A new business that intends to produce contemporary Shetland tweed that revitalises the tradition of weaving in Yell is being set up in Sellafirth.
The Shetland Tweed Company, a partnership of designer Kirsty Jean Brabin and Andy Ross of charity GlobalYell, is operating out of Sellafirth industrial estate and will be officially launched this summer.
The idea for the venture was gradually hatched over several years after Kirsty undertook a weaving residency at GlobalYell, which teaches and trains weaving, before completing her master’s degree in London. She returned to Yell last May with her husband Paul and the company was formed shortly thereafter with the idea of “helping to put Shetland tweed back on the map”.
The business partners emphasise how Yell, the North Isles and Shetland are absolutely inspirational for the development of high-end tweeds that are aimed at the fashion market. The business is primarily involved in the design of fabrics that include its pre-designed collections or a design consultancy service that’s available to clients who want to create their own vision.
The partners will then produce the tweed on GlobalYell’s industrial loom – the two organisations sharing the same building in the industrial estate – and buy the fabric from the charity. The buildings are leased from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, but are in the process of being bought.
The venture brings together the skills, training and interests of the two partners and will tap into the extensive knowledge of the industry and contacts in London and elsewhere that Kirsty and Andy have built up through their involvement with the industry.
Kirsty said that the North Isles were a positive hub of creative output with glass, buttons, baskets, painting and illustration adding to the more traditional output of textiles and knitwear. All of the company’s fabrics are influenced by their surroundings.
She added: “The whole ethos of the company is that it is designed and woven in Yell. It’s just a really inspiring place. I think that reflects in our fabrics because we are very much inspired by the scenery and the atmosphere that surrounds us. We try to portray that in our cloths and reflect what we feel and what we see to try and make a true Shetland cloth.
“We try to adapt tones from the landscape. I suppose a lot of the collections we have got now, I guess the idea for some of the designs, like The Hidden Coast, is picking up on colours that you would not usually see, little flecks of pink and mossy green – just trying to reflect what we see and the beauty of Shetland.”
Andy said that the common perception of Yell was of “a giant peat bog” and while that was in a sense true, it is also a palette of “amazing colour”.
He added: “If you look in the summer when all the little flowers are out, the orchids and the marsh marigolds, then all of a sudden it becomes pink with the campion and the thrift. Then the heather comes out and the red grass comes out and the bog cotton – so it changes hugely.”
Kirsty, originally from Rainhill in Merseyside, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Textile Design specialising in weave from Chelsea College of Art and Design, and entered a successful spell working for the likes of Designers Guild and undertaking “a lot of freelance work”. When considering her next move she applied for the four-month residency at GlobalYell in 2013, which had been set up by Andy 10 years ago.
Her masters focused on Shetland’s weaving heritage – at one time there were several weavers in Yell alone. She also wove her collection for the masters degree, including two chairs upholstered in Shetland tweed by Amy Cheyne. These were exhibited in a gallery just opposite the Tate in London.
She added: “Andy and I continued to chat about setting up a business and the future. I have just always loved Shetland so much since visiting here in the first place, so I took the plunge and made the move. Andy and I have started to set up this company together so that is where we are now.”
Andy moved to Yell from Zimbabwe via London 15 years ago to “set up a music school” but ended up opening the Wind Dog Café instead, before setting up GlobalYell.
He said: “Where I grew up it looks like this, wide open spaces, friendly people and nice houses and I like the space around. That’s something that helps us to design and think: you do have that tranquil feeling about the place. It’s a good place to work.”
The company gets its yarns from local suppliers so the product is “100 per cent Shetland”.
The pair are aiming firmly at the fashion market rather than mass production. As such the output can be considered “high-end” or bespoke.
Kirsty said: “The tweeds that we are creating are based on the traditional idea of tweed but with a contemporary edge. These are for the fashion market and we are not doing anything for outside of the fashion market at the moment, so the main use of them is tailoring.
“We have our core collections here which clients can look at and buy by the metre. On top of having these core collections we offer a design consultation service as well for a client who wants a tweed but does not know exactly what they want. We will work with them so they can create their own vision and work with us to create their own bespoke tweed.”
According to Kirsty, tweed is coming back in fashion and with little tweed produced in the isles, traceability and provenance is important. Jamiesons of Shetland are the only major tweed producer. “There is definitely a gap in the market for something more contemporary,” she added.
She said: “Weaving is not a quick thing, it’s a time consuming process, so the fabrics are more bespoke to match the length of time and the amount of care and consideration that we put into making them. I suppose you could say we will produce small-scale, bespoke, high-end stuff. A lot of work goes into the design process and the sampling as well.”
The partners plan an official launch party sometime in the summer and will be taking part in the Shetland Arts and Crafts fair and a big trade show in London, where they will also be undertaking various research and promotional trips.
For full report see this week’s The Shetland Times