Who made Carry’s Pringle dress? We get close…

At the Fashion Revolution Day advisory board meeting last month, we made the rash claim that we could find out (roughy) who made your clothes, through the kind of ‘Follow it yourself’ research that we do. We decided to take as our starting point a tweet by FRD’s founder Carry Somers.

In the absence of a ‘Made in…’ label, this is what we found out about who may or may not have made Carry’s dress, and where… Like our site, we present our findings as a series of quotations from newspaper and other accounts. The answer is in pieces for you to ‘stitch together’. Excuse the pun.

a) a description of Pringle cashmere work in the early 1980s:

While some wool intarsia is machine-made, all cashmere intarsia is hand-made by the industry’s most skilled workers. Pringle has 40 intarsia machines at which men stand, working from graphic illustrations of the patterns they are reproducing in cashmere yarn. The most experienced workers seem to bob rhythmically back and forth over their frames as they weave, scarcely looking at the paper guide (Source: Salmans 1980, np).

b) what it says on the label and what it means:

Anyone buying one of Pringle’s lambswool jumpers made in [Latvia] will have no idea it has come from Latvia – sweaters made in Latvia are labelled simply ‘Pringle’. Those made in Scotland, however, are labelled ‘Pringle of Scotland’ (Source: Clarke 1999, np).

c) when the Pringle factory in Hawick closed:

KNITWEAR firm Pringle of Scotland is set to shut its factory in the Borders with the loss of 80 jobs. The company has been making luxury garments at its factory in Hawick for almost 200 years. … chief executive Douglas Fang said: ‘We are operating in an extremely competitive global market. We are determined to restore Pringle to its rightful position as a truly worldwide luxury fashion brand but there are some hard decisions which may have to be taken for the long-term development of the brand.’ The brand is internationally recognised and the firm makes much of the fact its products have been worn by stars such as Madonna. However, despite heavy investment in revamping its image, Pringle has struggled in recent years with the strength of sterling and strong overseas competition (Source: Fairburn 2008, np).

d) Pringle’s outsourced embroidery at the time:

… factory bosses have met Jim Hume MSP, who told [us] he has received assurances from the company. “They’ve really emphasised their dedication to working in Scotland,” he said. “I think there had been some concerns because they’d been doing some restructuring and so were going to outsource some of the embroidery, but the people I met assured me that they were absolutely dedicated to Hawick. They emphasised, ‘We are Pringle of Scotland'” (Source: Anon 2008x, np).

e) a retired Pringle Frameworker remembers factory life:

[Andy Amos, explained] “Pringle’s made real high-class garments and knitted for top film stars such as Frank Sinatra and Doris Day. The Queen and The Queen Mother as well as other members of the Royal family also got their knitwear from Pringle’s. And in the mill there were plaques showing that we had knitted for royalty and I was very proud of that. Andy also recalls: “Work was fun then. You used to get plenty of laughs but you always worked hard and did your job. Pringle’s had their own hockey and cricket teams and held all sorts of functions such as sports awards nights and there was always a bit of camaraderie in the mill.” Andy, who was to become frame foreman as well as work in the sample room, was to see things change though and he says: “They began to bring bosses in who hadn’t a clue about knitwear as they had worked in other industries. And that was the start of it. Quality disappeared and quantity came in” (Source: Anon 2008a, np).

f) can Pringle still stitch ‘Pringle of Scotland’ labels in its clothes when it no longer manufactures there? 

South of Scotland SNP MSP Christine Grahame has written to the UK Intellectual Property Office calling on it to review the use of the distinctly Scottish icon of the Lion Rampant and the use of the word ‘Scotland’ on Pringle’s promotional material. …  Grahame says she does not see why a company which has benefited for generations from its association with Scotland should be allowed to continue using the national emblem of Scotland when it has made a decision, purely for profit reasons, to move manufacturing abroad. “The Lion Rampant is one of our nation’s oldest symbols. While I have no difficulty with it being used by companies which invest in Scotland, and which have a firm commitment to our country and our dedicated workforce, it is entirely inappropriate for it to be used by companies which have no significant material presence here. “I think that is also true of any use of ‘Scotland’ or ‘Scottish’ in its future products or promotional material. “Our country enjoys a very good reputation for quality and integrity and it would be wrong to allow that reputation to be used only to maximise company profits when Pringle no longer has any material investment in Scotland or to Scottish workers.” She added: “I feel if they are not prepared to take action there may be other legal avenues which could be followed to force the company to stop benefiting from the Scottish brand,” she added. And GMB union official Christina Clark backed Ms Grahame’s comments: ” I agree wholeheartedly, but the company’s view is it bought the licence and ‘Pringle of Scotland’ is the registered name of the business (Source: Anon 2008y, np).

