Kristine Rodriguez sits at her hand-powered, decades-old knitting machine, patiently feeding it strands of yarn and manipulating different aspects of the operation as it responds with mechanical thunks and whirrs. A pattern emerges, nearly imperceptible at first, but then, sooner than you’d think, it begins to resemble a garment--or, at least, part of one. Rodriguez smiles as she sees her vision come together once again.
Raised on the Jersey Shore, Rodriguez pursued undergraduate studies at the Rhode Island School of Design. Intensely focused on acquiring her degree in graphic design, an elective knitting class in her final semester seemed like a one-off to Rodriguez until she sat down at a knitting machine for the first time in her adult life.
“It was a lightbulb moment for me,” she remembers. “I realized I had been working toward this moment my entire life. From there, I just immersed myself in it.”
Rodriguez graduated in 2012, moved to San Diego, and continued teaching herself the art of knitting on her own home machine. As she learned, experimented, and created, her style began to emerge, and soon, she was knitting timeless, exquisite wardrobe pieces, fit for both high fashion and ready to wear lifestyles. She declared her mission: “to honor our bodies and our environment through handcrafted, sustainable knitwear,” and it wasn’t long before she achieved her dream of her garments being featured at both Los Angeles Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week. Finally, she settled in Augusta, and with her runway days behind her (at least for now), she knits from her home studio for fashion-forward, socially and environmentally conscious consumers. From behind her manual knitting machine, Rodriguez is a warrior in the fight against mass-produced, cheap fast-fashion.
“The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, right behind the oil industry,” explains Rodriguez. “The industry pushes the idea of 52 seasons and is successful in getting consumers to buy inexpensive clothing, unethically produced, that they will only wear a handful of times. A shift needs to happen.”
Like many fashion designers, Rodriguez releases a collection of pieces all at once, each beginning with a mood board. She gathers her inspirations and research, purchases sustainably sourced yarns as close to home as possible, and experiments with color, texture, and pattern until she finds the designs that feel right. During her process, she fully embraces her mental and emotional state, allowing it to influence the direction of her work; if she is feeling the blues, her work may evoke more feelings of embrace and comfort, while a particularly carefree season may lead to an airier feel in her clothing. Whatever happens during her creative process, the final result is polished knitwear that is responsive to everyday life,
able to be worn comfortably anywhere, ready for anything. Rodriguez hand knits each piece to order and only creates 7-10 versions of each piece before retiring it.
One day, Rodriguez hopes to grow beyond her small one-room studio, integrating women-owned co-ops and more low-impact practices into her design and production operations.
“Really, in my wildest dreams, I have a circle of knitting machines in a big room, staffed by amazing women, and a cat just sitting in the center,” Rodriquez laughs. “For now, though, I’m happy in my little Augusta studio with my two cats, Monty and Hurricane, making things for people that make them happy.”