Every month we're going to take a look at the work of a successful Orkney based business - from food and drink producers to tourism and renewable energy companies. The aim is to highlight the breadth of economic activity in the islands, and to showcase just some of our innovative entrepreneurs. This time the focus is on local designer Hilary Grant.
This month the focus is on a very talented textile designer based in the Orkney parish of Orphir.
Hilary Grant launched her company, which produces luxury knitwear accessories including hats, scarves and gloves, in 2011. She comes from a textile design background and studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, before gaining experience of the industry in London, producing designs for the likes of Alexander McQueen and Clare Tough and working with businesses in product development.
The plunge into the business world was taken gradually – Hilary says she deliberately started off small. “I really just built things up slowly, testing the market in my first year. I secured funding from the Princes Youth Business Trust and Creative Scotland and that really gave me the start I needed, in terms of finance and mentoring.”
“My collections include women’s accessories like hats, scarves, blankets and mittens – all designed and handmade in Scotland. It was an easy choice, as they don’t require sizing, but they’re made to a really beautiful quality. I’ve always believed it’s better to be known for doing one thing really well and then growing your range after you’ve established a strong reputation for quality.”
Hilary moved to Orkney with her partner soon after launching her business and continued to expand her range from her new base on the shores of Houton Bay. A perfect location for product testing in some of the wildest winter weather anywhere!
“Although it’s the pattern and colour that initially draws people in, the knitwear also has to be really practical and wearable. Many of my customers come back year after year to add to their collection. My most popular style is the ‘Circle Scarf’ – it’s a big, long snood that’s great for keeping the wind out. It also helps living in a place like Orkney where the winters can be cold and dark – my inspiration comes from trying to combat the conditions the long winters bring!”
Despite being based in a small community, Hilary has established her name on an international scale. You can find her products in major department stores in Hong Kong and Japan – those special links with the Far East have been built thanks to UK Trade and Investment organised trade missions.
“It’s definitely where I see my biggest opportunities. Japan’s consumer culture is vast, but it’s also welcoming to new, niche brands. As always, though, quality is key, as the country’s luxury consumers have high expectations. I’ll hopefully be heading back out to Tokyo again during the winter to build on the contacts and relationships made last year. Japan and Hong Kong are my most promising markets and they’re where I’ll be concentrating a lot of my efforts over the coming years.”
Despite wide horizons, Orkney still plays an important part in the company’s evolution. Hilary Grant is a member of the Orkney Craft Association and Hilary herself is one of the driving forces behind the group’s new website. The aim is to build on the Orkney name, synonymous with high quality craftsmanship, and to showcase the wide range of products on offer here.
“We have thirty six members and we’re really keen to highlight the breadth of talent there is across the islands. We’re trying to do more profiles of local producers and hopefully looking behind the scenes to see how people live and work here. We want to inspire visitors to explore the Craft Trail and encourage the next generation of designers and makers in Orkney.”
For Hilary, there are challenges at being based in Orkney, but the internet and social media play important roles in helping to develop her business.
“The remote location does make it more difficult to attend trade shows and industry events, but with social media it’s possible to build relationships with customers and press, and show them the story behind the business. I even met the Senior Fashion Editor of ‘Grazia Italy’ at my studio during her holiday in Orkney this summer after connecting with her on Instagram.”
Hilary is also playing a part in developing Orkney’s arts and crafts scene into the future. “I lecture part time at Orkney College and working with the students to help them develop their skills is really inspiring. It’s fantastic to be involved in the process, giving them the skills and confidence for the next stage in their creative careers.”
With big plans in place, it appears Orkney will continue to play a part in the development of Hilary Grant’s business in the years to come.