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A Scottish success story in the making

Eric Musgrave

A perk of my job is that I meet inspiring, creative people. In Scotland last week it was good to spend time in Hawick with James Sugden, who made Johnstons of Elgin the success it is today - a totally vertical, made-in-Scotland producer of woven fabrics and knitwear employing 800 people.

A perk of my job is that I meet inspiring, creative people. In Scotland last week it was good to spend time in Hawick with James Sugden, who made Johnstons of Elgin the success it is today - a totally vertical, made-in-Scotland producer of woven fabrics and knitwear employing 800 people.

Also in Hawick, an old friend, Stephen Rendle, a partner in the well-regarded Lovat Mills textile business, was his usual ebullient self.

And across in Peebles, Alistair McDade, design and sales director of the Robert Noble woollen mill, was in a confident mood after a good Première Vision.

I was also impressed by the quiet determination of a new contact for me, Tom Harkness, who after 36 years in textiles production, finds himself as managing director of Caerlee Mills in Innerleithen. Founded in 1788, Caerlee claims to be the longest continuously trading textile company in Scotland. It is better known by its previous brand name, Ballantyne, which had a world-renowned reputation for luxury cashmere knitwear.

That global reputation attracted the attention of Italian investors who took over Ballantyne a few years ago, but their efforts ended in administration this year, with dreadful consequences for the 200 employees.

Rather than see the old business disappear, Tom Harkness is leading a team of 37 staff who believe in the amazing quality of what they produce.

What Caerlee urgently needs now is global representation and to open or re-open sales accounts, and for the possibilities of a luxurious Made in Scotland product be introduced to the world’s top designer names. I’d love to see another Scottish success story.

Eric Musgrave is the chief executive of the UK Fashion and Textile Association

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