Borders pupils to design scarves for Kelso Races and Abbotsford House

Pupils studying art and design at four local high schools will weave their own unique scarves in the first ever Cashmere Collaborative competition.
Pupils studying art and design at four local high schools will weave their own unique scarves in the first ever Cashmere Collaborative competition.

It would be fair to say that weaving was in the blood for Borders businessman Sinclair Duncan Paterson.

For back in the 1960s his dad Duncan ran several successful mills in the Scottish Borders.

Launch event was held at Heriot Watt's Galashiels Campus where students and local pupils will join forces on the project, as well as visiting local mills.

Launch event was held at Heriot Watt's Galashiels Campus where students and local pupils will join forces on the project, as well as visiting local mills.

Six years ago, Sinclair (44) returned to his roots – giving up his operations director job with another cashmere company to strike out on his own with his wife Debbie.

They are both Galashiels born and bred.

In the intervening years, the couple have worked hard to turn Sinclair Duncan Textiles into a leading name in the industry.

Their luxurious cashmere products, including scarves, stoles, blankets, hats, gloves and wrist and neck warmers, are much sought after and they are all made right here in the Borders, at two leading local mills.

From the start, Sinclair and Debbie were keen to continue the Borders rich history in textiles and to encourage young talent into the business.

They did that by forging close links with Heriot Watt University and students at its Galashiels Campus.

But this year, they are taking it one step further, with a unique competition involving pupils from four Borders schools and university students.

Entitled the Cashmere Collaborative, the project is being promoted under the Developing Young Workforce Borders banner.

And it kicked off recently when all the participating pupils and students attended the launch at the Galashiels Campus.

This week, we spoke to Debbie (39) to find out more.

She said: “There are four teams of four – third year pupils studying art and design at Galashiels Academy, Jedburgh Grammar and Earlston and Berwickshire High Schools.

“Each team will be mentored and guided by a pair of third year students from Heriot Watt, currently studying Design for Textiles and Fashion Communication.

“The brief involves designs for two cashmere scarves; one to be presented to the Best Dressed on Kelso Races Ladies Day on May 24 next year and the other to go on sale at the home of Sir Walter Scott in the Abbotsford House Gift Shop.

“Each design will be quite different – a statement style for the Ladies Day scarf and a more classic approach for the Abbotsford design.

“Only the best dressed at ladies day and the winning team will receive that scarf as there are no plans to mass produce it, unless demand merits it!

“The other scarf for Abbotsford, which is our largest retailer in the Borders, will need to be far more commercial.

“Tourists from all over the world visit and we believe the story behind the scarf will provide a unique selling point – a product made in the Borders by local pupils.

“We have worked with university students for the last six years but it’s the first time we’ve been involved with school pupils.

“We can’t wait to see the ideas they come up with, having not been jaded by working in the industry!”

The hard work began in earnest this month with pupils and students attending workshops at the campus and local mills to develop their ideas and designs.

Winning teams will be announced on February 28, with their products finally revealed on Sunday, May 24.

Debbie said: “We’re indebted to everyone who has agreed to take part in the competition as it does mean extra work for all involved.

“Lecturers and art and design teachers will have to put in extra hours, as will members of each team.

“But we’re sure the end results will make all the hard work worthwhile.”

With two boys of their own, Bailey (11) and Leo (6), Debbie and Sinclair know how important it is to encourage youngsters to develop new skills.

She added: “If just one pupil decides to follow their dream and turn textiles into a career, we’ll be delighted.

“The textile industry in the Borders boomed in the 1950s and 60s but tailed off as cheaper products were mass produced abroad.

“We’re very proud of our Made in Scotland branding and to be part of the ongoing textile story here.

“It would be wonderful to see one of the pupils go on to success at the Galashiels campus and I know Heriot Watt would be delighted to welcome more students from the Borders too.”

We’ll be following the youngsters’ progress and teasing some of the designs they produce before the grand reveal on May 24.

So watch this space if you want to be among the first to see their unique designs!

Textile competition timeline

The hard work for those taking part in the Cashmere Collaborative started this month with workshops at the university campus.

Teams are also visiting local mills to find out more about the production process and what is and isn’t possible, commercially.

But students won’t just be working on the designs; they will also have to come up with their own business plans and marketing strategy. These must be finalised in January.

In February, Sinclair Duncan will select a judging panel to scrutinise those plans and the teams’ designs.

The winning teams will be announced on February 28.

Between then and April, Sinclair Duncan will make the winning designs so that they are available for the grand reveal on Sunday, May 24.

Instead of a sash, the Best Dressed at Kelso Races Ladies Day will receive a unique scarf from the winning pupils.

The other scarf design will also go on sale that day at Abbotsford House Gift Shop.