Knitwear designer Penny Ashby believes in timeless designs, the beauty of merino wool and sharing stories of the women behind Australia’s wool industry.
How many years have you owned your own business?
Seven years – it started off as a side-hustle, then a part-time business in amongst having kids and now it’s a full-time gig with two employees! Eeeek!
How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
I’m probably not ‘balancing’ it so much as juuuuust managing to keep all the plates spinning! I find it’s impossible to get through my whole to-do list without tying myself up in knots, so I try to really focus on the priorities and not worry too much if a few things slide. It helps me to set aside blocks of time to focus on one thing – a day just for family, a day for being creative or designing or a day for admin. That way my sleep-deprived brain doesn’t have to jump around too much!
What keeps you up at night?
Growing up on a sheep farm, I’ve seen the wool industry go through its lows and highs. I grew up knowing Merino wool as a soft, luxurious fibre and knowing the people who produce it to be hard-working, innovative farmers. It really bothers me when I see negative portrayals of Australian farmers in the media, or see high street stores using rough wool or synthetics in their knitwear. There’s a whole generation of women who have no idea that Australian Merino is regarded as the best wool in the world. So I’m always thinking of how we can turn Australian women into passionate advocates for Merino wool – whether that’s through creating soft, cosy designs that show off wool’s best features, or sourcing the latest machine washable yarns, or telling the story of the women behind our industry. I think once people feel the wool in Lady Kate knitwear, they’ll be converted, and pretty soon they’ll be asking all their favourite brands to use Australian Merino wool.
What’s been the highlight of your career?
Last year we launched the Women Behind Wool campaign of podcasts and videos which introduces some of the innovative and characterful women who make up our wonderful industry. We had such a fantastic response – with videos being shared over 30,000 times and even a feature on Weekend Sunrise! Having the honour of sharing those stories and seeing the love and support pouring through for the role women play in the wool industry was truly the highlight of my career.
What’s on the horizon for Lady Kate?
This year I’ve taken on a couple of beautiful stockists of our core range and I have a few new pieces launching in April for AW22. We have a wonderful new group of women’s stories to share on our Women Behind Wool podcast and in spring we’re expanding into the US – so it’s a pretty exciting year! I’d love to take the brand in so many directions but at the end of the day, Lady Kate will always be about making Australian women fall in love with Australian Merino wool. So as long as we’re giving our customers a beautiful knitwear experience, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing!
Where do you envision yourself in five years?
I would love to grow Lady Kate Knitwear into an iconic Australian brand like R.M.Williams and Akubra. I love those labels because they’re true investment pieces – timeless designs and really good quality, so they’ll be wardrobe staples for years and years. I would love it if Australian merino wool was recognised as the beautiful, luxurious fibre that it is. So many women haven’t felt true Merino wool – it’s as soft as cashmere, durable, breathable, machine washable PLUS it’s a natural, renewable fibre that’s grown by Aussie farmers. I’m really passionate about promoting wool to the world so I’m pretty sure in five years I’ll still be spruiking it from my soapbox!
location: Narrabri, NSW
instagram & facebook: @ladykateknitwear