Our head of communications, Carl Reavey, has been dry and warm cycling to work this winter from Port Charlotte thanks to a connection he made at the Birdfair with Dave Shand of Hilltrek. Hillltrek are a small Scottish company who make quiet, customised, waterproof clothing for adventurous souls. Carl’s jacket, as well as being made to measure, sports a Bruichladdich 1881 logo – which we are pleased to say is an option that Dave and his team would be willing to extend to any interested Laddie fans.
We spoke to Dave, and his colleague Susan who designed and made Carl’s “Cuillin” coat, about the materials they use and how they work, and discovered that their approach to machinery, craftsmanship, and community give us many things in common.
Dave Shand, Hilltrek:
“The cutting table where we cut the garments is a masterpiece created by our local joiner, far more substantial than normal cutting tables. We use old industrial sewing machines and overlockers which we find are much better than new low cost machines from the Far East.
“Clothing manufacture, as we do it, is highly skilful and requires experience and good visual and dexterity skills. This starts with pattern cutting minimising wastage and taking advantage of the run of the fabric. The amount of wastage, called cut-offs, is dependant on the pattern used but overall we estimate around 10-15%, which we then use to produce other smaller garments such as gaiters and gloves. Local hobbyists are always keen to rummage through our cut-offs!
“The Cuillin jacket like Carl’s is our most complex; it can have up to 15 pieces and, depending on the size, uses up to 5m of cloth. We source all the fabrics in the UK and have long term relationships suppliers/manufacturers. The jacket is made from Ventile, a tightly woven cotton which was developed just before the Second World War. It’s use in survival suits saved the lives of many ditched pilots during the Battle of Britain in the North Sea. The tightly woven fibres swell when wet and create a semi-waterproof layer. Double-layer Ventile, such as used in the Cuillin Jacket, is fully waterproof and highly breathable.
“We are outdoor people and have experienced the worst and best of weathers when hillwalking or running, or standing for prolonged periods when birdwatching or fishing. We find that so-called ‘modern’ laminate fabrics such as Goretex are over-hyped in terms of breathability and waterproofness, especially in Scottish conditions.
We asked Dave about his customers.
“There are very few companies making outdoor clothing left in the UK. Even fewer using the type of fabrics we use or developing direct contact with their clients to understand their requirements like we do.
“Many of our customers purchase several generations of Hilltrek garments. One customer, a local wildlife ranger, has had his 15 year old Glencoe Ventile Jacket refurbished at least twice. I have met a customer wearing a 25 year old Hilltrek fleece when hillwalking. He later brought it in for some modifications to add pit zips. We find that when we produce a new garment that some of our long term customers are quick off the mark to purchase the first.”
And about his staff.
There are four of us here in the workshop – a converted cycle repairs shop. Due to the skill required it takes up to two years to train someone to produce a garment with the quality we expect and within the target product times. We are always searching for ways to improve turaround times and shorten production but sometimes good things just take time.
Find out more about Hilltrek and their full range of garments on their website; or enquire about Bruichladdich “Cuillins” at the Laddieshop.