Jamaican parents, London born, Cecile Powell White, nee Jeffrey, came into a world that was changing rapidly; she has always been at the vanguard of change, a courageous black woman pushing boundaries and challenging stereotypes, whilst also designing and making exquisitely beautiful clothes.
She was raised in a working class, south-London, Jamaican family, where creativity and hard work were ways of life; clothes more often than not had to be made, not bought. For Cecile, necessity has always been the mother of invention, she has been making clothes since she was old enough to sit at a sewing machine, her mother Carmen, at her side. Carmen Carpenter, trained as a seamstress and teacher in Jamaica; it was only natural that she would pass on her skills. Cecile would start with simple patterns and soon develop the same love as her mother for fashion, design and fabric; this all eventually led her to knitwear.
Simple, elegant and functional design is in Cecile’s DNA. Although, if you ask her, she’ll tell you that her enthusiasm for making her own clothes was born of serious creative differences between mother and daughter! Now Cecile is the mother, who passes on her expertise to her daughters. May the creative differences continue...
Alongside wholesaling and selling direct, Cecile also provided a bespoke service for her clients; some would come to the studio at the house, others would commission from abroad, talking through their designs and ideas, which Cecile would help develop and then create.
Raising three children, Cecile faced the challenge common to all women who combine family life with running a business. The babies strapped to her back as she worked, eventually became the children who would run about her feet whilst she designed and knitted and sold. Independent knitters were trained and hired to help with production, Cecile’s mother would often help with the children. This was a family affair from the very beginning; as well as his own career, Byron would become an expert in all the background stuff needed to keep a business running even delivering to the various boutiques who stocked Cecile’s designs. The Cecile Jeffrey Team was a well oiled machine.
However, in 2010, Cecile and Byron’s son, had a life-changing accident, the business had to be put on hold. Eight years later, Cecile and her daughters - who, rather conveniently, studied womenswear and fashion promotion respectively - are ready to revive the Label, to draw on the family and design heritage of Cecile Jeffrey and return their family business, with a twist, to where it belongs as one of the most innovative and unique knitwear brands in the fashion industry.
The first in her family to gain a degree, Cecile was asked to stay on to study for a masters in fashion knitwear, but the designer and entrepreneur was desperate to put all she had learned into practice. She returned to the familiarity and diversity of London, at first freelancing for established designers, such as Rosalind Yehuda, she then began to build the label.
In 1982 Cecile launched Cecile Jeffrey from her front room and a stall in Camden Market. Along with a friend she would design and knit the stock during the week to sell on a Sunday, braving all weathers and the chaos of market life until eventually opening a shop in the market. The leap into wholesale came with an order placed by Brown’s Menswear followed by acquiring a London showroom. Wholesaling through agents and trade shows in London, New York and Paris, the brand grew, selling to stores and boutiques in the UK, USA, Japan, Germany, Canada and Australia. Stockists included Liberty, Graham & Green, Neiman Marcus, Betsey Bunky Nini (brilliant name), Tanglewool and many more. With her future husband Byron providing the muscle, support and charm, Cecile Jeffrey, the label, took part in London Fashion Week, Paris Sur Mode, New York Pret, British Knitwear in New York, The Coterie and Train.
With the combination of vast experience, fresh eyes and new technology, the brand are able to present, not just stylish and high quality knitted clothing, but sustainable fashion too — all manufactured and hand finished in the UK. This brand is not simply a story of knitwear and high fashion, but rather a family’s story; a fusion of Jamaican and British cultures; the story of skills being passed down from one generation to the next, a rich heritage of fashion, hard work, design and fun. It has not always been easy, but Cecile, Byron, Efia, Hassan and Kessie along with everyone who has been a part of Cecile Jeffrey, have created a special environment, not to mention clothes that you just want to wear.