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The Shetland Tweed Company

15-Feb-2019 11:31 AM | Kimberley White

First up, can you tell me who you are, and a wee bit about your business?

Thank you for asking me to be a Member of the Moment. My name is Andy Ross and I live and work in Shetland, on the island of Yell. I own The Shetland Tweed Company which is, as the name suggests, a weave design business creating textiles in this far Northern part of Scotland. I make short runs of cloth and Limited Editions, and my fabrics are used by fashion houses as well as for interior products.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My company is small; just me and one other part-time post at the moment. I do everything from the book-keeping to design and weave. Generally I get to work early, I walk if the weather is good because I live a couple of miles down the road; and I try to do some painting and listen to music before I start work. I will try to get my admin out of the way first so that the rest of the day is freed up for weaving or designing, or looking through textile collections for ideas. Work ends about 5pm, and the walk home clears my head wonderfully. In the summer I spend most of the long evenings outside, walking along the banks or in the hills. Plenty of inspiration!

Where does your passion for the industry stem from?

I grew up in Zimbabwe and discovered a love for textiles early on. The town I grew up in was noted for cotton production and there was a significant industry in manufacturing and screen printing. My mother taught us sewing and my father owned a screen-print studio for a while which I loved working in. I started to collect fabrics when I was very young but never thought I would actually work in the industry until I bought a scarf one day and thought to myself, 'I could do this'. And so, I did.

Did you study? Where?

I did and do study. My first education was in Hotel and Catering Management, then I trained as a classical singer, and now I have just started a Masters degree at the Glasgow School of Art, exploring the past and future of Shetland tweed. All of my education has stood me in good stead. I use my hospitality training in my work with visitors to Shetland; my singing taught me discipline, mathematics, order and pattern; and this research project is teaching me about the history of weaving in the isles, as well as how to really look at fabrics to understand their structures and colours.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

Creating a successful business in what most people perceive as a remote, inaccessible and harsh backwater. I really love what I do and am lucky to be able to make a living out of it in such a beautiful place. It is hard work to start a business and even harder to keep it dynamic and thriving. I am proud that people like what I do and appreciate it enough to want to own a piece.

Who are the influential figures you look up to for inspiration?

I like people who face challenge head-on. My inspirations when I was young were the great soul singers from the 60’s and 70’s, and my all-time favourite singer must be Miriam Makeba. That sense of style and dignity when things were really tough is what I most admire about her. Nowadays, my inspiration comes from Ann Sutton who led me down this path to becoming a weaver, and my artist friends who insist on making art even when things are hard!

What exciting projects do you have in the pipeline for the near future?

I want to write a book about my search for the history of weaving in Shetland. It is a fascinating story with glimpses of an important past appearing and disappearing, like apparitions, in the history books. Along the way I am learning about culture, economics, history, design, colour, gender… A whole world is wrapped up in these things we call textiles, and discovering for myself the threads that draw us all together is thrilling and sometimes mind-blowing.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

Being my own boss. I love making the decisions that will affect my company, and being able to choose who to work with.

What is the biggest mistake you have made in your career so far and how could it be avoided?

I have suffered from a lack of self-belief, and being too timid and shy to express an opinion, even if I knew that my opinion was sought. I think that reserve has retreated with age. I don’t know if it is possible to avoid being who you are. Confidence comes with knowledge and understanding as well as age.

What does your workspace look like?

My studio is in two adjoining industrial units that I have knocked through into one. Big windows overlooking the sea and hills of Shetland give me an ever-changing view. Inside I have an office which has lots of knick-knacks and photographs on the shelves, while the rest of the studio is filled with art including some of my textile collection which I hang in temporary displays. The studio is filled with books and fabrics, looms and yarns, and we have two comfortable seating areas to read in as well as workshop tables for teaching and education work. It is sometimes gloriously messy but most of the time it is productively untidy.

Who is your design inspiration?

The artists of the middle of the last century – those modernists who used colour and form so amazingly – the John Pipers, Graham Sutherlands and Michael O’Connells of the world excite and intrigue me. I love textile design from the same period – 1950’s through to 1970’s, with Bernat Klein being a real favourite. A lot of my design ideas can be traced back to the bright fabrics I grew up with which have become synonymous with Africa.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Ann Sutton once said to me “A thread under tension is a thread under control”. I have never forgotten that.

What are you looking for from the textile industry currently?

I look to the industry to develop and support makers to be as exciting and novel as it is possible to be, whilst making sure that we do not over-exploit the resources we have. Textiles are a basic commodity which we all take for granted, yet without the textile industry we would not be as comfortable as we are. We need to ensure that everyone is treated fairly, that we do not damage other communities through ignorance and waste, and that we are helping everyone involved in the industry to be in it for the long-term. We can only do that by creating exciting opportunities and by making networks of people across the planet which work to support each other. Our industry can do this and I would love that to happen.

Any final thoughts?

Our little dot on the map, Shetland, is part of a much wider world bound together by fabric. These islands were in the centre of the trade routes East to West, and we contributed to the history of the world through our production of textiles. It is truly remarkable that we retain that history of making in Shetland. Far from being remote and isolated, Shetland should be seen as one of the cornerstones of the textiles history of the UK. I hope that my company can be part of that story.

Find The Shetland Tweed Company online:

website / instagram / facebook

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