Skyeskyns, the Scottish sheepskin manufacturer
Skyeskyns, the Scottish sheepskin manufacturer located on the magical Island of Skye. Enjoy their guest blog…
In 1983 Clive and Lydia Hartwell were considering how to diversify their small crofting enterprise on the panoramic and strikingly beautiful Waternish peninsula, in the wild north-west corner of the Isle of Skye. Clive ran a flock of Blackface sheep and had always been baffled by the fact that the local abbatoir sent the skins, a meat industry by-product to landfill; they decided to set up a small, rural tannery.
Skyeskyns, the Scottish sheepskin manufacturer started in a Nissen hut in Gillen with the help of a local friend who, along with Clive, was the first tanner. At first the business operated seasonally and sheepskins were sourced from Portree. After this abbatoir closed we obtained raw skins from North Uist and later from Dingwall, giving us a wonderful selection of colours and breeds to work with.
British sheepskin manufacturing was in decline in the 1980s due to competition from cheaper international producers. However, Skyeskyns differentiated their offering by embracing and promoting natural wool colourings rather than dying them and with help from the then Highlands and Islands Development Board continued to develop, some would say against the odds! In 1985 the current purpose-built tannery was built on Clive and Lydia’s croft. This included a showroom on the first floor so we were then able to welcome visitors to see how leather and sheepskins were made downstairs and then browse the finished products upstairs.
Clive collected machinery for the new Tannery from around Northampton where there had been many tanneries which had ceased production. Some of these machines are over 100 years old and are still in use here today.
With larger paddles and a dedicated drying room, we were able to process a greater volume of sheepskins although the majority of the work remained manual and time-consuming; Clive and Lydia’s vision was to uphold and preserve the ancient and diminishing craft of tanning. The first tanners trained in these manufacturing skills at Nene (now University) College, Northampton where each of our apprentice tanners have since built upon their practical knowledge of wool-on tanning.
Steady growth continued and with the construction of the famed Skye bridge, there was an increase in visitor numbers to the island. More staff were employed as a result and later the decision came to stay open all year and then 7 days per week. The Skyeskyns building was extended twice (in 2005 and 2008) more to provide offices, staff facilities, storage and additional showroom floor area and this spring a dedicated packing and mail-order facility is under construction.
The internet has been a boost and we have developed our online presence since it was established in the late 90s into a comprehensive e-commerce shop. Over the last fifteen years our exhibition team have traveled all over the country promoting Skyeskyns and flying the flag for Skye as a destination at events like the Royal Highland Show, Grand Designs Live in London and Birmingham.
In 2010 Skyeskyns became Skye’s first 5-star Visitor Attraction, awarded by Visit Scotland. Thousands of visitors are welcomed each year to Skyeskyns to browse perhaps the most comprehensive range of luxurious natural sheepskins and sheepskin products to be found anywhere. Skyeskyns now has a workforce of 15 which makes us a leading local employer in an area of economic fragility.
Skyeskyns, the Scottish sheepskin manufacturer has played a role in the rising popularity of natural fibres in the home. We’ve always believed that people’s involuntary response to the soft and tactile texture of wool is instinctive. High-end designers are embracing the versatile and sustainable nature of sheepskin and there is a large call for quality interior products that are grown and manufactured within the UK. Since attending our first international show at Maison et Objet, Paris, last year, we have expanded our work with interior designers and many bespoke rugs and throws have made their way to new national and international locations.
During your next visit to the Isle of Skye we would love to welcome you to Waternish and to Skyeskyns, the Scottish sheepskin manufacturer. Make your way past the iconic Fairy Bridge to an area of unparalleled natural beauty steeped in rich clan history and let our friendly team tell you the story of leather!
A special thanks to Skyeskyns for coming to blog with us, we have loved learing about their story and are in awe of the success of the company now supplying internationally from such a tiny island in the North of Scotland! Such talent. Visit their WEBSITE for product listings and directions and ‘Like’ them on FACEBOOK to keep up to date with their news.
Until next time, the C&C Team