Carving out a career in fashion

Founded in 1797 Johnston’s of Elgin manufactures the finest cashmere cloth, knitwear and accessories from its mills in Hawick and Elgin.

Johnstons of Elgin works with farmers in Inner Mongolia to source cashmere and the sustainability of the herds is a key element in the policy of maintaining good pastures to encourage the growth of the finest fibers. Accordingly Johnstons selects the finest luxury fabrics which are then processed through approximately 30 different manufacturing stages before reaching the finished product.

In both the knitting plant in Hawick and the weaving plant in Elgin skilled craftsmen and women ensure that skills preserved through generations of families are represented in the contemporary products made today.

Brian Hinnigan, Director of Sales, was one of the judges at the recent Scottish heat of SDC’s International Design Competition. Laura Monaghan from Glasgow Clyde College was the winner of the heat, and goes on to compete in the UK final. For talented students, this competition has shown many times that it creates opportunities and can lead to other things. Laura’s meeting with Brian is one such opportunity.

Laura (4th from left) at the design competition heat

Laura (4th from left) at the design competition heat

Laura described what happened. “The Johnston’s Mill in Elgin is a place of pilgrimage for me ever since I first visited it about 10 years ago, I spent the entirety of my holiday budget on a bright pink cashmere scarf from the gift shop and never looked back. This was my first lesson in quality over quantity and my pink Johnston’s scarf is to this day my favourite. So you can imagine my delight to be invited up to meet Brian Hinnigan for a tour of the mill and a chance to speak with a few of their lovely designers.

I got the train up first thing in the morning arriving in Elgin at mid day and commenced on my tour of Scotland’s last fully vertical mill. What a beautiful setting, the business is over 200 years old and the original home of the mill’s founders still sits on the sight overlooking what seemed to me a huge production that comprises old traditional methods and brand new state of the art machinery. Brian gave me a personal tour of the mill, he was extremely informative and forgiving of my ignorance of what is clearly his passion, the design and production of excellent quality cloth.

Before coming to the mill Brian had asked if I would be interested in creating a few illustrations for a look book that he and his colleagues are putting together. The idea of the look book is to show the fabrics produced by the mill in a unique way, and upon seeing some of my illustrations from the SDC International Design Competition, Brian thought that my style would showcase the fabrics in a way that would be complementary and inspire their prospective clients. In exchange for my illustrations Johnston’s will be donating a few lengths of their fabric for me to use in my garment collection for my final year of study. How could I possibly refuse? I hope that I can produce images that do these amazing fabrics justice and more than that I am looking forward to working with them.

I would like to thank the SDC, and Johnston’s of Elgin for creating this opportunity for me. I am extremely excited about my future in the fashion industry, meeting such successful and progressive people has been eye opening and truly inspirational”.

IMG_0805Brian commented: “From my perspective, Laura was incredibly professional during her visit.  She was visibly excited and interested in some of the things she learned going around the mill, and with some of the techniques explained to her. I was impressed by both her and her work when we met in Glasgow, so I was delighted that she was able to visit the mill in Elgin when I extended the offer to her. In particular, her unique style of illustration caught my eye, and gave me some ideas as to how we could showcase our new fabric designs for the season for key customers.

winnerFollowing our meeting, Laura is doing some project work which we are working closely with her on. In return, I have offered Laura three fabric lengths of her choice towards her final year collection. At Johnstons, we recognise, support and nurture home grown talent. I hope that this experience will give Laura the confidence and inspiration to work hard in her final year and carve a rewarding path for herself in the fashion industry. I would like to wish her every success for the future, and I am sure she will do well.

I would also like to extend my thanks to SDC for their support of the young designers of the future”.

For further details of the SDC International Design Competition, which is open to fashion and textile design students, please visit the SDC website, or email

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