This week our Menswear Dialogue Series continues in a discussion with a century old Tweed manufacturer in the Scottish Highlands. Hunter's Tweed has a storied history of providing some of the most exquisite tweeds and cloths to many of Savile row's most respected tailoring houses. We've had the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Charles Inness the current owner of Hunter's Tweed. Together we have a few special projects planned involving bolts of tweed and one of the oldest Savile Row tailors in operation. In the meantime, get to know Hunter's Tweed.
Image Granted - What is your title/trade/profession? We understand Hunter's Tweed is a family business. How did you get into this work and what keeps you in it? Take us through your family heritage/lineage when it comes to the business of Tweed.
Charles Inness -My name is Charles Inness and I am a Director of Hunters of Brora trading as Hunter’s Tweed, a family business, that was purchased by my Father in law Mr Geoffrey Minter about 10 years ago when the company was placed into receivership. He was interested in keeping the brand alive and was encouraged to get involved by His Royal Highness Prince Charles. Since then, my wife and I have taken over the company and we are now the sole owners of Hunter’s Tweed.The Company was originally founded by Thomas Hunter in Wick in 1901 and a few years later the company relocated south to the small town of Brora on the East Coast of Sutherland.
I personally have no background in tweed or textiles but before taking on the company I was the Factor (Manager) of a traditional Scottish Sporting Estate and as a result spent a lot of my time wearing tweeds, as did the stalkers and keepers on the estate. I will go into more detail about this in answer to question 2.
IG - Hunter's Tweed is brand name like any other but it seems to signify that your products and services revolve around hunting. Is this is common misconception or is it truth? If so, why or why not? What other offerings does Hunter's Tweed provide other than for the outdoors man or woman?
CI - The short answer to your question is that our brand name is Hunter’s Tweed due to the tweeds originating from Thomas “Hunter”.
However here is some more background. To some extent tweeds could be called the distant cousins of Clan tartans as each identify a group of people, but a tartan would represent members of the same family whereas tweed signifies a group of people who live and work in the same area. Tweeds are also fairly modern with the first estate tweeds being created in the1840’s. During the Victorian era Scotland became a hugely fashionable place to go after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought the Balmoral Estate. One of the first things Albert did was design a Balmoral Tweed for use by the stalkers, ghillies and keepers on the estate and this was in fact one of the first real Estate Tweeds. The result of this royal patronage of Scotland was that the aristocracy and in this case mainly the English aristocracy followed in their droves purchasing Highland Estates with each of them wanting their own unique Tweed. One of the old traditions of the Highlands had been the provision by the Chiefs of clothing for their retainers in the clan tartan, however these new owners and tenants of the Estates did not have the right to wear tartan thus the estate tweed was used instead.
A secondary reason for the design of tweeds was to provide act as camouflage for the stalkers while out hunting deer on the “hill” thus each estate tweed would utilise the natural colours of the landscape unique to that area. Over the years Hunters became synonymous with Estate Tweeds and was sometimes referred to as “The King of Tweeds” due to the quality and longevity of the material which was normally a heavy weight (700 gms) cloth. It was tested in the best possible environment; by a lifetime of hard use by the Lairds, Keepers, Stalkers and Ghillies on Scottish Sporting Estates. Hence this is why Hunter’s products tend to revolve around the traditional pastimes of stalking, shooting and fishing carried out on a Scottish sporting estate and I suppose also my connection to Tweed in the first instance having run such a place.
But having said all that we are also a forward thinking company and are utilising many modern techniques that bring us completely up to date. While we still acknowledge the importance of our traditional market we are also moving into new and interesting areas. I would also say we are now into what could perhaps be called “urban camouflage” we are providing the modern gentleman or lady with lighter weight tweeds that can be made into high quality clothing which retain the sense of tradition that Hunter’s represents. But with a modern outlook and utilising up to date techniques in the design and manufacture of this material and the products we make from it. My wife and I certainly don’t want to stand still, we embrace the tradition and history of Hunter’s and this will always be of huge importance to us, however, we are also keen to move forward and as a result are focused on looking into any new markets or technology so we are trying to “keep our fingers on the pulse” if you like.
