Under her label Amanda Christine, Minneapolis designer Amanda Natzel had been a fixture of the Twin Cities fashion scene since 2007, offering up seasonal lines of smart, chic womenswear tailor-made for the stylish young professional with an active after-hours social life. That is, until two years ago when she accepted a job as a senior designer for Target and took a hiatus from designing her own collections.
But earlier this month, the designer has emerged to launch a new line, Ode. Departing from her ready-to-wear line of separates and dresses, Ode is composed exclusively of hand-knits. It’s a bold move, to be sure–and ambitious, as anyone who’s ever knit a scarf by hand could attest. Intrigued by the new project, I chatted with Natzel about her new line, her move from ready-to-wear to knits, and the benefits of Kickstarter and e-commerce for independent designers.
[Related: MN4MN in review]
I adored the ivory wool wrap skirt you showed with your silver foiled cropped sweater on the runway at MN4MN in September. Do you plan to produce any more pieces like this?
Absolutely! The Tabard Handmade Sweater is available on the site, as are the Culottes (with the wrap front skirt). I specifically foiled the sweater for MN4MN event as a special piece for the show. It’s a labor intensive process so I do not intend to foil any of the sweaters for sale on the website.
The designer with her design at MN4MN in September (Photo: A.J. Olmscheid for Minnesota Monthly)
By all accounts, it seemed like your Amanda Christine label was a success. You were carried in more than 35 boutiques around the country and were regularly selling at major apparel trade shows. Why did you decide to move away from continuing to produce the brand?
Quite honestly, I needed a change and was not happy with the business direction and its profits. Target had offered me a job as a senior designer that I could not turn down and at the time, it was exactly what I needed. I still continued to produce top sellers and popular styles for Cliché for the next year or so after being hired. Also, my husband and I ended up building a home in Minneapolis, which turned me into a part-time interior designer for the next year. Since being away from designing my own line for almost two years, I really began to miss it. It’s something that’s so engrained in me that when I began to design and make patterns again, iI truly felt an empty void in my soul filling up. I’m so passionate about creating my own designs that I knew it would just be a matter of time before I got back into it.
I knew I wanted to sell my work, and make it available to women across the country, but I knew it had to be done under a different label, with a different philosophy. I had changed and evolved over the last two years and the designs I wanted to create, with a focus on more handmade- fashion-forward, needed a fresh start with a new label. Ode really started as an idea and quickly developed into a brand within six months. I had a notebook full of ideas but knew I wanted to narrow to a few limited-edition pieces. I also knew I did not want to create seasonal collections or participate in big flashy trade shows. I want it to be more organic and seasonless, and create pieces that can be worn all year-round with a focus on social marketing as a source of finding new customers.
Is this the last we’re hearing of the Amanda Christine label? Are you retiring it?
I’m still trying to figure that out but, yes, i believe so.
How did you decide to make the move from ready-to-wear to hand-knits?
It’s a mix of both ready-to-wear and handmade knits. The focus is truly on unique pieces, whether that is sweaters or wovens, but each piece has a hand-finished element with most pieces, the sweaters, being created 100% by hand. Even the hang tags have a special feel, they are handmade from 100% wood that i print at home, same with the garment labels. Everything needs to feel special, different, as a reason for someone to want to purchase it.
Hand-knitting everything yourself seems like an ambitious project. How do you plan to make this time- and cost-effective?
I do have a knitting partner that can help with the high knitting demand but my goal is not to make hundreds of these sweaters, that would be impossible and not the goal of the business. They are truly small-run, one-of-a-kind, and made-to-order. So far, we have been able to handle everything but there is a 14-day disclaimer on the hand-knit pieces due to the time needed to create the garment. The sweaters are priced according to the yarn price, knitting time, etcetera, and they come with a $200-plus price tag because of this. Hand-knit sweaters is what I feel helps me do something different in Minneapolis/for Minneapolis; it sets me apart and I truly enjoy making them.
You funded the launch of the line with a successful Kickstarter. Where do you think Kickstarter fits in with funding independent clothing lines? Do you believe Kickstarter is a sustainable way to continue funding a clothing line?
Kickstarter is great for businesses looking to raise a small to moderate amount of money very quickly. It’s perfect for those who need help managing cash flow and have large expenses such as trade shows. It’s great for a big boost but you really need to capitalize on all of the funded money to make it last as long as possible.
Are you selling the Ode collection exclusively online? Why did you choose to use an e-commerce platform to sell the line?
Mainly online, everything will be available through the website. I feel it is the best way to reach my customer and with the ease of social marketing, it makes the most sense for me. It also makes it really easy for me to create something, post it online that same day and get a feel for who, and how many people, are interested buyers. That way, I can create just the right amount of product for the demand; no excess inventory or overhead investments. It’s a way to manage a business with minimal investment and maximum productivity. I’m also selling pieces at Cliché, mostly the ready-to-wear items, since Josh and Delayna (Sundberg, Cliché’s owners) are my longtime friends and partners and we really want to support each other. We will see how everything goes in the next year, which will help me determine what the best platform for my designs will be.
Here’s a selection of Ode’s current knitwear offerings:
Maxi Coat, $360 @ peaceloveode.com
Tabbard Sweater, $220 @ peaceloveode.com
Culottes, $220 @ peaceloveode.com
Handmade Scarf, $100 @ peaceloveode.com
Jumpsuit, $185 @ peaceloveode.com
Maxi Vest, $190 @ peaceloveode.com
Mesh Knit Handmade Sweater, $240 @ peaceloveode.com
Sweatshirt, $170 @ peaceloveode.com