Hebridean Crofter Weavers, now known as D MacGillivray & Co Ltd, or simply “MacGillivrays” came into being as a home-based business at Muir of Aird, Benbecula, in 1941.
At the time founder Donald MacGillivray regularly visited most of the shops in the Outer Hebrides as a commercial traveller (sales rep).
In 1941 he arrived home from his rounds with a large canvas sack of hand knitted Harris wool socks. His wife Effie asked what he planned to do with them, “sell them, of course” was the reply.
A small wooden hut was duly erected against the south end of Donald and Effie’s home and from this point a new company was born, which to this day has grown and diversified to meet the regularly changing market trends.
Between the mid 1940’s to mid 1970’s the company developed a worldwide mail order service, mainly consisting of quality garments - Harris knitwear, tweeds, Shetland Isles knitwear, and tartan rugs.
The company grew to a peak in the mid 1950s, selling in excess of 45,000 yards of Harris Tweed and over 50,000 pairs of Harris wool socks per annum. Imagine the amount of cottage industry required to supply this level of business!
With more than 500 enquiries per week, replying to enquiries, cutting, packing and posting were all by hand – no modern day machinery available!
However, because of rising postal costs and a worldwide gradual decline in home sewing, tailoring and knitting, Donald, with his son Robert and his wife Katie, undertook a review of the company’s future – tourism was then on the increase so a new shop was built in 1980 in Balivanich, Benbecula, where it still stands today.
In the mid 1980’s the company changed from a balance of trade of 90% mail order customers and 10% personal to the opposite.
Today, the company has successfully moved into its third generation, with Robert and Katie’s son Rory and his wife Jacqui now at the helm. A not-too-distant fourth generation takeover is also a strong possibility!
Much diversification has taken place, with a wider range of island products available – Harris wool and tweed garments, local new and second hand books, local artist music, a gallery with local photography (all photography by Robert and Rory), local toiletries, chocolates, ladies and gents wear, and Scottish Islands Jewellery, to name but part of the selection.
Comments from visitors and customers include:
“Not to visit the MacGillivrays Emporium at Balivanich would be incomplete, the shop is one of the most delightful I have ever visited, anywhere in Britain.” Bruce Sandison, Scottish Journalist, travel and fishing writer
“Superlative selection of books.” Norris McWhirter, Guinness Book of Records
Other testimonials – “Benbecula’s hidden jewel”, “Nicest Shop in the West of Scotland”,