A year ago, on my birthday to be precise, I drove my van up the beautiful A68 through Northumberland to Carters Bar on the border of England and Scotland, took a left, and meandered through beautiful scenery to the town of Hawick, home of the Scottish knitwear industry, or so the sign told me as I drove into town.
I’d sent an email to Hawick Knitwear, a few weeks before, asking what they did with their waste. My business is about upcycling waste and saving it from landfill, and I was in need of another supplier of knitwear. The guys there couldn’t have been more accommodating. They had even raided the secretary’s stash of chocolate biscuits as it was my birthday. I had a meeting with the head of sales and the waste manager, and showed them some of my woolly wares. I took with me a sweatercoat, some little ponchos and baby blankets, and the men looked at these appreciatively, and although a far cry from the smart jumpers made by Hawick Knitwear, they made encouraging noises about my work.
Up until then, they explained, the waste had been sold to carpet manufacturers where it was shredded, but if I was prepared to negotiate a good price, then they would save some garment panels for me. I was also taken into a large stockroom and asked if I could do anything with ten boxes of lambswool jumpers without head holes. Bingo! I had found myself a supplier of the finest lambswool and cashmere.
For the next year, thanks to the waste from Hawick knitwear, I made dozens and dozens of ponchos, bedspreads, baby blankets and throws, and sold these at events such as Hexham Farmer’s Market, Woolfest and The Green Gathering as well as online from my website and through social media. Partly thanks to Hawick knitwear, my business flourished during 2015.
I let my stock of materials dwindle over Christmas to make way for family staying as the guest room has previously been piled high with boxes of Hawick’s waste knitwear. In the new year I emailed Hawick to arrange another delivery, as I needed to hit the ground running and get making again. To my horror I got a reply to my email saying Hawick had gone into administration, and the guy I had been dealing with was now unemployed.
I phoned the administrators and was told that they were trying to find another buyer for the business, but if I wanted to register an interest to buy any stock, they’d be in touch in due course. A month later, I was headed for the last time, up to Hawick to buy half a tonne of waste knitwear that had been taken off the machines. The factory workers had only been given four hours notice of the factory closing when they had gone back after new year, and so had just walked away, jumpers half finished on machines.
I had been offered four tonnes of waste knitwear, but after doing the sums with my accountant husband, we decided the rental of a storage unit for that would amount to ten year’s worth of knitwear for me, wasn’t affordable. As it is, I’ve had to rent a storage container, and now have enough knitwear for the next two years.
I find it so sad that this major employer in the small town of Hawick has gone. It is devastating for the town and the workforce. The chap who met me last week had been with the company for thirty-nine years, and both his sons had also worked there. I’m sure the reasons for its closure are many and complex, but the question of cheap clothing manufactured abroad by people living and working in shocking condition must come into play. Luxury knitwear made in Britain would appear to be a dwindling market.
I went into the factory to collect my knitwear, and found it’s emptiness and silence a stark contrast to the bustling and happy place it had been before. So sad, and my heart goes out to all those who have lost their jobs, and to their families for whom it will have a knock on effect.
I do hope the remaining stock will go to a good cause if it isn’t sold. I would hate to think of it going into landfill when there are refugees in desperate need of clothing. I think I maybe should email the administrators once and find out what is happening to any unsold stock. There are after all, containers heading off to Syria and Dunkirk that could be filled with Hawick’s waste.
So I now need to get busy. I have a container full of waste knitwear to work with and four boxes of beautiful thread that I managed to save from the skip. I’m looking forward to making lots of beautiful things with the fabulous lambswool. I will also have to be mindful of the fact that I’ve lost a supplier in the long term, and will need to find another.