Cat Jameson was getting tired of dressing up at festivals. It would rain, and her old raincoat would ruin her amazing look. “You can pretty much put money on it raining when festivalling in the UK,” she says. “Having to put on a muddy coat that I’ve been wearing down the allotment sucks all the joy out of dressing up. Fun outerwear isn’t really done and I got fed up of it.”
So, the festival lover decided to take matters into her own hands. Despite having no formal fashion education, Cat founded Carny Valley and created her dream waterproof: an outerwear garment that promises to compliment the most fabulous of festival fashions.
The unisex Carny Valley capes range from sweet candy colours to autumnal shades and camo prints. They are lined with a British Millerain cotton for warmth and come in super soft waxed cottons, in single and double tiered styles. They are also one size fits all – something Cat is keen to stress
“I’ve yet to find someone my capes don’t fit,” she says. “I don’t want to label them ‘plus size’. I’m a size 18 and I don’t want to feel like a marginalised, special case.
“The capes have options to fasten on both sides and also have two neck sizes, not just for larger sizes but for people who don’t like wearing things too close to their neck.”
After taking an online fashion and dressmaking diploma to help with the pattern cutting basics, Cat created her first raincape sample out of calico. “I started with the hood. You’ve gotta have a good hood!” she says.
“My rain capes are tailor-made using waxed cotton and I knew my sewing machine wasn’t up to it, so I decided to have a manufacturer help me. If I handmade all the capes I’d still be making the first one now!” laughs Cat.
“It’s all about accountability,” she adds. “I wanted Carny Valley to be UK-based, rather than going to Southeast Asia to get my garments made. My capes are made in a family-run factory in Birmingham.” With her studio now based at The Cutting Room in Bedminster, Cat sells her rain capes from her online shop and at the Windmill Hill City Farm shop.
The innovative design does more than just keep the rain off. Rather than channelling water down to soak your legs, Cat’s capes act like an umbrella on your shoulders, pushing the rain away from the body. They are short enough to avoid dragging on the floor, and the water drips off easily when given a shake. Cat has also given careful thought to what happens when you’re not wearing the cape.
“When you go into the sweaty, hot dance tents at festivals, you either have to carry your coat, tie it around you, or stash it in a corner and never see it again. I gave it some thought and came up with the Easy Stow carry system,” says Cat as she demonstrates how it works. “This involves clipping together two rings on either side of the neck, which then allows the whole cape to be clipped to a belt, bumbag or backpack.
Always looking to improve her capes, Cat works alongside her pattern developer to overcome problems. The latest capes come with arms straps to keep it in place in windy weather.
Cat has come a long way from her previous career in environmental science, and hopes to inspire others with her life-changing move, which benefitted not just her lifestyle but her mental health and wellbeing.
“It’s a real career swerve,” she admits. “I left my career behind two years ago. It’s important to let people know they can make a complete change. I suffer from terrible migraines, which I was taking quite heavy meds for, and combining this with the stress of the job, it just wasn’t good for me. I had to become my own boss.”
Her vision was to create a business that would be as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible, using materials that were recycled, recycleable and reusable. “It had to be eco-friendly from the start,” says Cat. However, global concerns about the amount of water used in the production of cotton – “the devil’s material!” Cat jokes – meant she needed to find a supplier who could give her the material she wanted without compromising on her values.
Cat has found a British Millerain producer who is part of the Better Cotton Initiative. This supports the production of environmentally-friendly cotton, from the process of growing it to making sure the workers are treated fairly.
“Producing anything is going to have an impact but as a small start-up business, I am struggling to get the balance right. I just don’t want to have a negative impact,” Cat says. The nylon webbing that forms part of the carrying system are currently not sustainable, but Cat has chosen them for their durability over other options.
“I also didn’t want to use leather as that would rule out vegans wearing the capes,” she says. “It will extend the life of the garment, so it’s something I’m willing to give on.”
Carny Valley capes are built to last. When taken care of, a wax cotton jacket can last over 20 years, and the other aspects of the design, including metal fastenings, are made to be durable.
“We are the exact opposite of fast fashion: we are slow fashion, not throwaway fashion. These are not plastic ponchos!” says Cat. “I’d like to add a repair system too, so people can send their capes back to get rejuvenated.”
Cat still has a few ideas up her cape sleeves, from utility holster bags to dog capes. For now she is concentrating on marketing, after finding that people often presume the colourful capes are only for children. “I can be at stall with two adult mannequins and me wearing a cape, with a big sign that says ‘adult rain capes’, and I still hear people say ‘look at those cute kids’ capes’!” she says.
“These capes aren’t for just for festivals. You can wear them anywhere. They are about freedom and feeling fabulous!”
Find out more about Carny Valley capes
Read our Fashion Editor Emma’s blog No Debutante