A Journey to Lewis and New Directions in Tweed11 Jun 2014
Since the beginning of Cock & Bull Menswear we've been making tweed waistcoats and caps. You could say tweed has become a kind of core to our DNA. And as our range has expanded we've been taking our love for tweed in new directions. Hence our autumn / winter 2014 collection is called 'New Directions in Tweed' - keep an eye out for it come September!
One thing that hasn't changed though is the tweed supplier we use. Our Tweed is an exquisite textile from the Isle of Lewis made from Shetland wool, which has served us well from the start. When you get your hands on it you can feel straight away that it's a pretty special tweed. But the thing that keeps us going back to our supplier is as much about the colour palette as anything. We originally chose 10 of their different tweeds, and they work so well together as a collection that bringing in a tweed from any other tweed house just wouldn't work. And we've slowly added a few more of their tweeds, so now we use about 18.
We've been handling this fine cloth for about two and a half years, and being very interested in the provenance of our supply chain we've wanted to visit Breanish for a while. Also I have family heritage nearby (sort of) and am attracted to the wildness of this part of Scotland. So I jumped when the opportunity arose to travel to this remote part of the UK and see how hundreds of years of artisan tradition is still producing excellence in the 21st century.
I'd been in Scotland for about 10 days before the final leg to Lewis, which is reached by ferry from the small town of Ullapool, about a 3 hour journey. Then from Stornaway, the main town on Lewis its another 45 minutes to the Port of Ness. I don't think my words can really do justice to the sense of remoteness here. And its a very beautiful place:
As I took this photo, Christina - one of the four family members who run the company - said "I love it here. There's no where else on earth I'd rather be". I think she might be on to something.
Tthe weaving process carries on hundreds of years of tradition on the the Isle of Lewis / Harris. This means the weaving is done in the homes of the weavers on hand looms. So it really shouldn't have been a surprise that our Tweed producer is just another house with a shed. But it was still a surprise! Here it is:
While Harris Tweed is usually made from the wool of from Cheviot and Scottish Blackface sheep, our suppler uses primarily wool from Shetland sheep, which results in a finer, softer tweed. Also they send their tweed to the mainland for the finishing process. These two aspects of their production make their tweed ineligible for the Harris Tweed Orb trademark. But they've obviously chosen their path based on the excellent results they are getting, and they're achieving huge success in fashion houses from Milan to Tokyo. All from a couple of sheds, this an extraordinary cottage industry! Here is Christina demonstrating winding the yarns on to the warping board, one of the first stages before weaving can begin:
Christina and her team are the only weavers on the island who still wind their own warps. Although it's a very labour intensive process it allows them more control to do smaller runs.
Once the warp is created it's then loaded onto the loom. Christina and her team use Hattersly looms. There are not many of these still in existence, and the few that remain can be anywhere up to a hundred years old but they have a 90 year old and a 40 year old Hattersly (called Bertha, bought for a bottle of whiskey!):
They are powered using a couple of pedals. One of these looms can make between 3 and 5 metres of (single width) cloth each hour. Our tweeds are made by 4 weavers, including 3 who work from their own looms in their own homes. From this tiny operation they are supplying a steady supply of superior quality tweed to fine fashion houses from Savile Row to Tokyo.
One of the most exciting things for me about this trip was discovering that there were plenty of tweeds that weren't in their swatch book. We've been wanting some more colours, and when I stepped into their 'shop' (AKA 'front room') I was was greeted by an arresting display of colours that I didn't know were available.
I piled up a selection on the table for Christina to send me sample lengths of:
Some wonderful pops of colour to add to our repertoire! So watch this space for a new selection of richly coloured tweed caps and waistcoats, and we'll be doing blazers and trousers again soon too. These may also very well crop up in our A/W collection 'New Directions In Tweed'.
It was a real treat to meet the team - Chrissie, Donald and their daughter and Christina (unfortunately Iain was away when I visited). Its inspiring to see how skilled artisan production is still providing good livelihoods for people in this remotest part of Britain, and amazing to see what excellent results they are achieving!
I travelled the long way to Lewis - by car. But you can fly there from Glasgow too, which makes it only a few hours journey from any major city in the UK. If you are at all interested in fine craftsmanship and artisan production, or if you're looking for a special piece of tweed, the Macleod family are always welcoming at their home situated in the northern tip of the Isle of Lewis.
Cotton - Have You Picked Your's Carefully?27 May 2014
Cotton grows on only 2.4% of the world’s arable land, yet it is responsible for the release of over US$2 billion of chemical pesticides each year and almost 50% of these are considered toxic enough to be classified as hazardous by the World Health Organisation!
At Cock & Bull Menswear we find this fact appauling and that's why we are fully committed to producing a sustainable menswear brand. It simply makes sense to us that clothing should not be made at the expense of others' health, life or well-being nor at the cost of polluting the planet.
Additional Cotton Facts
1. The worlds cotton industry is valued at over $32billion every year.
2. Over 2/3 of cotton is grown in developing countries and the former USSR.
3. Cotton, also know as "white gold" is wrought with misery and issues.
4. Cotton uses almost 25% of all the world’s insecticides and 10% of pesticides.
Issues Surrounding the Production of Conventional Cotton
1. 250 million children globally are compelled to work. 70% of those children are employed in agriculture, where they are at risk from exposure to pesticides and other chemicals, machinery and arduous labour. See the film below:
2. The cotton industry is no exception, where children are employed in a variety of tasks from cottonseed production to pesticide spraying and the annual cotton harvest.
Slavery in the Cotton Industry
Uzbekistan is one of the largest exporters of cotton and every harvest season it forces millions of its citizens, including children as young as ten, to participate in picking cotton. Schools are closed and quotas are enforced. In order to meet production quotas Government and private business employees are forced to pick cotton. The Uzbek government enforces these orders with threats, detentions and torture of Uzbek activists seeking to monitor the situation. The government refuses to allow international monitors into the country.
The Cotton Campaign is calling on governments, industry leaders, manufacturers, brands and consumers to take action to erradicate slavery from the cotton industry. Ending slavery in the entire supply chain and the aligning of human rights with economic objectives is the only humane respone to this atrocity. The German Federal Commissioner for Human Rights Markus Löning has called for a boycott of Uzbek cotton until state-sponsored forced labor is ended by Uzbekistan and human rights are restored.
Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in the world taking about 2,720 litres of water to produce one cotton T-shirt, equivalent to what an average person might drink over three years. Nearly 20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment and it is estimated that 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used globally to transform raw materials into textiles which are finally released into freshwater sources
Nearly $2.6 billion worth of pesticides are sprayed on cotton fields each year — accounting for more than 10% of total pesticide use and nearly 25% of insecticides use worldwide. Herbicides and pesticides are also estimated to kill 16,000 people each year.
The Soil Association Standards
The Soil Association, its standards and activities, and the practice of organic farmers are all based on a set of internationally recognised principles. The Soil Association certifies to the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) – which is the global gold standard for organic textiles. To be certified by GOTS every step of the supply chain needs to be certified i.e. from cultivation of the crop in the field, to spinning of the fibre, manufacture of the cloth to the final product. All the stages are checked against environmental and social standards. For more information see Soil Association Organic Textiles.
Dirty White Gold - The Film
A feature-length documentary that unpicks the fashion supply chain and finds out why 300,000 indian farmers have committed suicide to get out of debt.