g) when students from Central St Martin’s visited Hawick to create an archive of Pringle in Scotland:

I find it difficult to locate the Pringle of Scotland mill in Hawick, an imposing factory once at the centre of the town’s knitwear production. But when I spot a pair of silver-haired women with carrier bags overflowing with Argyle sweaters, I know I’m heading in the right direction. For many of Hawick’s older residents, their memories of the town are wrapped up in Pringle where, one tells me, “there was a time when you could just walk in and get a job straight away”. Today those memories are being jogged as Pringle of Scotland holds its first Day of Record; an invitation to anyone with old pieces of Pringle, photographs or stories about the 195-year-old brand to come along, enjoy a coffee and a cream bun and help the company to fill in the gaps in their archive. Also on hand are students from London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. The group of final year students from the fashion history and theory course have been given the task of putting together an archive for Pringle of Scotland (Source: Wyllie 2010, np).

h) how former Pringle workers contributed to the archive project:

AS former workers made their way into the old yarn store there was a romantic and reminiscent smell of wool in the air that immediately brought back feelings of nostalgia. Back to the days when the mill was vibrant and the centre of its activities was right here in Hawick – when Pringle of Scotland was synonymous with the town and when the town was synonymous with Pringle. Memories are all that are left and they were rekindled at the Day of Record held last Thursday. Hanging from rails, draped on mannequins and piled on tables was a vast collection of vintage pieces dating as far back as 1912 – a stunning collection of 121 garments were donated by Carole Douglas. And a whole host of people, ranging from former factory workers to Pringle models from the 1960s, came laden with clothing and relics from the brand’s past. A surprise was the arrival of Lesley Rankin, Pringle’s first female designer and something of a trailblazer for the company in the 1960s. She said: “It was fascinating working with such skilled, traditional craftsmen, who were excited about doing something new. I still love the colours we used after all these years.” The Day of Record was the first step in Pringle’s mission to create an archive of items from its long history. And it has deployed a team of Central Saint Martins students, from London, to research and catalogue each item (Source: Anon 2010, np).

i) how the results of the Archive project were exhibited in Edinburgh:

Vintage cashmere cardigans hang alongside colourful contemporary knits at Pringle of Scotland s archive exhibition, which was unveiled in Edinburgh yesterday. The Pringle Archive Project, which was created in collaboration with students from Central St Martins fashion college in London, documents the company s textile history from 1815 and will be on display at Harvey Nichols until August 24. The exhibition includes old photographs from Pringle s Hawick mill as well as vintage garments and a number of the company s catalogue looks. There is also archive video footage and a collection of old brochures. Much of the archive material was curated at an open day in Hawick last year when former mill workers were invited to come along and share their memories of the factory, which was closed in 2008. The exhibition also includes a selection of new jumpers created by Central St Martins students which have been inspired by Pringle’s old designs and are available to buy (Source: McMeekin 2011, np).

[Watch the film on Pringle’s website for more about the Archive Project‘s ‘Day of Record’]

j) how the archiving of Pringle in Scotland inspired a new vintage ‘Pringle of Scotland’ range, not made in Scotland:

Alistair Carr takes Pringle of Scotland in a new direction – without losing where it’s been. [He] is learning that the stitches that go into making a sweater can be as intriguing as any of the tales behind the tattoos that snake up his arms. The recently appointed creative director of Pringle of Scotland thinks of his inked etchings as mementos of where he has been, but of knitting techniques as harbingers of where he is going next. … The geometrics on the gray silk-and-cashmere sweater that opened his first show in London in September, for instance, are a palette-cleansing statement of his vision of a new day for Pringle. It is an intarsia technique that required Carr to travel from London headquarters to Hong Kong simply because that’s the last place in the world able to produce that level of intricacy. “The linking has to be done by hand,” says Carr. “It would have been easier by machine, but I wouldn’t have been able to use so many colors. Anyway,” he continues, “I have to challenge myself—I am new to knitwear!” …  Since his arrival, Carr has returned to its heritage in subtler yet still design-driven ways. That gray intarsia sweater was the opening salvo for creating a fresh identity rendering past Pringle-isms with a modernizing lightness of touch. … There are metallic jacquard twinsets in a cable stitch that morphs into caviar beading, a rethink of the embellished cardigans the company did way back when, while his white sixties-tinged A-line dresses in an elaborate lace stitch started from a “shockingly bad” acrylic piece from the archives. (“There are some pretty sick things in there.”) His timing for this reexamining of what you can do with yarn in ways as inventive as they are wearable is impeccable; next spring is going to be wrapped up in all manner of sweater dressing, a phenomenon Carr puts down to “the ease and comfort that we are all craving” (Source: Holgate 2011, np).

