This week to celebrate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, we caught up with Paulette Brough, founder of Stornoway-based Harris Tweed accessory maker Rarebird, to hear more about her collaboration with Glasgow School of Art and the benefits it has brought to her business.
What inspired you to set up your own business?
While working for a local kilt maker in Stornoway I went to the Mackenzie Mill one lunchtime with a colleague who was buying some Harris Tweed to make a handbag. I was very surprised to see the different colours and patterns and loved them so much I bought some for myself. I only intended to make one handbag but I wanted an excuse to go back to the mill and buy more Harris Tweed. When people saw my handbag they asked me to make one for them so things just grew from there. Soon I had designed and put a collection together and sold them at a Christmas market in Manchester while visiting family. Everything went well and I realised that I could start my own business, which I did in June 2007, attending country shows around the UK. By January 2009 I was exhibiting at the Scotland Trade Show and supplying to Brooks Brothers in New York and selling at the British Fair in Hankyu Department Store Osaka Japan.
Where do you want to take the business – regional, Scotland-wide or global?
I mainly supply to outlets across Scotland although I do supply to several in England and Wales. Most of the outlets I supply are craft shops, boutiques and galleries. I would love to grow Rarebird further in the future although we are doing well with my Japanese customer who now sells Rarebird in five large department stores.
What was the issue/hurdle you wanted to overcome by working with academics?
I wanted to develop my own textile print. I have always had problems sourcing fabrics in manageable quantities and suitable prints and quality. Then, just as I would find a suitable print, it would go out of stock and I would have to start again.
What benefits did the collaboration bring to your business?
Collaborating with the Glasgow School of Art gave me control and allowed me to tailor my ideas and ask questions and I learnt a lot about the design and printing processes that would help me in the future.
What impact has it had in terms of growth/jobs/new products/financial savings?
I’m still in the process of developing my product lines using the new print but the shops that have stocked my new Lichen items are very pleased with them.
What gets you up on a Monday morning?
A full order book…..
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I used to watch The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau on TV and wanted to be a underwater biologist…..even though I could not swim. Later because I had always been good at art and loved my art lesson, my teacher, Mr Lawrence, begged me to promise I would use my talent and not end up working in the local sewing factory……oops! I did end up in the sewing factory, but I went to night school and worked my way up to the design room and now I have my own business which shows never give up and look for the people who can and want to help you.