Text: Juule Kay
The world is changing, and with it, a new generation of trailblazers is taking over. In our monthly series E-MERGING, we introduce the people adding to the cultural moment with their creative minds, new ideas and unique approaches. It’s a glimpse behind the scenes, a way to dig deeper and look beyond the picture-perfect outcome we’re swamped with every day.
We get it. Long gone are the days when knitwear was associated with words like “boring” or “grandma”. A new wave of designers has taken up the challenge of shaking up the world of wool. Whether that’s a sexy, playful or community-based version, we introduce four talents from all around the world who celebrate knitwear on their own terms.
According to her own memories, Sophia Khaled was a weird child. Instead of going to school and making friends, she would draw all day, watch documentaries and read Harry Potter. From a young age, the Danish-Iraqi fashion designer found comfort in her own company by creating little stories and comics. But as with many things, at one point, a piece of paper wasn’t enough for Khaled anymore. Inspired by designers such as Martin Margiela and Alexander McQueen and their “‘fuck the system’ way of presenting clothes”, she went to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art to study fashion and textiles. The idea of her own brand started during the pandemic, when Khaled was bound to her home. “I had to find a way of still being able to create,” says the Copenhagen-based designer, “and knitting is something you can do anywhere.”
For Khaled, knitting almost feels like painting with yarn, bringing all the images in her head to life. As a matter of fact, the designer is always on the hunt for things that speak to her, whether that’s vintage lingerie, antique goth objects, horror movies or the lyrics of her favourite songs. “I collect inspiration like a teenager,” she explains. “They search for something that can help them throw off the confusion, pick and choose what they see around them to find their own identity.” With her rebellious yet fragile knitwear, Sophia Khaled has one mission: “Our dream is to create an inclusive universe for all, including the misfits.”
What’s a misconception of knitwear you want to get out of the way for good?
That it can’t be sexy.
What’s a weird thing you’ve got for the festive season?
I am weird, so I think that it’s weird to get normal gifts.
Tell us about the last dream you remember.
I have this recurring dream about my family’s summerhouse in Sweden. It’s over 100 years old and is almost always the setting of my dreams—in different shapes and with new rooms popping up.
What’s a memory of your childhood that you often go back to?
When I was alone at home and skipped school. It was a feeling of freedom.
If you could knit with any other material than wool, what would you choose?
Monster High doll’s hair. It comes in all my favourite colours, and I love how it shines.
“When I start knitting a piece, I sometimes have no idea how it will turn out,” says Sonji, founder of her namesake label. What first started out of pure enjoyment emerged into a brand in early 2021 thanks to YouTube tutorials and the support of her loved ones. In fact, it’s the people surrounding the artist who make SONJI what it is today. “In a world where there’s too much of everything, you need to present your creations in a way that stands out,” she explains, creating visuals with her friends behind and in front of the camera. “I am grateful to each one who supports me in their own little and big ways.”
With her background in art history, Sonji is fascinated by tradition and historic clothes, which has a huge impact on the way she approaches her designs. “Whenever I look at art, I’m mainly interested in the details of the clothing, the dresses and the shapes, especially from the Renaissance and Regency periods,” the Berlin-based designer continues. SONJI is all about sexy, one-of-a-kind and collectible pieces that adapt to all body types, giving knitwear the edgy coolness it deserves.
In the club or on a walk.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
Behind closed doors, I’m secretly a rapper.
When was the last time you felt creatively challenged, and why?
There’s no specific occasion, just phases of many questions and doubts. We live in a world where there are really more important things than fashion.
You’re creating a holiday card, and your imagination is running wild. What are the three things we’ll most likely find on it? Describe it to us.
I would try to make it cute and weird. Definitely a Christmas tree with bows and stars on the left, some animal (probably my poodle friend Matze) in the centre, and a baby laying on straw in a crib next to it.
Any secret tips or tricks when it comes to taking care of your knits?
Wear them like they’re part of you, but don’t sweat on them.
It all started with a Christmas gift—yarn and a crochet hook, to be precise. Ever since, Sol Runa has been mesmerised by the craft. “I recall spending nearly an entire summer as a teenager crocheting in solitude,” the Berlin-based designer wallows in memories. “Its repetitive nature aided in a mental escape, allowing me to exist in the present.” Not long after, they put their first creations on the internet before slowly pivoting into knitting, which, according to them, almost felt like learning a new language.
Growing up in the Danish countryside around their mother and grandmother never not sewing, crocheting or embroidering had a large impact on their life. “It made me reflect on how special it was to continue that legacy,” they explain, while adding their own contemporary twist. Sol Runa’s designs almost feel like a powerful sea creature emerging from the depths of the water, covered in moss and some magic dust. Many pieces look like they’re unravelling and changing textures, yet somehow they find balance. “While I’m knitting, it feels like I’m sculpting,” they round up. “I don’t follow patterns, it’s more intuitive and free-form creation. Think of a spider spinning its web.”
I’ve acquired a knitting machine. It’s much faster than knitting by hand and allows me to create larger samples to experiment with in much less time.
What do you always do while knitting, and what do you never do?
I always listen to Danish true-crime podcasts or play a show in the background. I never make the exact same thing twice.
Do you remember your latest obsession? What was it all about?
I’ve been focusing a lot on physical fitness. It’s been a large shift in my daily routine and has had a positive impact on my mental health, similar to the way knitting offers some level of calm or escape.
How long did it take you to knit your own wedding dress, and what was the inspiration behind it?
A bit over a month. The inspiration was marrying the most special person in my life, so I wanted to wear something unique and personal for this occasion.
When you think of winter, what are the first three things that pop into your mind?
Darkness, solitude and late nights of knitting.
After graduating from the Royal College of Art, Krystal Paniagua immediately started applying for jobs but never received any replies. With no job prospects and a student visa about to expire, she decided to go back to Puerto Rico and show her graduate collection in her homeland. A decision that later turned out to be crucial. “A month after the show, I was contacted by HQI, a residency program in London, which offered free studio space for an indefinite amount of time,” she recalls. A dream come true, which made Paniagua return to London and pursue her own line.
“I think knitting provides infinite possibilities in construction, and I enjoy how much freedom it allows me when creating,” the Puerto Rican designer explains, breaking the “rules” of the machine knitting technique. Known for her handmade, fluid and adaptable pieces that evolve with the wearer, Paniagua enjoys learning from her past and always looks forward to applying it to the future in her own way. “I think that keeps my work fresh and exciting, as these experiences are what keep me enjoying life,” she concludes. “My evolving perspectives are undoubtedly reflected in my work, and I try to continue exploring the ways in which my garments can be used by the people I see on my day to day.”
Describe your current mood.
It’s a blend of gratitude, excitement, curiosity, and eagerness.
Show us the last photo on your camera roll. What’s the story behind it?
I am about to turn 30, and a team member baked me a cake to celebrate before the weekend. They surprised me while singing ‘Happy Birthday’. I was so confused at first, as I didn’t know whose birthday they were celebrating.
What’s a life hack everyone should know? And what about a fashion hack?
Work smarter, not harder. Save 10% of your income. Buy second-hand.
How many layers do you usually wear in winter?
4 layers. Long sleeve, a baggy or long short sleeve top, a tank top and a jacket/jumper. This layering strategy allows for versatility in adapting to varying temperatures and moods throughout the day.
Tell us a cheeky, useful phrase in Spanish (and what it means).
“Crea fama y acuéstate a dormir.” Create fame and go to sleep. It reminds me that what I do shapes how people see me in the end.