by Maddy Zollo Rusbosin | March 21, 2019

Made in FLA: Karelle Levy’s KRELwear knit line

This isn’t your grandma’s sweater. KRELwear brings its fun, flirty knits to Miami

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The rasta tank dress by KRELwear is handloomed in Miami and made of a combination of cotton, viscose and elastic. Photography by James Mann

Karelle Levy is a knitwear designer—but you won’t find any sweaters in her portfolio. From rompers and kaftans to hot shorts and bodycon dresses, Levy’s brand, KRELwear, proves that knit has as much of a place in South Beach as it does in the snow with its fashion-forward designs. “I call it tropical knitwear,” she explains.

Parisian-born Levy moved to Miami as a baby, and her love affair with textile art began during her childhood. “My mom was born and raised in Sweden, so I grew up with a weaving loom and her doing large-scale needlepoints at home,” she says. “I’ve been crafting since I was a little girl, and in high school, I took weaving classes at the University of Miami, because I wanted to know how to use the loom that I had in my basement.”

The classes struck a chord with Levy, so when it was time to attend college, she enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design. “I thought I’d be weaving the entire time,” she recalls of her decision to become a textile major. “But then, I picked up a course on knitting machines and never wove again—I was literally hooked.” 

After graduation, Levy returned to Miami, where she worked various jobs that ranged from costume design to retail. But her knack for knitting was stronger than ever. Initially, she began making avant-garde pieces that were intended for the performing arts rather than daily wear. 

“They were full-body socks, so they were really good for dance because they would morph the body,” she says. “Eventually, I realized that [other] people should be able to wear them. Being in Miami, nightlife has always been prevalent in my lifestyle, so I started making clothes and having my friends wear them.” 

Before long, she was producing so many styles, it only made sense to start selling them full-time. By 2002, KRELwear was officially a brand, with the name, “Krel,” stemming from Levy’s old high school graffiti tagline. All of her designs are currently made from bamboo, tencel—a fiber made from wood pulp—viscose, metal or cotton, so there’s not a thread of heavy wool in sight at her Northeast Fourth Court boutique. These natural fibers are super breathable, too, so they can handle Florida’s grueling heat and humidity. 

“It could be considered a vegan line,” she adds. “Everything is produced in Miami. It’s a yarn-to-garment boutique brand.” 

At KRELwear, nearly everything is made to order. 

The Missy Marine two-piece tank top and skirt is made of cotton, viscose and elastic. Photography by Andre Gabb

“We have very little stock, so people can come to our shop to purchase or do custom pieces. Like if they love the shape we have, but they’re not in love with the color, they can pick and choose,” she says. This is possible since there’s an industrial knitting machine in-house: “We’re pretty much the only people in Florida who have this machine and do this kind of work here.” 

Levy’s company takes the customization process one step further with Quickie Couture, a service that allows customers to walk away with a one-of-a-kind style on the spot. The process is fairly simple: Choose a pre-made fabric, then browse the shop’s photo album for inspiration. Once you have an idea of what you want, Levy will pin the fabric onto your body and work with you to create something that you look and feel good in. From there, she’ll sew the design, whether it’s a top or a dress or something totally different, for a set price of $100. Within one to two hours, you’ll have a KRELwear original. 

“It’s a really fun and unique project because anyone, any age, any gender can come in and get a piece,” she explains. 

Levy also approaches her business differently than a typical designer. She always wants her fashion to be inclusive—not to mention fun. In 2008, she hosted a series of black light fashion shows around the world where she’d display styles she created out of glow-in-the-dark thread. Locally, Levy hosts monthly “Stitch N Bitch” workshops, where she teaches people how to knit at zero cost over cocktails. She also frequently creates installations for Miami’s art community. 

“I’m an artist making fashion, so my concepts are completely different than a typical fashion brand,” she says. “Plus, many of my clients are collectors. A lot of them have sections of their closets that are kind of dedicated to my clothes, and that’s really amazing.” 

As for what’s next for KRELwear? Levy is hoping to start a menswear line—and finally tackle the sweater: “Because after over 20 years of knitting, I think I should learn how to make sweaters,” she laughs. krelwear.com

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