So, where is Carry’s dress in this series of events, these places and these people’s lives?

We have to make an educated guess. It, or something quite like it, was possibly made in Scotland decades ago and may have been worn by wealthy people including Hollywood celebrities. The factory workers had been laid off over a period of perhaps 20 years, and the factory eventually closed in 2008. But the patterns still existed and some of people who made dresses like this (and other clothes, including cashmere sweaters) still lived nearby and could remember making them. The Central St Martin’s Team researched those vintage designs, with the help of those ex-factory workers a couple of years later. So the company used them as inspiration for a new vintage range of ‘Pringle of Scotland’ clothes, made elsewhere, overseas. We don’t know where because it doesn’t say on the label.

So…

We’d like to know more. Carry has written to ‘Pringle of Scotland’ asking who made her dress. That’s one of the things that Fashion Revolution Day is encouraging us all to do.  We’ll update this story if and when she gets a reply.

In the meantime, if you can help us with our enquiry, please add a comment below.

How accurate is this guess? Can you add anything? Correct it? Flesh it out? Who made Carry’s dress?

We plan to research and publish more ‘Who made your clothes?’ posts this month, in the run-up to the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. 

 

Sources

Anon (2008x) Pringle pledges loyalty despite MSP’s allegations of secrecy. The Southern Reporter 23 January (http://www.thesouthernreporter.co.uk/news/local-headlines/pringle-pledges-loyalty-despite-msp-s-allegations-of-secrecy-1-98315 last accessed 14 March 2014)

Anon (2008y) Hands off the Lion Rampant, says MSP. The Southern Reporter 10 July (http://www.thesouthernreporter.co.uk/news/local-headlines/hands-off-the-lion-rampant-says-msp-1-101173 last accessed 14 March 2014)

Anon (2008a) ‘I was proud to work for Pringle’s’. Hawick News 4 July (http://www.hawick-news.co.uk/news/local-headlines/i-was-proud-to-work-for-pringle-s-1-171814 last accessed 14 March 2014)

Anon (2008a) Grahame ratchets up pressure on Pringle. Hawick News 10 July (http://www.hawick-news.co.uk/news/local-headlines/grahame-ratchets-up-pressure-on-pringle-1-171845 last accessed 14 March 2014)

Anon (2010) Spotlight on Pringle of yesteryear. Hawick News 19 August (http://www.hawick-news.co.uk/what-s-on/what-s-on/spotlight-on-pringle-of-yesteryear-1-177454 last accessed 14 March 2014).

Natalie Clarke (1999) Designer sweatshop: Marks & Spencer has sacked a supplier with 16 factories in Britain. Meanwhile, along with Pringle, it is using a Latvian factory where the women are paid 37p an hour. Daily Mail  28 October

Robert Fairburn (2008) Knitwear giant Pringle to axe plant with the loss of 80 jobs. Daily Mail 1 July

Andrew Gold & Jan Mcgirk (1995) They’ve stitched us up: knitwits sell out Scots workers, Pringle of Scotland garments made in India. Sunday Mail  26 November

Mark Holgate (2011) Driver’s seat. Vogue December, View section, p.171

Elizabeth McMeekin (2011) Dress to impress: Exhibition of Pringle designs is unveiled. The Herald 4 August

Sandra Salmans (1980) Cashmere sweaters snagged on politics. New York Times 23 July

Ana Santi (2008) Pringle in Scotish factory review. Drapers 2 July

Alice Wyllie (2010) The diamond standard: Pringle proves its proud design standard. The Scotsman 17 August (http://www.scotsman.com/news/the-diamond-standard-pringle-proves-its-proud-design-heritage-1-821436 last accessed 14 March 2014).

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2 comments

  1. Pingback: Interview with Carry Somers, founder of Fashion Revolution Day : Fashion Revolution

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