“Tropical Knitwear” is a Thing. Krelwear is Miami’s Most Iconic Designer of it.

A well-known local designer of sculptural knits and textiles, she’s a favorite of socialites and young fashionistas and has a very hand-crafted style.

In a city of almost-constant sunshine knitwear designer Karelle Levy is a bit of an unexpected fashion success story. Her namesake label KRELwear, has been a staple of both socialites and upstart fashion bloggers for almost two decades. Despite the heat, her designs are haute.

The self-described designer of “tropical knitwear” has made it her mission to create frocks that are both sexy and breezy—no easy feat when you’re dealing with thick yarn. But she pulls it off with body-conscious silhouettes, diving necklines, cheeky hot pants, and even knitted beachwear. 

“It’s always challenging when everyone thinks a knit is a sweater,” laughs Levy. “But a knit is just a structure for making fabric. A t-shirt is a knit, it’s just much finer yarns. So there’s a misconception of what knit is…I make everything from rompers and kaftans to tank tops and bikinis.”

She’s also begun tapping into more innovative plant-based materials like bamboo and tencel, a wood-based fiber that’s gaining popularity for its sustainable elements and its eco-friendly dying practices. 

“The plant-based materials breathe really well and don’t keep you warm,” explains Levy. “You have tiny little air filters that offer relief. And tencel has a bit of sheen to it,  and it’s often compared to silk but it’s not as hot as silk.” 

Knitted beachwear in action at a recent Krelwear showcase at the Freehand Hotel.

The Parisian-born designer was raised in Miami’s tony Golden Beach neighborhood and learned to weave on her Swedish mother’s old-school loom and by doing needlepoints. That passion for weaving lead her to become a textile major at Rhode Island School of Design where she found her talent for knitting and began doing costume design and avant-garde pieces for performance art. After school she moved back to Miami and eventually launched her brand which quickly became popular with the city’s nightlife set. Celebrities like Nicki Minaj became clients as did high profile art collectors and doyennes of Miami’s fashion elite.

“At the end of the day I’m an artist doing a business, I love performance art, I love creating things. Fashion is an art that everyone wears.”

In addition to selling and designing from her atelier in Miami’s Ironside complex she now wholesales to stores and boutiques from Key West to Naples. And she’s upgraded her game to include a Japanese knitting machine called the Shima Seiki which allows her to “print” and program her custom-made knits for clients. 

“I love making fabric, I’m a textile designer at heart. For twenty years I worked on a hand loom, and even if I attached a motor it was still a hand machine that was clunky, so all the pieces were made one of a kind, but now I have the capability of printing a dress, so I can produce custom-made items for clients and I can do custom collections for stores to sell.”

She specializes in “quickie couture” making custom designs in an hour for customers from fabric she’s got pre-made that she pins together and sews on the spot. Those pieces can be anything from a pair of pants to a hoodie, to a tank dress all for a set price of $100. “And because I knit tubular (or essentially one piece of fabric), the pieces stretch a lot, so whatever body type you have it’s going to fit that body type,” explains Levy of her versatile designs that are full-figure friendly. 

She’s still a hand-crafted artisan at heart, hosting a monthly “Stitch and Bitch” meet-up at local bar The Broken Shaker where anyone from newbies to seasoned knitters can come and stitch with the master over cocktails and conversation. She also hosts two-hour knitting sessions at her shop for anyone interested in having a tutorial. It’s all in an effort to bring the gospel of knitting to the people.

“I want to show that you too can knit in the sun,” she laughs. “Knitting is good for your soul, it’s good for your brain. Instead of being on your phone, make something, use your hands.”

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