Being a Spaniard and moving to Sweden during winter is not easy, believe me. But there are certain things that make it easy for one to adapt to the new climate circumstances.
I have experienced myself how tough it can be to look nice at -20 C, but fortunately we can make use of shawls and scarves to elevate our outfits. The problem doesn't solve when spring arrives... Sweden has this confusing weather in Spring where it may be sunny outside but the nordic blast will make you feel like if it was still January, so again, we need even more complements to keep warm in Spring– so our wardrobes are full of scarves throughout the year, and just to give you an insight into some alternatives for the upcoming windy and perhaps cold spring, I will introduce you to some alternatives from one of the best scarve & shawl companies in the world: G.H.Hurt & son.
When I first unboxed my G.H.Hurt scarve & Shawl, which you can see at the bottom of the post, the first thing I immediately notices was the great quality, so no wonder why The Queen wrapped baby Charles in one and most recently baby Archie:
We talk to Gillian Taylor, Director at G.H.Hurt & Son and 4th generation running the family business to discover the secrets of the brand and how it survived 2 World Wars and the Covid 19 Pandemic.
1. G.H. Hurt & Son was founded in 1912, it has survived WWI and WWII, what have been the biggest learnings passed on to you?
Being able to adapt and change quickly, this has been especially important during the last year. During this exceptional Covid-19 pandemic year we have all endured. 2. Can you tell us how the business is run within the family– between Gilian, Henry and James, who takes care of what? It has been wonderful experience as for a while three generations of our family have been able to work together. My Father Henry has gradually retired over the last 10 years. During that time, I have taken over the responsibility and leadership of running the business. I have learnt so much from my father over the years, he is a great believer in learning from the bottom, so I trained on all the skills throughout the factory. It is important to understand each skill. My son James is our operations manager and is involved in lots of projects around the business. For example, we are jointly working on developing some new products for our baby collection. As a Family we are very hands on, on a day to day basis, you can often find running runs the knitting machines.
My Husband Richard joined the firm in 2015. His background is in international business and digital marketing. So has some interesting experience to bring to our leadership team. So, you could say I have all my important men around me. G.H.Hurt & Son is very much a family business all round, over the years we have had two and three generations of other families too. 3. How many employees do you have and how many pieces do you produce every year? We currently knit and make everything ourselves here at The Shawl Factory in Nottingham. We have a great team, with artisan and traditional skills being passed on from one generation to another. Although we use modern technology and design, we still finish our shawls in the same way as when we started in 1912.
Our production capacity varies, not only to suit our client needs but also our web-shop requirements. We knit in batches and to order. This year our main retail clients have been closed due to lockdowns around the world, but online sales have done well, gifting is an important part of our business.
When babies are born and family have not been able to visit and share these special moments, relatives and friends have been able to send one of our soft lacy knitted shawls as a gift to wrap their precious new arrival, beautifully gift wrapped with a personal message to their loved ones. Back in the 1980’s and 90’s when I first started working with my Father, we made as many as 10,000 pieces in a month. Now we have a much stronger focus on quality and design and use only the finest yarns.
4. Your family has managed to have clients such as Harrods and the fashion house Jaeger company, what are the secrets to acquiring such clients? We are lucky to work with some wonderful and iconic stores around the world. In London we are proud to supply Harrods, Fortnum and Mason and Liberty, each store very special in its own right. Our lace knitting has been sold in Harrods since before 1948 and in that same year the Queen purchased baby shawls for Prince Charles when he was born. It's no big secret really, I think it always starts with an interesting, good quality and timeless product that customer genuinely want to buy and use, and of course we also believe in offering excellent service too!
5. During the 60’s and 70’ Henry made a bold and technically challenging step converting the traditional lacy patterns from handframes to specially adapted powered knitting machines, how does production look like today? In our early years it was the men who worked in the handframes and the ladies would wind the wool and hand finish the shawls. Later when my father took the brave step to move over to mechanical machinery it continued to be men working the large and heavy machinery. The ladies focusing on the delicate finishing and sewing skills. Today the machine workshop is full of the latest computer controlled commercial knitting machines and is quite a technical environment. Over the last few years I have focused on transferring our archive of fine lacy patterns (as my father did before me) onto the latest technology. We are an innovative company, always adapting and moving forward but we always have one eye on our handframe heritage. Todays knitting shop is a very different environment. Our machinery is worked by men and women alike, it is much easier to handle than the old heavier machines. Interestingly we have machinery in our factory that spans over 400 years. From the very first knitting machines that were invented here in Nottingham in 1589 and these sit alongside the latest technology. Keeping this local heritage going is of great importance to us, we are the last lace knitters and continue to send a little bit of Nottingham all around the world, one shawl at a time!
6. G.H.Hurt & Son had to go through 2 World Wars and the difficult transformation of the manufacturing industry in the 60s and 70s, with the current challenges we all face like Covid, do you feel you are also adapting to an even further modernisation of e-commerce? How are you adapting the business to increase its online presence? I’m happy to say we had already started that journey some years ago. I can say we are now already an international e-commerce company, selling our unique lacy knitting all around the world. So, although it has been a difficult year, our web-shop has allowed us to continue to service customers (while shops are forced to close) by selling direct and helping young parents, family and friends with gifts through these difficult times when people are unable to visit a newborn baby. 7. We have seen your scarves and shawls worn by celebrities and Royals, can you name a few of them and what pieces they had? We have been lucky enough to have our scarves and shawls worn in films and TV productions over the years. In the entrance hall in our factory a beautiful photo of Julie Christy hangs on the wall. The image is from the film Dr Zhivago, she is wearing a beautifully fine kid mohair scarf, which was knitted on one of the vintage handframes we still have in our factory to this day. Our scarves and shawls have been used by models and celebrities from Gerry Hall to Victoria Beckham. TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have wrapped Princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte in G.H.Hurt & Son baby shawls. Each wrapped in a different fine merino wool shawl. Prince George in the "Super-fine Merino Wool Christening shawl." Princess Charlotte in our “Elegant soft Wool Baby Shawl” (This border pattern was first knitted in our factory in the 1920’s). Prince Louis wrapped in the “Nottingham Lace Knitted Baby Shawl” The Duke and Duchess of Sussex Wrapped Baby Archie in the “Leaves and Flowers Baby Shawl” and our little soft cashmere hat.
8. What is your most sold shawl and scarf? How many hours does it take to make them and what materials do you use? The Super-fine Merino Wool Christening shawl is our most popular shawl. Knitted here in our factory built in 1781 in Nottingham, England, it takes up to two days to complete this soft lacy shawl. This design was first introduced to our collection about 40 years ago and has remained our most popular piece to this day. It’s classic design is timeless, knitted and hand finished in the softest spun merino wool. Maintaining local artisan skills, this piece is finished in same way we have been finishing shawls for over 100 years. So we were honoured and delighted when TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chose to wrap Prince George in this piece to introduce him to the world.
9. Gillian, is the 4th generation running the business, what has been the biggest challenge she has faced up until now? Without any question this awful pandemic in 2020 and 2021. I can't believe its been over a year. When it first started I feared for our future. We took the decision to continue trading and work through. I am glad we did. My main ambition is to protect the people that make this business such a special place. We need to preserve and encourage the artisan skills we have developed here over 100+ years.
10. Where do you see the business in 10 years from now? A global brand, well known for high quality lace knitwear, available in stores and online across our key markets. 11. Is there anything else you would like to add? We are really excited about the future of the business, and look forward to next 100 years.
Thank you so much everyone for reading and if you are curious to see the rest of G.H.Hurt's collection, or need to make a special present, don't hesitate to click on this link: