Saturday, 27 December 2014

British textile industry- Hawick Knitwear.

As we are now in the depths of winter and because I've been working, quite ironically, for a knitwear company for over a year now, I decided to welcome in the cold weather by attempting to learn how to knit. I set myself the challenge of knitting a chunky scarf(instead of buying one) and consulted my Nan on how to actually do this. I bought some huge chunky knitting needles and 3 balls of different coloured wool to make a questionable looking twist.

Me being me I then left it about 3 weeks to get started, by which point I had forgotten every pointer my lovely Nan had given me. As a result my "scarf" was made using an improv/non existent stitch and quickly began to take the form of a hand muffler by curling in on itself. Despite this the "scarf", which is as long as it is wide, is finished and is actually the warmest most snuggly piece of knitwear I've ever owned.


Due to my many problems in making the scarf, and the fact that it is currently held in a snood-like shape with two hair bobbles(attaching the two ends together is on my huge to-do list) I think it may have been a lot easier for me to have left it to the professionals and bought one from a shop, but I am far too stubborn and persistent for that. It does feel extremely good to be able to say that I now work for a knitwear company and can actually knit...well sort of!

Although my new scarf has questionable aesthetics; is extremely oversized and isn't the most commercial looking thing, I made it! The pride you have after creating something yourself is incomparable to any other feeling. Knowing that every dropped stitch/hole in the scarf was created at a point where I was near giving up on the whole knitting thing altogether reminds me of the important of persistence. I think hand made garments are what the British high street is lacking.


The British textile industry, once booming, is now almost bust. With British retailers and high street giants exporting the manufacturing of their products overseas to countries like China, Hong Kong and Bangladesh, the industry that once financed British Imperialism has almost completely diminished. The British textile industry has found it impossible to compete with the low production costs and short lead times of overseas manufacturing leaving many British factories with no choice but to close down. As a reaction to globalisation and British manufacturing being shipped overseas there is an increasing demand for British heritage brands and luxury 'made in Britain' garments which is where surviving British textile mills/factories are able to thrive.

Standfast&Barracks main building, Screen printing machine, Quality Control checking machine.
After graduating in 2012, I spent 4 months working at Standfast&Barracks(above), a textile printing factory in my hometown of Lancaster (http://www.standfast-barracks.com). In all honesty factory work had never been part of my career plan, I, in all my idealistic naivety, had expected to be given a Print design job straight after my graduation. After travelling to countless interviews all over the country I decided to pursue a different route into my "dream job". On reflection I feel so fortunate to have lived in a town that still has a Textile factory as this turned out to be my gateway into the fashion industry. Although I worked to the point of exhaustion doing nights shifts in the factory and then working freelance in the day, I feel so much more informed about the printing process than I would have done had I not experienced this area of work. It was during this 4 months that I realised the importance of keeping some of the textile manufacturing process in the UK. I actually wrote a blogpost on this, and the decline of the British textile industry, over a year ago:  http://textilecandy.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/the-decline-of-british-textiles.html.

I have recently come across one of the few British knitwear companies that still manufactures their garments within the UK. Hawick knitwear has provided luxury knitwear since 1874 and has remained steadfast, despite adversity, managing to prosper while other companies have collapsed.


Video c/o Hawick knitwear(below).



In a world dominated by fast fashion forcing retailers to compromise the quality of their garments, consumers are beginning to realise the importance of quality and long lasting clothing. Fashion trends are constantly changing but certain items are a wardrobe staple. Knitwear, for example, never seems to age- we find new ways of playing with stitch and yarn composition but a crew neck cable jumper has the longevity other garments lack. With the majority of the British high street manufacturing their products in factories overseas, the quality of knitwear on the high street is compromised. Jumpers are not as warm and garments are finished poorly causing them to give in to wear and tear very easily. For only a few pounds more, a luxury hand-finished, made in the UK garment can be purchased which has a guaranteed longer life. Unfortunately most of these heritage brands have been overshadowed by high street giants, but with British fashion houses like Burberry, Mulberry and Pringle of Scotland having a second lease of life on the runway, luxury 'made in Britain' brands seem to be clawing their way back.

Pringle of Scotland SS15, Mulberry SS15, Burberry Prorsum SS15.
If anything this proves that heritage brands are adaptable, after surviving the many recessions of recent years, brands like Hawick knitwear are adapting to new customers with Marks&Spencer buying their Best of British cashmere sweaters from Hawick. Engaging with emerging markets in Japan and carrying out collaborations with heritage brands like Harris tweed, Hawick knitwear appears to be going through a re-branding process. Heritage British made knitwear is fighting back- hopefully this is something we will see other heritage brands beginning to do. In a world that appears to be controlled by social media and an online footprint, being connected with the target audience online is of the upmost importance- this means re-designing websites, creating up to date blogs and having a social media following. If heritage brands can get on board with this new form of sales and advertising then they can flourish.

Pieces from Hawick knitwear's current collection.

If anyone knows of any other British based textile manufacturing companies I'd love to hear about them whether that be  knitwear/cotton mill or a fabric printing company. It is important that we stand behind local manufacturers and get the British textile trade back on the world map.







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