I grew up in Hawick and was always interested in fashion. My parents and grandparents all worked in the cashmere industry and I always made my own clothes. In Hawick you saw quality knitwear and clothing everywhere – they’ve been making it there since the 1800s – and that love of quality is bred into you, I suppose. I used to go to the market to buy fabric, or get some off-cuts from my granny to make something to wear on a Saturday night.
I moved to London to study fashion design at Kingston University, and to be honest I didn’t think I’d come back. Most of the people I studied with went off to work in New York and Europe for the big designers. But I met Doreen Keane, who was head of design at Pringle, and she employed me. I ended up staying for nine years and learned so much about the industry.
In 2000, Pringle moved their design team to London – I had a young family by then, and knew I didn’t want to go back. My husband is a farmer and we live on a farm in the Borders, which is where much of my inspiration comes from. It’s a great place to gather your thoughts – I love the sense of calm. So I decided to get on with it and set up on my own, which is when Queene and Belle was born.
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I’d always wanted to put my own mark on things, and running your own label gives you the freedom to take the clothes in the direction you want, and spend more time with your customers individually.
We’re now celebrating our 15th anniversary, which is hard to believe. The years have gone so quickly. In that time my designs have been bought by Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Michelle Pfeiffer, Trudie Styler and Clemence Poesy, among others, which is great. And we have customers around the world, including many in Japan.
We have a very artistic approach to all the pieces, and so much thought is put into every detail. It all comes from my perspective – that’s what my customers buy into. We have a high price point, so we’re hanging next to global brands like Lanvin. Being small can be difficult, but we can offer something different, a much more personal service.
I buy all my cashmere yarn from Kinross-based Todd and Duncan who have been spinning for more than 140 years. They deliver it to the factory in Hawick where it is knitted. My expertise comes in knowing which colours will work together and how the colour and shape of the clothes will come together. I like to keep the designs modern – that’s how we move the business forward.
When I see people wearing my clothes it feels genuinely exciting. The fact that somebody has chosen my piece above all the others on offer is a wonderful thing. I love that people who buy my clothes appreciate the quality of the fabric, the fact that it has been made in Scotland, and that it is environmentally sustainable – that’s so important to me.
I see myself as part of a long tradition here in the Borders. Although the industry has shrunk, there are still factories making beautiful products, keeping people in work and helping retain skills. That’s where I slot into the bigger picture.
Scotland has a wealth of traditional skills and we create such wonderful products – whisky, tweed, cashmere, ceramics – all of the best quality. These are the things that differentiate us from the rest of the world, and we should celebrate and promote the quality of the design as well as the quality of the products. In Scotland we tend to be a big low-key about how good we are – maybe we need to shout a bit louder.