A story to weave: Johnstons of Elgin
Richard Holt meets one of the UK’s oldest producers of fine fabrics and wools to find out how its time-tested techniques make it an invaluable partner for brands like Gieves & Hawkes
In a world where technological change occurs at an often bewildering rate, it is reassuring to see that some things are best done the way they have always been done. Whisky is still matured in oak casks and watchmakers work with components that have remained largely unchanged for centuries.
Within the textiles industry it would be hard to find a better example of dedication to traditional craftsmanship than Johnstons of Elgin. One of Scotland’s oldest family-owned companies, Johnstons has run the same Morayshire mill since 1797. It produces some of the finest wools, fabrics and finished garments available using traditional techniques handed down through four generations of the Johnston family before passing to the Harrison family in 1920, who have owned the company ever since.
At the weaving mill in Elgin and the knitting mill in Hawick, highly skilled designers take raw materials and transform them through around 30 different processes – including dying, spinning, blending and weaving – to produce the final product. Johnstons was brought to prominence in the mid 19th century when the company’s Estate Tweeds (still produced at the Scottish factory today) were worn by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It was around this time that Johnstons began its pioneering use of cashmere and started exporting the luxuriously soft wool all around the world.
Johnstons of Elgin has been supplying Gieves & Hawkes since the 1960s, before the individual houses of Gieves Ltd and Hawkes & Co merged. The two companies have a lot in common, beyond the fact that they are both Royal Warrant holders that have a history going back to the late 18th century. ‘Maintaining consistently high-quality products and a first-class service is what has made both Gieves & Hawkes and Johnstons stand the test of time,’ says Edward Finney, Senior Designer at Gieves & Hawkes. ‘Johnstons has been producing the finest cashmere in the business for years and we are delighted to have such a great working relationship with them.’
Greg Rorison, sales director at Johnstons of Elgin, agrees: ‘Supplying cloth is how the relationship began, and we continue to supply cloth, woven in our Elgin mill, to this day. We also supply many of their woven and knitted accessories and are proud to have supplied knitwear too. ‘The design team at Gieves & Hawkes, based in London, collaborate very closely with our design teams in Scotland. We are very proud to be a supplier to such a prestigious Savile Row brand; a company, who like Johnstons of Elgin, has a history and heritage steeped in quality and craftsmanship that stretches back to the 18th century.’ Like Gieves & Hawkes, Johnstons has come a very long way since it was founded more than 200 years ago. But although the world may have changed, and fashions may come and go, the best craftsmanship is timeless.