30 minutes southeast of Ghent by car, hidden away behind a flashy BMW dealership in Zottegem is a little-known Belgian fashion secret. That secret is Cousy, the family-owned knitwear studio responsible for producing some of Belgium's most sought-after knitwear.
Cousy has been Kate & Jules' knitwear partner for almost 15 years now and to celebrate Fashion Revolution Week we thought it would be fun to take a look at the heart & soul behind the Cousy brand and how they produce such high-quality knitwear for us (and many others) every season!
Founded by family namesake Hector Cousy in 1920, Cousy is now one of only a handful of local knitwear manufacturers remaining in the once prolific Belgian knitwear scene, the decline of which can mostly be attributed to diminishing financial returns as a result of fashion houses outsourcing productions to cheaper labor centers in Asia and other parts of Europe.
The studio has been described as a ‘stronghold’ of the Belgian knitting industry, bucking international trends by outsourcing only larger production runs, keeping much of its smaller, limited productions in-house. In a fast-fashion environment where designers struggle to access affordable local production, this practice has set Cousy apart, allowing smaller designers full oversight into production, reducing waste and transport emissions in the process.
Under the watchful eye of Hector’s grandson André, and eventually, HIS sons Ludo & Wim, Cousy flourished in the years following World War II, becoming a ‘go-to’ for high-quality, high-impact pieces.
As the costs of operating a high-quality knitwear operation began to grow and skilled professionals became more difficult to find, Cousy began investing in their own people, training their teams from within to become masters of their craft - a practice that continues today.
In 2022, with Trees Cousy at the helm and more than 5 generations of industry expertise under its belt, the studio is booming with a client list stacked full of established and up-and-coming designers alike including Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck, Yohji Yamamoto (and his Adidas Y-3 collaboration)...and us!
How it works
Every season, Kate & Jules designer & founder Catherine Standaert sits down with the Cousy team to look at concepts for the upcoming collection.
First on the agenda is yarn. K&J knitwear pieces are known for their quality and ensuring the right yarn is chosen for each piece is a crucial part of Kate’s process. The Cousy team ensures the yarn is processable in-house and maintain the K&J yarn stock working alongside us to repurpose yarn from previous collections where possible - no waste here!
Once the yarns have been chosen, patterns are selected from Cousy’s extensive library of knitting programs (essentially mathematical formulas that are used to generate knitting patterns digitally) as a base of inspiration. From here, Kate and the programming team develop a new program, playing with colour variation, knit gauge, and pattern placement to create a first digital prototype.
Next, the digital prototype is transformed into a physical prototype on the knitting floor. Cousy uses enormous, state-of-the-art computer-operated knitting machines to craft their pieces, however many of the finishing flourishes are done by hand later in the process.
When Kate is happy with the prototype, the teamwork with special washing and drying techniques that give the garment a different look or feel depending on the kind of finish that we’re looking for. Then it’s time for the final touches - any button detailings, hand stitching or additional applications which are all done by hand in the studio’s production wing. At this point, the garment will go into production with the Cousy team handling all of the finishing details, labeling, and packing in-house.
And voilà - we pick up the pieces and make sure they find their way into the hands of our wonderful customers!
Why we choose Cousy
For us, Cousy are an extension of the Kate and Jules family. They are our collaborators and many of their employee’s including Philippe, Pierre, Nadine, Fien, Viviane, and Griet have been integral to our collections over the years.
The ability to have oversight during the design process is invaluable. For only the price of a quick trip to Ghent, Kate is able to make changes throughout the process, finetuning her vision of a piece until it is just right.
One of the truly special things about Cousy is their ability to make almost any idea into a reality. On the knitting floor, anything is possible and the team go above and beyond to make a designer’s vision come to life. Want a knitted swimsuit? They’ve done it. Need a garment made from an almost unsewable glow-in-the-dark thread? They’ve made it. That kind of creative freedom is almost impossible to access with outsourced production, especially for small designers like us.
Beyond the creative freedom of working with Cousy is the ethical angle. With their help, we’re able to more effectively manage our yarn stock, drastically reducing waste from our collections. Producing locally also means we cut down on harmful transport emissions and can have pride that we’re supporting the local Belgian economy and investing in the future of up-and-coming knitting professionals.
Alongside Cousy, we work with other producers locally in Europe to create our seasonal collections. In the future, we’ll be sharing more on these incredible producers but for now, we wanna say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone at Cousy for all that they do.
Know that whenever you purchase a piece of K&J knitwear, you’re buying something produced by more than 4 generations of family expertise - that’s something to be proud of!