IG - You were more than happy to speak with IG and collaborate on a project which we'll keep under wraps for now. Do you work with US retailers, vendors, manufacturers, bloggers often or is this something new for your brand? What type of global outreach activities does Hunter's Tweed engage in? Being around over 110 years is a great accomplishment but what is the brand doing to stay relevant today?
CI - We would certainly be interested in talking about collaborating on a project with IG it sounds exciting this is something we can discuss in more detail.
We don’t work with any US retailers specifically though we have designed some Tweed for a couple of businesses in the States for example The Outpost Golf Club. IG is the first Blogger we have worked with in the US and we are excited by this, IG represent the type of people we are looking to reach, those of a discerning nature who recognise real quality when they see it.
We are very keen to establish relationships with retailers who subscribe to the same principles that we do; that of high quality, attention to detail, a sense of tradition but also with a modern approach and outlook. I would say we are looking at the luxury bespoke end of the spectrum.
You ask about global outreach activities this is limited at the moment but we are looking to expand the brand internationally and me talking to IG is one of the ways to achieve this! I am hoping you can help.
With regards the relevance today I don’t think tweed has ever really lost its relevance, it is a hugely versatile material that can lend itself to so many different things, not just clothing but interiors, footwear, accessories you name it and at Hunter’s we fully embrace this. We retain all the old Hunter’s records dating back over 100 years, and while we continue to make the traditional tweeds, we are also keen to modernise so we are constantly designing new and innovative patterns, based on some of the old Hunter’s recipes but with a 21st Century feel. We also offer a bespoke service where we will design a unique tweed for an individual, company, club, tailors or just anyone who is interested.
IG - How many Tweed offerings do you carry and in what form? Where and how are your Tweed manufactured? How does your Tweed compare to that of Harris or Donegal? It seems that your Tweeds are named after towns or families in and around Scotland. Has this been your heritage or is it something new for you?
CI - We currently have 20 of our heavy weight (700 gram) Carrol tweeds and 19 of our medium weight (500 gram) Kildary tweeds that are available by the metre and all our tweed is manufactured in Scotland. Our tweed is machine woven and hence is different to that of Harris or Donegal tweed both of which are hand woven. It is difficult to compare tweeds as there is no such thing as a “standard” tweed but machined tweeds tend to have a tighter weave and therefore we find are longer lasting.
As I mentioned earlier Hunter’s Tweed became closely connected to estate tweeds and as such each tweed would have been named after an estate in Scotland, and we have retained this idea by naming our tweeds after areas of Scotland.
IG - You spoke of Savile Row in our private interview. Walk us through your business on the Row. Which tailors do you have direct relationships with? Do these tailors work directly with your fabrics? Are your fabrics available to be used by tailors in other countries like the US?
CI -One of the nice things about us resurrecting the Hunter’s Tweed brand has been the encouragement we have received from the tailors on Savile Row, and we have direct relationships with a number of them for example Paul Munday of Meyer and Mortimer who have one of the oldest pedigrees among the Savile Row fraternity having been founded in the 1790’s. They are also proud holders of a Royal warrant from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Paul has been enthusiastic in his support of Hunter’s and what we are doing and we are delighted to be working with such well respected and talented team. Our bunches are in the US with lovers of tweed and doing the rounds but we would like to get some tailors involved, at the moment the tailors we use in London go out to the US frequently with our bunches.
IG - What else is in store for Hunter's Tweed over the next 100 years?
CI - Good question! We are keen to develop the business, taking it into new markets and continuing to utilize modern technology in the design and manufacture of our material. We would like the business to grow into a global brand while retaining the sense of tradition and maintaining the quality of Hunter’s tweed that the company became known for.