where I want it to be, but I feel that it’s right where it should be and it’s the first time that I have felt that way. So now I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve been making consistent sales and I could potentially live off it on a shoe sting budget. I’ve self-funded Knorts, so I don’t have outside investors and I haven’t taken money from anyone.

-How do you feel about the idea of investors?

I will say that as I’ve seen companies, especially fashion brands that have outside investment, look like they have grown a lot faster because they have money to throw at the business. So something that has taken me a few years to build has taken them maybe 6 months or less because they had the money to put towards faster growth. I don’t have any regrets and am very happy that I have self-funded my business because I am able to do things on my terms and I don’t want to be answering to anyone else.

Most of the people I talk to have this antiquated idea of how things work in the fashion industry and business world in general. The thought of someone like that having power over my ideas would be scary. They don’t take the the time to study the industry like I do. I have a different understanding because I’m immersed in it, so it’s worked out well that I’ve kept Knorts to myself.

This is the first time I’ve felt like I know where I would spend investment money and how it would affect my business, so if an opportunity came my way that seemed like a good fit then I might entertain it…like a fashion award or something. I would take the money and know what to do with it.

Amber Wagner in Knorts