If you fancy knowing a bit more about Funi, how it started, who's behind it, what the grannies do on their day off etc... then have a read of this. Funi founder Jemma Harrison was approached by snowsports site Natives to shed a bit of light on our great British company.
Interview by Kaz Willmer.
With temperatures dropping, and snow blanketing the Alps right now, there's never been a better excuse to keep cosy and invest in some new beanies. So we were lucky enough to convince Funi's Jemma Harrison to put down her ever-busy knitting needles for a few minutes so we could find out more behind one one the most must-have British-run knitwear brands out there - born and bred on a season in Bourg St Maurice!
Kaz: What is FuniWear?
Jemma: Essentially we make cracking beanies and knitwear. We're a headwear brand with a heart - all our gear is made in the UK. Mostly hand-made by our crackteam of knitters, who have over 370 years collective experience behind the needles. We're big into snowsports, and our range reflects that.
Kaz: Where are you based?
Jemma: Once upon a time it was the French Alps, now I'm based in Bristol and our workers are in the knitting capital of the UK... which is Scunthorpe.
Kaz: Who are the faces behind Funi?
Jemma: There's me.. Jemma Harrison. I started the brand and run it from the top. We've got a couple of belting web designers - that's Ben and Rich. We have a UK factory that make all our wholesale goods. Then of course, there's our knitters... 9 of the best grannies you can find.
Kaz: When and where did you start up?
Jemma: We started in the French Alpine town of Bourg St Maurice in 2008 - that was home for me for 5 years. Classic story of being too skint to actually sustain a season living in a ski resort, so I started knitting to earn some cash. One thing led to another... and here we are!
Kaz: How did the brand originate?
Jemma: Every day to get to the snow you have to get on a funicular in Les Arcs - we affectionately called it "the funi". It's where you'd meet up with friends, get ready, laugh a lot, plan your routes if you were heading in to the back-country... and generally get excited about the day ahead. I have a lot of love for that funi.
Kaz: What are your top selling products?
Jemma: People are loving our new merino-blend beanies. Called The Forbes, they wick moisture away and have antibacterial properties and don't smell. Win-win-win really, if you're doing sport in them. Oh, and our reversible Macca beanie, which is custom made to order, has always been a fave.
Kaz: How do you go about designing new products?
Jemma: I do all the designing and I'm constantly playing about with my knitting machine, or looking up patterns and different knits. Bit of a wool geek really - I could bore on at you for paragraphs... But essentially everything that's new on the Funi site has been thought about for an age. I'm very keen to get a lot of bamboo and merino yarns in to the design process. Functional and stylish. Also we try not to do anything that's too similar to anyone else. Our designs are our own.
Kaz: Are you wanting to make any other knitwear company?
Jemma: nope - beanies and accessories are good enough for now!
Kaz: Run through a typical day with Funi...
Jemma: There's nothing typical. It's so varied as I am all over everything form the social media, designing, accounts, web store updates, post an packaging, working with factories, chatting to clients... it's essentially never ending!
Kaz: Why is it important to you to be an ethical company?
Jemma: I want to be proud of the products we make, and to have a positive impact on this little part of the world that Funi is part of. Whether that's making sure we pay our workers a good rate, manufacturing in Britain despite it being more expensive, or buying all our office furniture from youth charity schemes. It's essentially my outlook on life too. Why wouldn't you do things ethically? Essentially, it's nice to be nice!
Kaz: What ethical principles do you stick to?
Jemma: We try to make sure our money is spent locally (in the UK). Where possible we'll buy things from other ethical companies. Our charities are important to us so where possible we'll do as much as we can for them. For example, we do all the post and packaging for the homeless charity St Mungo's when they sell online - we're doing it anyway, so it doesn't take much effort for that. As a snowboarder who loves the mountains it's important for me personally that we have strong green principles.
Kaz: Is it difficult to remain ethical?
Jemma: Yes and no. I'd certainly earn a lot more if we lapsed on our principles! But it's part of the challenge - and I'm sure it's worth it in the long run.
Kaz: Who is your main target market?
Jemma: Currently we sell mostly to skiers and snowboarders - the kind of folk who are heading out to the mountains each year. Our new stuff is aimed at a more "general outdoorsy" and lifestyle market.
Kaz: Do you get involved in many snow sports events?
Jemma: Sure do! We've been one of the main sponsors of The British Ski and Snowboard Championships for the last 4 years - it's great to see some of the young talent coming up through the ranks. We sponsor some of the kids we've met there too. We also head to the Freeze festival most years.
Kaz: What makes you different from other industry brands?
Jemma: The market is pretty saturated with beanie brands - that's something I'm aware of. But anyone can stick a label on someone else's hat. There's no-one else around who's doing what we do - designing, sourcing raw materials and making hats here on a large scale in the UK. We offer a great wholesale price for shops as well as selling online. Sticking to our principles and ethical values really sets us apart too. We don't just make beanies and cracking knitwear - we also genuinely try to give something back to our "scene". We want like-minded people to wear our gear and thankfully our customers actually care. They like the fact that a good chunky of their cash goes to changing something for the better. Essentially there's always going to be someone who can make a hat cheaper than us - but our brand has a soul.
Kaz: You're involved with a lot of charities - what charities, and why are these charities important to you?
Jemma: At the moment we're heavily involved with St Mungo's the homeless charity - we're helping towards their annual "Woolly Hat Day". People can go online and buy one of the beanies that their volunteers have made (to our designs). It's a great charity who not only house some of societies most vulnerable people - but they also help to reintegrate them. Help with finding work, self-esteem... everything. I'm always very humbled when I see and hear what they do. There's a heap of very famous celebs involved too - which blows my mind - including Eric Clapton and Elton John.
Other than that, every pompom you buy on our custom hat designer we donate ｣1 to The Belarus Fund with our "Chernobyl Bobble". Yep it's rhyming haberdashery. What's not to love? (The link isn't that tenuous though as a few of our knitters are involved with the charity). Oh, and we offset our carbon emissions by donating to The Converging World. Phew... that's quite a lot really.
Kaz: Why do you feel it's important to work with charities?
Jemma: It comes from me really. If I didn't have a hat brand I'd probably be working for a charity, or doing charity work somewhere, so I try and shoe-horn in as much of it as I can. I'm not a nun or anything... I just feel really strongly that you should try and make other people's lives better, and not worse.
Kaz: Where do you hope to see the brand in the future?
Jemma: Stocked in lots of shops and on the heads of lots of very cool people. I hope.
Kaz: Do you ski or snowboard?
Jemma: Both. Actually that's a massive lie. I snowboard well and ski terribly.
Kaz: Which resorts do you like the most?
Jemma: Les Arcs is the place I know like the back of my hand. The back-country over there is amazing. But I guess it's the friends I have out there that make it. When I'm away I get pretty homesick!
Kaz: Finish the sentence. Funi would be nothing without…
Jemma: ...9 cantankerous gin-swigging grannies.
For more on Funi....
If you want to read the whole article on Natives, including a great Q and A with another worthy British brand D4Seven then it's all right here.