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Meet Pico Vela, a Local Knitwear Maker

A look from the Pico Vela fall 2013 collection; Image courtesy Pico Vela
A look from the Pico Vela fall 2013 collection; Image courtesy Pico Vela

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If you don't know about Pico Vela, listen up—the brand, based locally, is championing a knitwear look that bridges the gap between traditional looks and the more modern, minimal pieces of today. The line was started by native DC denizen Nicole Alfieri, who currently works out of a home studio in Alexandria. We talked to Alfieri about the starting of the brand and what it's like operating out of DC (hint: she loves it here.) —Alison Baitz

Tell me a little about the start of Pico Vela.
I had been designing for Pua (an amazing shop in Penn Quarter) for a few years and we wanted to create jersey pieces to add to the collection. I really enjoyed doing something different—I had been designing wovens for most of my career. Then I had the opportunity to work with the sweater manufacturer in Nepal. That was great fun and so when we had difficulty with that, I decided to try and learn myself and my boss encouraged me to make sweaters to sell in the shop. Her mom actually taught me to hand knit first and then to machine knit. That was the beginning.

Pico Vela founder Nicole Alfieri; Image courtesy Pico Vela

Tell me a little about your background.
I was born in D.C., raised in Maryland. I always knew I wanted to design clothes - my bedroom walls were covered in tear sheets from fashion magazines and the Style section of the Washington Post. As a teenager, I discovered a great little newspaper kiosk in Georgetown that sold international fashion magazines and was in heaven! I attended Parsons School of Design in NYC and Paris. Then after graduating in Paris, I moved to Milan with two friends. I was there (back and forth) for a total of five years. I've travelled all over the world and I think that has influenced my designs quite a bit.

Do you do Pico Vela full-time? Were you able to from the beginning?
Yes, as of last year I am working on Pico Vela full time. I started out making my sweater designs for the store where I worked and slowly built the business that way.

Why knitwear?
Designing knitwear was new and exciting to me in the beginning and I think it still is. It's a challenge to work with different yarns and to create interesting new designs. The drape of a knit piece is so beautiful on the body. And they can be a statement piece. I love wearing knits myself. I also love how knits are made—the process. In effect you are making the fabric as you are knitting the garment—and it's one long piece of yarn. Everyone should wear more knits.

A piece from the Pico Vela spring 2014 collection; Image courtesy Pico Vela

How do you describe the style of Pico Vela?
I feel there is a European influence. I like funky clothing that is interesting but not overdone. I am inspired by vintage clothing details, Japanese design and Italian colors.

Who do you see as your customer?
Someone who is looking for something different to wear but with a beautiful drape, who appreciates that the sweaters are made by individuals in the USA - who appreciates the quality of hand made clothing and natural fibers. Pico Vela sweaters appeal to all ages, but definitely someone with an individual style.

Your website suggests that you only sell at one D.C.-area store. Why is that? How can local folks get a hold of a PV piece?
We have designed sweaters specifically for Pua in DC, yes. Other than that, the closest boutique that carries pieces from our line is in Richmond, VA. I'm not sure why that is. We show at the wholesale shows in New York and it's just coincidence that no one has picked up the line from this area. By the end of this year we are planning to start online sales, though I've had requests for sweaters from as far as Paris, France, from people who see the website and contact us that way. In the DC area, we do trunk shows and pop-ups with other local designers. (Kim Schalk and Nomaterra most often). So I would suggest contacting us through the website to get on our mailing list. Then they will know where we are currently.

Image courtesy Pico Vela

Why are you based in D.C.?
I'm from D.C. and I love it here. It's a big city but very livable. Really nowadays I could operate my business from anywhere.

What's it like being a small fashion company based in the D.C. area?
It's great! There are very very few designers here so it's a small community. I wish we had more support from the local government as designers have in NYC. There are pockets of people trying to promote fashion in D.C. but there's a long way to go.

One thing I love is seeing my customers wearing my sweaters when I'm out and about. And getting to know them—that's very cool. D.C. is really a very international city—I love that as well.

A look from the Pico Vela spring 2014 collection; Image courtesy Pico Vela

You just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, designed to take you to Market Week in NYC. Congratulations! Tell me a little about why you did a Kickstarter and how the funds will benefit you.
Thank you! As a small business we do not have tons of extra capital lying around. I thought it would be a good way to get the name and product to a wider audience as well as sell sweaters and bring in some funds. Paying for the trade show is only part of it. I also want to be able to hire one of my interns (a very talented designer) for a permanent part-time position and having this cushion goes a long way towards that. It's been a great experience!

Doing the updates and documenting our progress has made me even prouder of what we do. I am so impressed by the work of our knitters. They all work from home and do amazing work on the hand looms. It is a craft that not many people do or even know about here in the US. When I was in Italy I was first introduced to the hand loom. There it is much more common, though I think generally it still is kind of a dying art. I eventually would love to teach young people to knit on the hand loom. That would be very cool.
· Pico Vela [Official Site]
· Shop Made in the USA At Homebody's Pop-Up This Weekend [Racked DC]