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June 26, 2017

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Fashion designers harness Dutch grannies

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands--Two Dutch entrepreneurs are merging the fashion sense of young designers with the knitting knowledge of local grannies to create a range of original knitwear, stitched together over coffee and cake at a retirement home.

A small room at the back of a retirement home in the suburbs of Rotterdam has been given over to the weekly "knitting club" for women aged 58 to 85, their cheerful chatter almost drowning out the rhythmic click-clacking of knitting needles.

"I think I'll make this one next," says an excited Willy Mollenaar, a grandmother in her seventies with dyed light brown hair, pointing to a thick gray woolly hat displayed on a table.

Once she will have copied the design, created by a young Dutch fashion graduate from the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, the hat will be sold in a small shop in Rotterdam called "Granny's Finest," set up by businessmen Jip Pulles, 31, and Niek van Hengel, 27.

Her only payment will be a photograph of the happy customer wearing the fruits of her labor.

"I was visiting my grandfather in a retirement home and I always saw an old lady knitting," Van Hengel told AFP, as he served cups of tepid coffee and soft cake to the team of grannies.

"She didn't have any relatives or friends to knit for but she kept on because it kept her busy and she enjoyed it," he said.

That "oma," the Dutch word for grandmother, and the return of knitwear to the catwalk gave him the idea to team up modern designs and traditional techniques, fashion designers with knitting grannies, in a project that combines social inclusion with a commercial spirit.

"My grandchildren don't like to wear what I knit and I didn't have anyone to knit for anymore," said Mollenaar.

"I learned to knit at school and it's really fun to do, it's relaxing, but it's really sad when no one wears or uses what you knit."

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