Beca Lipscombe: We must not let our unique textile industry die

I am compelled to write this knowing it will not change the fate of Caerlee Mills (formerly Ballantyne Cashmere), which sadly went into administration last week 225 years after it first opened.

I wish to voice my concern that another valuable asset to Scotland’s cultural fabric has been allowed to disappear, leaving a gaping hole in our ever-vanishing textile industry and impacting negatively on yet another Scottish community.

I have had the honour of knowing this community in my capacity as a director of a small-scale fashion label that produces in Scotland and sells internationally. Scotland is famed for its production of quality knitted and woven textiles. High-end companies come here because our textiles embody a skill, an understanding and a quality that they wish to see in the fibre from which their products are made.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Caerlee Mills was the last mill in Europe predominately to employ the specialist knitwear process of hand intarsia. Some of the staff had worked there for more than 40 years; we cannot buy, replace or pass on their knowledge once it has gone.

I understand the closure came about because of many factors, but it should be emphasised that it had substantial orders on its books. It was unable to produce these as it could not afford to buy the yarn up front. That, coupled with an antiquated building that was too costly to run, equals redundancies and devastation in Scottish communities.

As a Scot, I realise we do not always appreciate and value our strengths until they have gone.

As world commerce and consumer patterns change, one thing is for sure: unless government invests in and supports our struggling textile industries, very few will survive. I see a deleterious lack of government support. China may have might, but we have history, skill and legacy.

I don’t claim to have the answers. My company, Atelier EB, has extensively researched the post-1930s Scottish textiles industry, and we have seen the tragic scale of what has been lost – Singer, Pringle and Ballantyne are just some of the great companies that went to the wall.

We have witnessed much negative change. It all hangs on such a fine thread.

• Beca Lipscombe is director of fashion label Atelier EB.