Filling a large corner of alisted art deco building in James Street, Stornoway,which was itself many years ago a working Harris Tweed mill, fashion and accessories company Rarebird continues to put its individual stamp on the world-famous fabric.
Established by designer Paulette Brough in 2007, and based in Carloway since 2010, last year saw Rarebird open its second workshop and studio outlet at 1 Bells Road, Stornoway.
“The new Stornoway workshop and studio has worked really well since we opened last year,” said Paulette. “Being so close to the ferry port, hotels and town centre it has been alot easier for people to pop in for a look and to say hello, and we are expecting even more visitors this year.”
Paulette spent two decades in clothing manufacture before moving to the Western Isles and starting Rarebird –named after the elusive Corncrake, a small bird found throughout the island chain.
“I’ve been sewing since I was a child. My mum used to make most of my clothes, I’d watch her, and make dresses for my dolls with the scraps of fabric left over,” she said.
“When I originally set up, it was only supposed to be just me making things to fund visiting my relatives on the mainland, but everything with Rarebird has just grown since I did my first trade-show in 2008 –and we now employ four full time staff who have been trained from scratch and are now skilled at hand-making craft pieces.”
Training and preserving traditional skills is an important part of Rarebird’s philosophy –Paulette has just completed a Modern Apprentice Assessors course with Glasgow and Clyde College after she was told there were no assessors on the Island to help with any apprenticeships.
And concentrating on handmade quality and clean designs, Paulette’s Harris Tweed accessories have found homes the world over with Rarebird products available in over 50 shops and galleries across Scotland and as far south as the British Museum in London, as well as several in the EU.
Rarebird has seen orders from major department store Brooks Brothers for its Madison Avenue outlet in New York, USA;and also Japan for showcase and sale during the annual British Fair in the Hankyu department store in Osaka.
Last year, the Lewis-based company’s Japanese agent also successfully introduced Rarebird designs to the Mitsukoshi department Store in Tokyo, and will increase this to a further five stores across Japan this year.
The future of Rarebird looks as bright and multi-coloured as the Harris Tweed used to make its creations –from homeware and clothing to accessories and gifts.
For 2016 there is a new range of large Rarebird tote bags using a mix of Harris Tweed, waxed cotton and leather.The City Tote uses black wax cotton while the Country Tote has brown waxed cotton and both have gone down well with trade-show clients in Glasgow and London; along with the unisex zipped Messenger bag and comfy snoods.
Rarebird are also expanding to make Harris Tweed coats, jackets and capes and will be enlarging the studio shop to accommodate all the new styles and afitting room.
Paulette’s new designs will be complemented by wool and Cashmere products such as cardigans, scarves, hats and gloves from Irish company Aine and dresses from Verisimilitude, created by North Uist designer Madeleine Ostling.
“The cardigans were designs that I’d seen at trade-shows and I loved the colours and quality,” Paulette expanded. “And the dresses are from anew designer working in North Uist. Ilove her talent and I’m happy to support her business start-up.
“Everything we’ve brought for the shop really complements the Harris Tweed and I’m sure my customers will agree.”
Arange of jewellery from Scottish makers Skaramanda, Katrina and Angel Wire also features in the shop alongside the new lines; and Rarebird are also now making its well-recognised unique ceramic buttons, which feature on many of its wares and are hand-made by the company,available to buy individually for the first time on the island.
Also being launched in 2016 is the first of a series of textile print designs, created exclusively for Rarebird through collaboration with the Centre for Advanced Textiles at Glasgow School of Art.
Paulette explained: “I struggle to find textiles I like, in the quantities that I need, and then if I find a print that is suitable it gets discontinued quite quickly. “So I decided to design my own prints which are exclusive to Rarebird, and I wanted the natural colours and fauna of the Hebrides to be part of my designs –rather than just have arandom flower or abstract pattern.”
After meeting Interface Scotland, which pairs companies with universities for development projects, Paulette visited the Glasgow School of Art and last summer Paul Roden from the School travelled to the islands to help Paulette work on designs. “It’s been a great partnership and I had alot of help from Interface Scotland and Paul Roden,” she said.
So for 2016 the first stunning silk design exclusive to Rarebird begins to adorn scarves and collars, based upon the soft browns, silver greys and vibrant yellow lichens which are found on the islands in abundance thanks to the clear Western Isles air.
Paulette added: “I have alots of different ideas for designs, based on the island landscape, lifestyle and fauna; but Ichose my lichen inspired design to start with because it was a mainstay of early Harris Tweed weaving used by crofters to dye the wool and finish the Harris Tweed cloth.”
To find out more you can also take alook around the Rarebird online shop, on www.rarebirddesign. co.uk