Soft touch: Johnstons of Elgin

How luxury cashmere brand Johnstons of Elgin is combining cutting-edge technology with time-honoured craftsmanship to help protect and preserve the planet for generations to come

Style 14 Apr 2021

Cashmere wool is biodegradable

Cashmere wool is biodegradable

‘Sustainability is about more than just reducing environmental impact – it’s about the philosophy of the company and social consciousness of its community,’ says Alan Scott, creative director of 224-year-old luxury Scottish cashmere specialist Johnstons of Elgin. Despite its long-standing heritage of craftsmanship and deep-rooted traditions, innovation and sustainability have always been at the heart of the company’s DNA.

Founded by Alexander Johnston in Elgin in 1797, Johnstons of Elgin’s first mill began producing flax, a natural fibre harvested in the local area, as well as estate tweeds for notable families in Scotland. Johnston established a vertical mill operation by sourcing fibre from its natural habitat, then shipping it to Scotland to process it – including washing it, spinning it, weaving it and dying it all in one location.

Johnstons of Elgin Wedgewood cashmere cardigan, white superfine merino T-Shirt; cashmere seamless joggers; French blue cashmere soft shoulder jacket
Wedgewood cashmere cardigan, white superfine merino T-shirt; cashmere seamless joggers; French blue cashmere soft shoulder jacket

Indeed, Johnstons of Elgin remains the only manufacturer in Scotland to maintain the capability to take natural fibres from their raw state to perfectly finished products on site, minimising air miles and giving the brand complete control over what goes into its products and what goes out during its processes. Today the brand has a second mill in the town of Hawick, Scotland, where most of its knitwear is produced.

While it has always been a leader in sourcing and producing fabrics – it became the first company to bring vicuña to the UK as early as 1851 – its investment in cutting-edge technology, new equipment and education has established it as a pioneer at the forefront of exciting developments to create more sustainable processes for working with natural, renewable and biodegradable fibres including vicuña, cashmere and wool.

‘Cashmere is a naturally sustainable fibre, as it’s biodegradable, but by improving the production process we can improve the quality of our garments, which has a huge impact on reducing our sustainable footprint overall,’ explains Scott. ‘The higher the quality is, the better the product will be, the less it has to be washed, and the longer it lasts.’

Johnstons of Elgin has also integrated seamless knitting technology into its manufacturing, which ensures every garment comes off the machine exactly to production specifications, with no excess waste.

Johnstons of Elgin combines traditional craft with cutting-edge technology
Johnstons of Elgin combines traditional craft with cutting-edge technology

Even the company’s workforce of just over 850 employees is sustainable, with its own programme of recruitment, training and personal development devised to share skills passed down through generations, while also providing training in new technology, to allow its skilled craftspeople to continue to produce the finest quality products.

‘Training young people enables us to retain skills in the local area,’ says Scott. ‘We have families of two or three generations working with us so it’s completely self-sustaining for the local community.’

Further afield, as one of the founding members of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance along with Burberry, Johnstons of Elgin is also supporting and funding training programmes for herders in Mongolia to help them find the most sustainable way of producing fibres. The Young Herder Programme focuses on teaching the children of herders how to manage and restore grasslands, ensure the well-being of their animals and adapt to climate change, and this year there will be 15 schools in three provinces taking part in the initiative.

Bringing the company’s expertise together, the Johnstons of Elgin SS21 collection is characterised by a soft, contemporary look and relaxed fit, featuring seamless knitwear and a colour palette inspired by the beauty of Scottish landscapes, such as deep navy indicative of a loch; sky-like Wedgewood blue; sandstone beige; and gorse yellow. Whether you are staying at home or embarking on a UK staycation this summer, key pieces include sumptuous jogging bottoms, versatile cardigans and flowing scarves, all designed and manufactured to be worn time and time again.