Our recent collaboration with The Prince's Foundation's Future Textiles initiative saw some of Johnstons of Elgin’s key players share their expertise with a new wave of Scottish textiles talent.
The Dumfries House Workshop Series was a bespoke enterprise to champion sustainability and provide recent students, all newly graduated from The Prince’s Foundation and YOOX NET-A-PORTER ‘Modern Artisan Project’, with the confidence and skills to establish their own businesses. We provided a series of eight virtual workshops on everything from sourcing and commercial planning to design and marketing. What evolved was an energetic, interactive programme, which also provided structure and focus during a period of pandemic-related unpredictability and change.
[The image above From left to right: Jillian Halfpenny is setting up a small batch luxury production micro-manufacturing business, ‘In The House Of’. Tracy Whalen is keen to develop her business activities to be long lasting and transcend generations. Nicole Christie has launched her own luxury womenswear brand, ‘Ellipsis’, drawing on her acquired skills. Graeme Bone is currently developing his own label sustainable clothing brand and would ultimately like to offer sustainable dressing from head to toe.]
This stunning 18th-century Palladian country house faced an uncertain future until, in 2007, it was rescued by a consortium headed by HRH The Prince of Wales. The Prince's Foundation headquarters are now at Dumfries House, offering a unique selection of education and training programmes to support learners of all ages. Typically, thousands of school pupils are welcomed to the 2000-acre estate every year to participate in hands-on workshops at its onsite education farm and gardens, STEM centre and textiles atelier.
In the estate’s Textile Training Centre, The Prince’s Foundation employees deliver textile skills training to those in the local area looking to gain employment, while the Future Textiles initiative helps address a skills gap within the UK textile industry by encouraging new entrants.
The Modern Artisan project arose from a textile training programme developed by YOOX NET-A-PORTER GROUP and The Prince's Foundation. The resulting capsule collection, ‘YOOX NET-A-PORTER for The Prince’s Foundation’, launched in November 2020, fusing traditional craftsmanship with digital tools to create a luxury collection with sustainability at its heart. The project gave six students from Italy’s Politecnico di Milano’s Fashion in Process research laboratory the opportunity to design an 18-piece capsule collection, the majority of which was then manufactured by hand at Dumfries House by the four trainee artisans from Scotland. The remaining pieces were crafted by Johnstons of Elgin employees at our Hawick mill. The manufacturing process formed the basis of an intensive training course, enabling the trainees to learn advanced technical skills and develop the expertise to create garments that would meet the luxury market's high standards.
We were delighted to supply cashmere and wool for the sustainability-focused project, aiming to use only natural and organic materials and end-of-roll fabric. The trainee artisans also had exclusive access to five years’ worth of YOOX NET-A-PORTER data relating to the brand's 4.3 million customers' long-term preferences, enabling them to create a timeless, commercially viable collection.
The Dumfries House Workshop Series enabled us to continue working with the Scottish-based artisans following their capsule collection launch.
Johnstons of Elgin Chairman Jenny Urquhart said combining our design, manufacturing and commercial expertise, from both Elgin and Hawick, together with the trainees sewing skills in Ayrshire, resulted in a deeper appreciation of all the skills to champion the 'Made in Scotland' sustainable ethos.
She said, ‘We wanted to share our passion for manufacturing in Scotland and show the artisans that their business proposition can be like ours where, from fibre to finished product, everything is made in Scotland.’ This was the subject of the workshop ‘Manufacturing World Class Textiles in Scotland’, led by our Finance Director Chris Gaffney, including an exclusive, in-depth virtual tour of our Elgin Mill. CEO Simon Cotton’s seminar discussed ‘Raising Your Business Profile and Building Your Brand’. These engaging discussions offered a 360-degree view of running a successful business in the luxury market. Learning and Development Manager Emma Hay took inspiration from our own leadership development programme in her session, ‘Building Professional Relationships’.
Emma explained, ‘The triple bottom line is about people, planet and profit. The artisans had learned in other sessions about responsible sourcing and how to be commercial in their designs and offering. This session focussed on people.’
Jenny added that the weekly virtual training sessions, unfolding during a time of pandemic-related restrictions, were a source of positivity for everyone involved and helped build a new community. Colleagues from across our business were only too happy to share business insights and tips, from Martin in London, to Nick in Hawick, to Laura, Andrew, George and Kieron in Elgin.
‘These sessions shared much more than business skills,’ she said. ‘It gave us a meaningful connection, which is so important. I think it helped everyone equally around the screen to have that focal point every Thursday morning to help get us through what was a difficult winter for everyone.’
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE ARTISANS?
Modern Artisan Tracey Whalen enrolled on the programme after gaining a first-class honours degree in Fashion Design and Production. Through the Modern Artisan, one of Tracey’s garments featured in Vogue magazine. Talking about what she has gained from her experience, Tracey said, ‘My goal now is to start my own line of sustainable coats and dresses, using only tweeds and wools spun in the UK. I’ll design and manufacture the garments myself and will also take on bespoke commissions for those looking for one-of-a-kind, timeless pieces that they can pass down through generations.
'For me, the project has really underlined the need to preserve our textile industry. In addition to running my own business, I'd love to also go into teaching to pass the traditional skills and techniques I've learnt onto younger generations. Ayrshire is renowned for its rich textile heritage, which I'm incredibly proud of, so I'd love to play my part in keeping these invaluable traditions alive.'
At Johnstons of Elgin, we have designed a digital badge for the Dumfries House students to display to communicate their participation and commitment to our shared values of community, craftsmanship, trust and innovation. We look forward to reconnecting with them all later this year to check in on their new careers and businesses' progress.
See the Modern Artisan’s work for yourself on their websites and social media platforms.