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Grannies help business spin a good yarn

By Matthew Knight for CNN
  • Grannies Inc. employs UK grandmothers to make bespoke knitwear for online customers
  • Founder Kate Mowat has a team of 12 grannies who are paid per commission
  • Consumers buying locally-produced goods is a trend which looks set to grow

London (CNN) -- Telling everyone you employ a team of grandmothers to do all your manual labor might, on the face of it, sound like commercial suicide. But for Katie Mowat it proved to be a stroke of genius.

The 29-year-old founder and managing director of UK-based Grannies Inc. -- an online bespoke knitwear company -- is now enjoying her third year of trading after packing in her nine-to-five as an IT consultant in the City of London.

"The whole idea of the grannies marketing angle came when I was looking for knitters for the company. Most of them seemed to be older, so it was a kind of eureka moment when you just realize that it works very well from a marketing angle," Mowat said.

A keen knitter herself, Mowat now has a team of knitters including granny's Paulette, Patsy and Margaret who help meet demand for a range of bespoke beanies, scarves, snoods and wrist warmers -- all made from 100% Merino wool.

In the fashion industry there is definitely a trend towards ethical fashion. We're moving towards 'slow fashion' rather than throwaway high street
--Katie Mowat, founder of Grannies Inc

Her oldest knitter is 82, and plenty of grannies have their needles poised for action.

"We've got 12 who regularly knit for us and a waiting list of over 100!" she said.

It's a great idea, Mowat thinks, because the grannies can do as much or as little as they want and it gives them a bit of extra income -- they receive around a quarter of the retail price, which starts at £34 (around $55).

Chris Turner, managing editor of Springwise -- a website which tracks innovative new business ideas worldwide -- says locally-produced products like Mowat's knitwear can offer consumers something different from big multinational brands.

"Products produced in the local community do have a lot of inherent value because customers know where they come from, they understand the background and lots of these products come with a story attached -- like Grannies Inc, which is a lovely story for a consumer to tell their friends," Turner said.

New technology gives a global reach for small businesses around the world, he says, and allows almost anything to be customized now.

Turner points to the successes of Bamboosero, a company which supports bike building -- made from sustainable bamboo -- in developing countries, while the South African-based African Cartel showcases and sells the work of local African street artists.

Mowat is confident that the consumer interest for locally produced products will endure.

"In the fashion industry there is definitely a trend towards ethical fashion. We're moving towards 'slow fashion' rather than throwaway high street," she said.

"I think it's important to provide traceability when it comes to a product and I think the idea of being able to link the customer to the actual manufacturer creates a really warm feeling. It makes you feel like you're doing some good," she added.

Mowat's "grand skein" saw the addition of a new kids wear range recently, and she's planning a foray into the crafts market sometime soon.

Consumers are realizing that this artisan approach to production is worth more, adding value that only real craftsmanship can deliver, Turner says.

"The kind of products that consumers get their status from and show off in public is definitely a trend that will grow and grow. The power of online technology to drive that is fantastic," he said.