Scottish Borders is quite a landmass – It’s a real hack across country from Eyemouth to Hawick but on a sunny day what a gloriously scenic journey. The contrasts en route are just wonderful; starting out with the coastal panorama of East Berwickshire then next, running alongside patchwork of meadows then opening up into valleys alongside them there rolling hills and finally winding along the Tweed. Anyways enough chit chat on the subject of the journey – it’s the destinations I want to focus on.
My first trip over was to meet the folk of Hawick Knitwear where I expected to collect a couple of bags of woollen offcuts (or whatever the technical term is in the knitwear industry, for what’s left on the factory floor).
Instead, I ended up spending almost two hours in the company of the Production Manager Raymond Wood and it was like the best school trip ever!
What a wizardly, creative and technical environment the inside of the Hawick Knitwear Factory is. Machinery spanning two centuries sitting side-by-side making the finest quality sweaters you could ever hope to wear. A cacophony of whirring, humming, clackety, clacking and colourful yarns abounded. It was a proper mardi gras of vibrancy and sound to a new set of eyes and ears. It certainly challenged my misperceptions about what factory work was like – I was genuinely impressed that the staff all seemed to be truly applied, enthusiastic and focussed in their tasks. Not what you generally think about when you imagine manufacturing. Although what’s not to like in creative industry?
Raymond’s enthusiasm was infectious. He’s a Borders Boy through and through, been in the trade since leaving school and a font of knowledge on the social and economic history of the Borders’ textiles industry which left me smiling and inspired. I thought there was a viable tourism business in the making for textiles history and heritage tours within the factory – with Raymond as the guide!
Second trip was off to House of Cheviot – a connection made by the good folk of Hawick Knitwear. Once again into an entirely fabulous creative environment. If it was possible, House of Cheviot was an even more colourful factory space. They make luxury socks and I mean luxury – cashmere and merino. I might be reluctant to put them on under my wellies because they were just so beautifully designed and so impeccably created.
Ian McLeod who heads up the day-to-day management of House of Cheviot, was another knitwear devotee and was happy to give an hour of his time, share his knowledge, his ideas and a few bags of wonderful woollies which we will definitely be using for our winter lines.
ReTweed is about many things aside from textiles training and sewing, it is also about diverting waste textile from landfill and raising awareness and changing behaviour around the throwaway culture we now inhabit. We also want to help create a more environmentally informed consumer market. This got me thinking about Hawick Knitwear and House of Cheviot. Both of these companies use carbon neutral base material – wool – surplus to the requirement of the sheep that once wore it! How much more environmentally conscious and friendly can you be?
Most of the clothes we all wear have been manufactured 5000 miles away by people in the developing world who generally have dreadful employment conditions, very little in the way and sadly, are often children. In our 21st Century global economy it’s really difficult to discern what, ‘fair trade in the rag trade’ really is.
Even when we dispose of our old textiles into charity clothing banks – they will often travel another 5000 miles in shipping containers to be broken down or in many cases, sold in markets across Africa; displacing the local textiles and trade businesses. Textiles have a massively negative impact on the environment which we, as a society are just not switched onto; the lack of fair trade has exploited the developing world while destroying our own manufacturing businesses and economies.
We might also consider ourselves to be conscientious in buying and wearing other natural fabrics like cotton, linen and denim – but these fabrics are heavy on natural resources. It takes up to 2000 gallons of water to make just one pair of jeans! If we are wearing man-made and plastic based fibres like nylon, acrylic or polyester, then again, we are harvesting unnecessary resources from our planet. Couple that with end of the life chain where our ‘plastic’ clothes end up in landfill – then we are having a profoundly negative impact on our planet – that means all of nature, including our wildlife. Just think about that the next time you shop or you go to throw textiles in the bin…..
So after the lengthy ethical and eco-lecture, the moral of the story is buy Scottish or UK manufactured wool products wherever possible. If you can’t afford them new, then ransack your local charity shops. I found a Pringle’s jumper in Sunny Dunbar last week £2.50.
Our sincere thanks to House of Cheviot and Hawick Knitwear for their time, their interest in our work and for the donations of wooly treasures which will be creatively repurposed into something wonderful and entirely original. The Scottish Borders has an incredible history and heritage for textiles and with the help of some of those companies still keeping it alive, ReTweed is able to provide an environmentally friendly solution to reducing our carbon footprint for Scotland.
This blog post was written by Hazel Smith – ReTweed Founding Director