Designers or creators, whether their focus is in fashion or a different art form, have a moment, object or memory that attaches them to their work. Something that resonates in the back of their mind through each of their design processes. For Josh Bennett, a luxury men’s hand knitwear designer, it began on a day that he saw someone in khaki shorts, an inside-out sweatshirt and a pair of laceless boat shoes. “I remember being fascinated and I went out with my mom and bought the shoes,” Josh recalled. A faint memory that marks the moment that Josh found a fiery love for fashion and design.
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Josh was not frequently exposed to high-fashion pieces and unique styles, so when he saw something eccentric and different for the first time, he grew an intense attraction to fashion. At the blossoming age of eight, Josh’s grandmother taught him how to knit, leading to the success of his bustling line of hand knitted sweaters.
“Where I grew up, boys didn’t knit,” Josh explained and went on to say that if a boy was going to do something creative, they were going to do musical theater, so that is what he did. When working in a theater, Josh discovered that many of the people he worked with knitted and it reignited his love for knitting and designing. “I picked it (knitting) back up again and moved to Manhattan and have knit everyday since then,” Josh said.
In 2010, Josh attended The Fashion Institute of Technology where he studied Menswear and was also designing for a knitting magazine at the time. Recognizing a lack of menswear patterns in the magazine, he decided to create his own knitwear and reached out to his favorite designer, Michael Bastion. Josh met with a PR agent and they hit it off, immediately. Within three weeks of working for Bastion, Bennett was asked to do a collection with Bastian and they began designing it. Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue both sold pieces from their collaboration at their stores. “Everyone I went to school with hated their internships and I was going to mine and laughing and having a great time and getting work done,” Josh said, “you want to be the person you want to work with.”
Going into fashion school, Josh’s goal was to learn how to construct and style clothing. He started off designing different patterns of yarn so people could create the clothing themselves, so he did not think that he would be in the fashion industry making ready-to-wear clothing before he even graduated. “I like to do everything the most difficult way possible,” Josh joked, “I want to make it all.” When Josh and Michael began working together, Josh realized that fashion is a much bigger thing than just creating and that the design process is much more strategic than most people think.
One of Josh’s most outstanding collections is a limited edition hand knitted sweater collaboration with Marvel. Josh wanted the collection to move away from anything that was mainstream superhero and focused on telling a story through the clothing. Marvel has an extraordinary craft for making connections through the characters in their films, so Josh wanted to stick with that intertwining theme in his designs. The goal of the collection was to inconspicuously tell the story of the superheroes while making each piece fashion forward enough for both Marvel fans and sweater-lovers. Along with ensuring the sweater matched the hero’s story, Josh also considered whether he would wear the sweater as a large factor while designing. “It was a fantastic challenge to merge the two worlds together. They’re (Marvel) so big on their storytelling, and I wanted to tell it with them,” Josh explained. The line features sweaters inspired by superheroes like Thor, whose sweater includes mythological influences and Black Panther, whose design represents the transfer of a human becoming superhuman.
Josh described his inspiration coming from his fascination with a piece of string and two stick’s ability to make something you can wear. Josh explained, “I love creating the mechanics. I like knowing why things work, how they work and how to make them work differently.” When quarantine struck this past March, Josh knew that it was the perfect time to get back to his yarn-oriented roots. Though he was still selling ready-to-wear garments, he got back to designing and creating patterns so people at home could learn how to knit. This helped Josh connect with his audience on a whole new level and showed how businesses in all sectors have the ability to adapt to their challenges at hand. Josh also teaches building and design aesthetic workshops to help his audience create their own pieces and give designing tips. When it comes to finding inspiration, Josh suggests thinking back to a moment when fashion or design made an impact on you and to work off of the excitement that memory invokes in you.
While designing, Josh hopes to create something that resonates with people, far after they have seen it. He aims to create a piece of clothing that the wearer can associate with a story and be able to rewear and have that moment brought back to them. “It’s all about the connection (with the piece) and making pieces that bring people together,” Josh explained, “If one of my sweaters is part of their story, that’s amazing.”