Established in 1797, Johnstons of Elgin is a woollen mill in Elgin, Scotland that produces cashmere garments. In an interview with Fibre2Fashion, Simon Cotton, CEO of Johnstons of Elgin, ellaborates on the factors that differentiate the Scottish textile market from rest of the world, the changes the pandemic has brought in consumer preferences and some of the new announcements the company looks forward to.
How does Scotland differentiate itself in the textile market from other world regions?
Scotland is particularly well known for traditional, natural animal fibres like wool and cashmere. Most of the companies here service the luxury markets. These fibres require very careful processing due to the fine and delicate fibres, which are easily broken or damaged by high volume production practices. For these reasons Scottish made products achieve a premium, as the knowhow and care which goes into them is reflected in products which are beautiful to touch, with very few chemicals used and wear exceptionally well.
Your company is the last vertical wool mill in Scotland. How do you plan to carry on with the legacy?
We believe that our vertical business model offers us many advantages. If we want a product to perform a certain way in finishing, we can go right back to the raw fibre to achieve this. In addition, we have been able to achieve a huge amount in sustainability because we have a very high level of control over what goes into every stage of our process including chemicals, energy, water, and fair work. The vertical business model has never been more relevant than it is today.
Could you give us an overview of the success story of your brand?
Two thirds of our turnover comes from providing manufacturing to many of the world's leading luxury brands. Our own brand is however very important to us. Although it was once known simply for very beautiful, basic products, increasingly we are using it to develop new technology and techniques which can then be used across the business. Because of this, consumers can find new-to-the-world products which cannot be found in any other brand and really match our dual commitments to innovation and craftsmanship.
Where does the brand have its footprints in the world?
Our home is here in Scotland, based in small, rural communities, where craftsmanship is still considered exceptionally important. Our supply chains reach across the world including Australia for Ultrafine Merino, China and Mongolia for Cashmere and South America for Vicuna. Our products are sold in over 65 countries right around the world. Our company has always been an international one, sourcing the finest fibres from around the world since the 1840's and selling our products around the world since our first sales to Nova Scotia in 1813.
Which regions of Scotland do your craftsmen come from?
Most of our craftspeople are very local to our mills and live within walking distance from them. However, around 15 per cent of our workforce originally started their lives, and very often their textile careers, in other countries. We have over one hundred employees with over twenty years of service. It is very common for two or more members of a family to work in our mills and for several generations to work here. We take that as a great compliment, and it really does help to build our sense of community.
How does your supply chain work? Where are the raw materials sourced from?
Our supply chains reach across the world including Australia for Ultrafine Merino, China and Mongolia for Cashmere and South America for Vicuna. Typically, we are buying raw fibre and we keep track of where everything is scoured and dehaired. Increasingly, our fibre is becoming fully traceable. All our wool for our yarn production is now bought with Responsible Wool Standard certification and we are moving all our cashmere purchases to the Sustainable Fibre Alliance standard as the capacity develops.
Which are your major markets?
We sell to every market in the world, but the Japanese market is particularly important to us. We have a strong position in the US and Europe and markets like China and South Korea are growing extremely rapidly. Scottish textile products are synonymous with luxury so any country with a significant luxury market is of interest to us.
Who is your typical customer in the domestic market?
Our customer in the UK is typically a luxury traveller, who shops luxury brands and wants to take home high-quality products from their travels.
What has been the impact of the pandemic on the textile industry of Scotland?
Demand dropped sharply during the pandemic but is now recovering rapidly. We expect to be back at 2019 levels next year and demand this year is significantly stronger than we expected.
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