Our latest 'Introducing Orkney's Makers' feature focuses on Orkney textile designers, Hume Sweet Hume. We spoke to Lizza about her partnership with sister, Jenna.
How did the two of you get started in business?
We both returned home to Westray after we finished our degrees and were trying to figure out what we did from there. We had both been looking for work in different ways but wanted something that allowed us to remain in Westray, to continue to live where we loved and do something that we loved doing. Jenna and I had worked on a collaborative project at the Westray Heritage Centre. We discovered that we worked well together and that really just planted the idea of starting the business.
Did you have to think hard about whether Westray was the best place to be based. Did you ever consider relocating to the Orkney Mainland, or even further afield?
This was an easy decision! We knew we wanted to live at home and we always felt that if you were keen enough and determined enough, you should be able to work from anywhere.
It obviously brings its challenges, but what are the advantages of that island life?
Where do we start?! Primarily we love where we live. It provides us with our natural inspiration. It’s a small remote island location with occasional sun, sea, and sand. There’s so much amazing wildlife, and the colours and textures have to be seen to be believed.
We’re incredibly proud of our heritage and roots, and this really forms the basis of our work. It’s good for our marketing as many people love to know more about the products, where they come from and the story behind their design. The story is honest, and really that provides the best marketing material we could ever have.
Were you both quite artistic when you were young?
Our Nana Drever was very artistic. Her drawing skills were exceptional, as was her painting. She would have loved to have gone to art school, so we were brought up with an awareness of this as a possibility. I don’t know that we felt we were artistic, but we always enjoyed, and were encouraged at home and school, in all things creative.
For those not familiar with the business, what do you produce, and how do you produce it?
We design and manufacture knitwear. We started by creating knits for the home, cushions and throws, hence the name Hume Sweet Hume (thank you Duncan Maclean), then over the years we branched into clothing. This is now our main product range. Our knitwear is created in our workshop in Westray, and also in the homes of our many outworkers. The pieces are knitted on domestic knitting machines and completed by linking or grafting by hand.
We focus on classic garments with lasting appeal; ponchos, jackets, jumpers, snoods, wraps, wrist warmers and hats - things that can be worn year after year. We try to create pieces that evoke memories of the landscape, heritage and – really importantly – the folk that live here in the islands. It’s people that make places like this so special.
What is the dynamic like working together as sisters? Do you both have defined elements of the business that you each look after?
Two heads are definitely better than one! We work well together and share the same ideas when it comes to business, be it in design or ethos. We always work together on designs. We regularly exchange new ideas and initial concepts for products and have always agreed that we only progress an idea once we are both happy with it. This enables us to question and then perfect.
I am the knitter so I tend to work on the technical side of the product once an idea has been established. This is very much trial and error and many an error lies in a box awaiting that light bulb moment when it may become something more worthwhile.
Jenna has a keen eye on perfection and though we both knit, she specialises in the finishing and quality control, ensuring that products are ready for dispatch.
But we are very much a team - and most of all we have fun!
The younger generation is now involved with the business. Is that something you were always keen to see?
We never had a plan, and to be honest, never expected this to happen. I have always felt that people need to follow their own passions. The girls grew up with Hume Sweet Hume, they understand the business and see new prospects for us, so we really are delighted! They add new ideas, style, inspiration and enthusiasm. Another great thing is their understanding of the social media platform and all things digital. We’re very grateful, and of course proud.
Obviously COVID-19 has changed life for everyone, and brings a lot of uncertainty for business. How are you coping with the current situation - both as a business and as individuals?
This has been - and still is - a very worrying time for everyone, both in health and wealth. Being self-employed means that to a certain degree we are accustomed to many changes and have, over the years, had to alter course many times. However these are very challenging times. We’re fortunate to have a lovely customer base and have enjoyed support both locally, nationally and internationally throughout 21 years of business. That’s a huge reassurance as we look ahead.
We’re seeking new ways to develop the business in a fast-changing marketplace and looking to add new works to Hume Sweet Hume’s collection. But we’re also revisiting some aspects of our past, collaboratively working together on artwork and remembering why we started in the first place. I think that’s something that any business can benefit from.
We appreciate and are grateful, daily, for where we live and the community that we share it with. We are extremely lucky.
Find out more about Hume Sweet Hume from the official website. The Hume Sweet Hume shop in Kirkwall is currently open Monday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm.
The Promoting Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020