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Melbourne designer Abby Keep on the interpersonal connections her custom vests create

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ABBY KEEP, ISABELLA KERSTEN, ALEX WALL AND TAMAS KEEFER
WORDS BY COBY RENKIN

“People nowadays are really disconnected from the clothing they’re buying.”

Abby Keep’s mother taught her to knit at the impressively young age of five. What started as a task to keep her occupied quickly became a fixation. Now based in Melbourne, Abby’s lifelong passion for knitting found an audience (and a customer base) after she began sharing her creations during the city’s first lockdown last year.

Her self-titled project revolves around genderless, custom-made vests in bold checks and colours – think pistachio green, lilac and electric blue. The demand for her vests has meant that her hobby has now transformed into a fully-fledged business


To read about more Australian designers, head to our Fashion section.


Abby works closely with each customer to ensure they get exactly what they want from start to finish. Every custom order starts with a conversation to discuss the design and ends with a hand-delivered vest (when we’re not in lockdown). I had the chance to talk to Abby about her brand and the importance of this non-seasonal, made-to-order approach to fashion.

Talk to me about your journey with your brand.

I’ve been knitting for a really long time. Ever since I was young, Mum would keep me busy by giving me some knitting to do. I started making myself some things and then when lockdown came around people kind of saw some things that I was doing. It all happened at the same time that I was studying part-time and I lost my job and a lot of people just really loved what I was doing. There are a lot of people who are like “This is my thing that’s missing in my wardrobe, my dream item of clothing”. I’m having to turn back a lot of orders now, actually, which is good– it’s something that I’ve had to overcome, not being able to make something for everyone.

One thing that I love to focus on is it’s just me and the customer, there’s no one else involved. I think a lot of people know that I make the garment [from] start to finish, I’m the person that they’re contacting, there’s no other people involved and it’s really just about that one-on-one. People nowadays are really disconnected from the clothing they’re buying and when they place an order with me, that disconnect is not there by any means and I would like to maintain that for as long as I can because that gives me a lot of joy. 

 

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A post shared by Abby Keep (@an_abby_vest)

How do you think the fashion space is changing and how do you want to contribute to that?

The encouragement of supply and demand, just making what you’re able to make and making that for people that specifically want it. So one-off custom orders, I think that’s a really nice way to go about fashion. It creates that conversation between the customer and the designer and your garment doesn’t just become an object. I know when I buy something where I’ve spoken to the designer, and it’s a one-off custom piece, I cherish that piece way more than the other clothes I own and I think we just need to encourage that.

If it’s possible for the designer to keep that interpersonal connection, in any way that they can, I think it’s really important for the fashion industry, because as a result customers just have a different relationship with their clothing and I think that’s really important.

 

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A post shared by Abby Keep (@an_abby_vest)

You currently only make vests and you’ve previously described them as androgynous. Did you choose that as a point to focus on when coming up with your designs?

I do love a vest on all genders and I think it’s similar to a jumper, a lot of people wear a vest like a lot of people wear a jumper. But I just found it was the first thing I started making because I wear a lot of singlets and I just like to have an extra layer around all my essential organs to keep them really warm. As I progressed, I realised that vests are gender neutral and that was just really nice.

I’ve had orders where people have been like “I’d like to place an order, it’s for me and my partner so let’s just sort out a sizing that is somewhere in between both of us”. That’s really cool. I’m really obsessed with vests, there’s just something about them, I just think they’re so sweet. I don’t think I’ll deviate from vests, but I would like to deviate from the designs that I currently do. I’ve got lots and lots of ideas. 

 

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A post shared by Abby Keep (@an_abby_vest)

How do you want people to feel when they wear your vests?

I want them to feel warm. I want their heart to be very warm and I want them to know that I have made something for them, especially with a lot of love. Throughout the whole entire process, I just love making it. It’s so exciting to me and I hope that they feel warm and loved wearing it. 

You photograph all your customers with their vests, can you tell me about that?

I just really love handing over the vest and seeing it in its new home because it’s like I’m handing over a piece of myself that I’ve made just for that person. It’s just kind of like the conclusion to the story seeing the vest and the person in their home. It’s been a little bit slow lately because I just can’t really see people [in lockdown]. I think I’ve photographed maybe one-fifth of the people that I’ve actually made vests for. 

 

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A post shared by Abby Keep (@an_abby_vest)

Sustainability is important to your brand. How do you incorporate ethical practices into your production process?

I know where all my yarn comes from, it’s all sourced in Australia, all the sheep are up in the Blue Mountains and everything is done onshore. I’m also the only person making it, it’s very ethically made and I like to have a lot of control over that. I never think about sourcing and buying materials outside of Australia, closer to home is best and it’s nice to just call up the knitting mills and place an order, they can tell you right then and there if it’s in stock or when it will be made. 

You can order pieces from Abby Keep via email, for more details head here. Orders are currently on hold until mid-November. To view more of Abby’s vests, check out her Instagram.

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