When you think of fashion hubs the likes of London, Paris and New York most likely spring to mind. The North-East town of Elgin… not so much… However, it is home to the U.K.’s largest textile manufacturer, Johnstons of Elgin. With a history spanning over 200 years, Johnstons prides itself for its heritage and innovation, crafting quality cashmere and knitwear. Not only are Johnstons a brand in themselves with their own products but, they are major suppliers for iconic fashion houses including Burberry and Chanel. As part of the Fashion Management course, we are lucky enough to have Chief Executive of Johnstons, Simon Cotton, as a visiting professor, who each year brings us the next chapter in the brand’s story.
During his presentation, Cotton gave us an interesting insight into Johnstons rich history, which began in 1797 when Alexander Johnston established the first mill on the banks of the River Lossie, the power source of the operation. Quickly recognised as a leader in the wool industry, Johnstons developed into weaving cashmere and were the first to manufacture the fibre on such an industrial scale. Popular products nowadays include knitwear accessories, tweed fashions and cashmere scarfs with Cotton stressing the brand are not trend lead but product focussed.
Johnstons of Elgin have stayed true to the brand’s heritage with its location part of the brand story. The Elgin mill is now the site of a popular visitor centre with guests including past Prime Ministers and royalty. The royal connection has been recognised throughout Johnstons history from the days of Queen Victoria to the brand being granted the Royal Warrant of Appointment in 2013 to the Duke of Rothesay H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, as manufacturers of Estate Tweed woollen fabric.
Since Cotton took the helm, Johnstons have been focusing on themselves as a brand with manufacturing at the core. As part of the changes, the brand logo was redesigned encapsulating the strategy of simple and memorable. Based on the original 1930s logo, the “J” stands for the Johnston family and the brand’s core values since 1979. The thistle symbolises the brand’s Scottish home, not only in Elgin but in the Scottish Borders town of Hawick. Finally, the bee represents Johnstons skilled workforce who take care and use the latest technology to craft timeless pieces.
Much of Johnstons increased exposure is down to changing consumer attitudes with many, particularly Japanese consumers according to Cotton, seeking out where their products come from and the story behind them. The likes of Burberry and Chanel have therefore recognised this need and have shared the Johnstons of Elgin story with consumers. As an increasing number of consumers from across the globe invest in the British and Scottish design story, Johnstons have the perfect platform to showcase the brand in the form of their flagship Bond Street store in the fashion capital of London.
Looking to the future, Cotton states Johnstons aim to continue to place quality and innovation at the forefront of the brand. Their seasonal product stories capture this vision with the current collection focusing on heritage in the form of Elgin cathedral super lux quality with natural cashmere. As a brand which relies on the craftsmanship of its product and word-of-mouth to gain interest, Johnstons are recognising the continued power of social media, collaborating with a range of bloggers and investing in enchanting fashion films. At the beginning of January, the brand hit the prestigious London Fashion Week catwalk to showcase its new menswear collection with the womenswear show taking place at the start of February.
Commenting on his role as a visiting professor, Cotton believes….
As Fashion Management student, presentations like this are not only valuable in bringing to life our learning but it’s always interesting to get an exclusive insight into a global brand based in Scotland. To find out more about this historic Scottish brand, visit Johnstons of Elgin’s website or click the links to their social media