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Meet the Maker: Francoise Danoy

Here at Fancy Tiger, we are huge fans of Aroha Knits designs, with their rich texture and dazzling colorwork designs. Last week we announced a new knitalong for their Pōhutukawa Shawl and we can't wait to cast on with you all. We wanted to get to know the designer behind Aroha Knits, Francoise Danoy, a little bit better, and talk about the cultural and historical reverence she infuses into her art. Below are some excerpts from the video interview between Rae and Francoise!

Photograph of a women wearing a light blue top, oatmeal knitted sweater with a colorful scarf in dark yellow and teal.  Women is facing the camera with a slight smile and has her left hand in her hair.Photo Credit: Francoise

How did you get started as a designer?

“It started in 2014! I lived in Japan for 7 years, 6 or 7 years, only recently did we move back to Texas. So, this story takes place when I was back in the States, applying for my US citizenship, so that way I could move to Japan and live with my husband. During that time, when I was waiting for my citizenship, I picked up knitting, because it was something that my mother was doing. When I went back to Japan, I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t work. We were living in a tiny village in the Japanese mountains.  So, I was at home, had this new hobby, and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna learn how to design and create a knitwear design business, and see how that goes’...and then I just went off with it!”

What is your favorite type of item to design?

“So, there are two types that are my favorite. The first one is lace-y shawls, or shawls with lace stitches. I just enjoy doing those the most, because I just love the look and the texture of lace stitches. Shawls, I just find them--with the different types of shapes that you can do--they’re just so versatile. They’re just really elegant, you can just throw them over your shoulders, they’re just a lot of fun to make and to wear.

The second type are usually colorwork cowls. With cowl designs, because they’re knit in the round, it makes it really good for colorwork, and with colorwork I’m more able to draw from my cultural heritage and my cultural background.

The way that I approach knitwear design is that knitwear design is kinda the intersection of knitting and a particular interest for whichever designer. For me, it’s my experiences, my perspectives, and where I come from on my journey to connect to my cultural heritage. So, I use knitting as a kind of way to have that intersection.”

Two photographs.  Left photograph is a women wearing a knitted shawl in pink and tan.  Women is facing away from the camera to show the shawl with a left side profile.  Right side of the image is moss hanging from a tree in similar color palette, shape and drape.
Photo Credit: Francoise 

How do your own cultural experiences inform your work, and does it affect how you consume or approach the work of other designers?

“So, when it comes to my design process, my cultural heritage is definitely, 100% the number one inspiration of where I draw from for my work. It’s definitely evolved and changed over the years. I’d say during the first 4-5 years of me being a knitwear designer, it was very much a solitary process: me doing research on own, and finding my connections on my own, and stuff like that… ...but over the past year, I’ve been able to really deepen my process, and I think my work has gotten a lot better for it. I’ve been able to not only connect with my culture on a deeper level, but also connect back with my family. Last year, I was able to get back into contact with my grandfather and develop a really strong relationship with him, and he’s been able to teach me about Māori culture, knowledge, and values--the way that OUR family would practice it.

Even though we’re called ‘Māori’--the indiginous people of New Zealand--we’re actually… like with Native Americans, how they say Native Americans are not a monolith, they have their own different tribes and their own practices, it’s kinda the same with the Māori. There’s definitely a lot of things in common, we speak the same language and things like that, but there are these really subtle nuances and differences in the way that we practice and engage with our cultural practices.”

Photograph of women standing looking straight faced at the camera.  Women is wearing glasses and has face tribal painting on her chin.  Women is wearing a long sleeved white top with a colorful knit scarf in purple, blue and pink.Photo Credit: Francoise 

Do you have an ideal environment in which you like to create? What is your process like?

“The method that I teach for knitwear design is also the one that I use on a daily basis, or whenever I’m creating a new knitwear design.

For the ideal environment to actually create in--and I think this might be true for everybody--I need stability in order to have that creative freedom to go all over the place. A couple of months ago, right when we moved to San Antonio and were looking for our home, there was a period of time where we were just staying in an AirBnB. I felt very unstable, like, ‘I can’t do ANYTHING’. I think because my knitwear design process is so closely connected to my journey of connection, I find that it’s a joyful process, so the idea of suffering is… NO. It’s joyful, it’s happy.”

Split photograph.  Photograph on the left is green palm leaves.  Photograph on the right is women walking away  wrapped with her bright pink and tan knitted shawl slightly blowing in the breeze behind her.Photo Credit: Francoise

You have utilized a Pay-What-You-Can structure for your patterns recently. What has your experience been since introducing that model?

“First, I want to give a shout-out to Nat of Wolf & Faun Knits, she was actually the first person who I saw implementing that structure, so I had asked her, ‘Hey, that looks really interesting, could I try something like that?’. I really liked the idea because I was conflicted with the pricing of my patterns being, ‘This is not enough for the amount of work that I’m putting into this, $6 is NOT enough’, but then also, ‘Will people really pay $12 for my work?’, and that WOULD price out some people. So, the Pay-What-Works structure was a way for me to balance setting the boundary of, ‘This is how much I think my pattern is worth, but I will be happy if you paid a different price level. This is what I feel is fair for the work that I put in’--also making sure that people don’t get shut out from my work.  It’s definitely worked out really well for me, I also implement the Pay-What-Works structure with my design program, as well.”

What’s next for your design and mentorship business?

“I’m still really thinking about what my next 5-year goals are going to be, because I remember in 2014, I actually had a vision of where I wanted to be in five years’ time. Being a ‘successful designer’--making a sustainable living, creating nice designs, making a living off of my work. Looking back I’m like, ‘Oh! I actually DID that! So what comes next after this?’. So, I guess there’s two things happening at the same time. I do know that I want to do more collaborations with other Māori artists and other Māori businesses. Also, since I’m back in the States, reconnecting to any Māori communities here, wherever they might be.

On the knitting side, it’s just continuing with my knitwear designs and continuing with my knitwear design programs. Continuing to mentor and teach aspiring designers, especially designers of color who want to see themselves represented in this industry, as well.

Make sure you join us for our Virtual KAL of Aroha Knits Pōhutukawa Shawl, starting September 4th, featuring a live lecture with Francoise during our October 16th session!

Two photographs: left photograph is object and shadows in the sun of a design element.  Right side is a women walking on the beach with her knitted shawl that is pink and tan blowing in the breeze behind her.  Women is facing away from camera.

Photo Credit: Francoise 

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