Working With John Smedley

In 2019 I became a John Smedley brand ambassador to help celebrate their 235th anniversary. Amazinginly this makes them the oldest manufacturing company in the world. Carry on reading to find out more about this wonderful experience.

Brand Ambassador 

2019 marked the 235th anniversary of John Smedley , making them the oldest manufacturing knitwear company in the world! In celebration they curated a year long series of events. They highlighted the importance of British craftsmanship by focusing on the careers of 10 British craftsmen. I was chosen as one of the craftsmen. 

John Smedley still produce all of their garments in the UK and source much of their wool here. I learnt lots about their history, the most amazing being that they clothed the likes of Marilyn Munro, Audrey Hepburn and the Beatles! Today their clothes are often seen on Holly Willoughby, Rio Ferdinand and Garry Barlow.

Carved Letters in Welsh Slate saying John Smedley carved by Zoe Wilson

Maybe Not The Best Timing!

I was 7 months pregnant when I applied and aware it wasn’t the best timing! However, I was honest and up front about it in my application and to my delight I was chosen. The first stage was a day of filming and photography in my studio, which also proved a little bit tricky! 

The problem was I didn’t actually have a workshop at that time! In November 2018 we moved back from living in South East Asia for two years, which was a pretty big move, especially whilst pregnant! After giving birth to our son in January I hadn’t yet set up a workshop. Instead I had a very nice brick wall to lean my easel against, and a, erm, bin store! Not exactly what I think the John Smedley team had in mind, but I did have a back up plan!

Zoe Wilson ready for filming

Filming In London

The plan was to use my friends stone carving workshop in Croydon. So, in April 2019 I packed up so tools, my husband and our 2 1/2 month old and we headed to London for a day of filming.

Thankfully the plan worked really well. The John Smedley filming team were fantastic, as well as hugely supportive. It was a fully packed day, but they managed to work around my breaks so my husband could appear with our baby for a feed.

I have to admit I loved the filming process! It was so interesting to work closely with other creative people, all experts in their own field. The way they viewed my work and the process made me see it with fresh eyes.

The photos and the film arrived back in May and I was so delighted with them!

Zoe Wilson Being filmed by the John Smedley Crew

Filming in my friends workshop with the John Smedley crew

London Craft Week

During London Craft Week in May I  participated at an event in the John Smedley flagship store in Jermyn Street. It was a discussion in front of a small audience with the MD of John Smedley, Ian Maclean, and fellow craftsman Alice Walton. (Please do have a look at her website she is an amazingly talented ceramicist) It was such an interesting evening, discovering the similarities in our creative practices, followed by some great questions from the audience.

Zoe Wilson and Alice Walton standing outside the John Smedley store

Store Window Take Over

For the month of August I was the subject of all of the John Smedley store windows in both London and Japan. My photos, pieces of my work and quotes about my practice adorned the window displays. It felt like a bit of a name in lights moment! As well as this, Harvey Nicholas also showed excerpts from my video in their window! (I may have let out a very high pitched squeak when I saw myself!)

Zoe standing in the window of a John Smedley store in London next to her work.

In the same month the Essential Journal featured an article about me and my carving. They also chose a photo of me to use on the front cover (yes another pinch me moment!)

Zoe Wilson on the front cover of the Essential Magazine

London Exhibition 

Throughout the year there was an exhibition in St James Market Pavilion show casing different themes to do with the Knitwear production. Drawing parallels between elements such as raw materials, pattern making, tools etc. The exhibition featured different pieces of my work with explanations about how I developed my craft.

It was such an exciting celebration to be part of and such a privilage to be working with such an Iconic British brand.


Zoe Wilson standing in front of her work at the St James market pavilion exhibition in London

Garment Design

The final stage of the celebration was a little delayed due to COVID. The team at John Smedley asked each of the Ambassadors to design a garment which either reflected our practices or our designs in some way.

I designed my jumper in their sea island cotton (I have an allergy to wool!). I based it on a traditional fishermen’s jumper called a gansey. The jumpers originated on the Isle of Guernsey. Traditionally, mothers, wives or sweethearts hand knitted them using patterns passed down through the generations via word of mouth. Each village and even family had their own unique design. Knitted without seems, they were incredibly hard wearing and weather resistant.

For me the high neck is perfect for keeping stone chips from finding their way in, whilst the design lends itself perfectly to keeping me warm in me often cold workshop. I designed a geometric pattern for the front based on my carving of ‘All that Glitters’. Finally I added a leather patch to the left forearm to stop me wearing through the material when I lean against the stone.

Drawings of the garment idea for John Smedley

The Finished Article

I hadn’t seen the finished garment until it arrived during lockdown. It was a huge honor to influence a John Smedley design and to have a bespoke piece made just for me! Needless to say I value it too highly to wear it to carve in, but I have been wearing it when taking photographs in my workshop. I feel it has become my signature garment!

I can’t really begin to tell you what a huge honor its been to work with John Smedley and to get to know their staff and brand. The more I have got to know them the bigger the honor has been. Huge thanks go to the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust for opening up this opportunity in the first place.

Zoe Wilson Modelling the jumper in her workshop
Details of the Sleeve of the John Smedley Jumper
Zoe Wilson wearing her bespoke John Smedley Jumper

Head back to the Blog page to read more, or go directly to my shop!