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To wrap oneself in a Barrie sweater or cardigan is about much more than acquiring a fine garment. More than a century’s worth of commitment and savoir-faire, a process respectful of both man and nature, is exemplified in every Barrie creation. Between the high plateaus of Mongolia, the town of Hawick in Scotland and the Barrie studio in Paris, a network of connections creates links between history, creativity and eco-responsibility. The different stories and stages are joined by a thread…

A historical yarn

Scotland is as famous for its magnificent nature as it is for its unpredictable weather. Its inhabitants, workers of the land and sea, harnessed the warmth and protective powers of thick woolen knits whose bulk and natural oils protected them from the elements. As early as the 17th Century, weaving and knitting became cottage industries whose excellence rapidly became known beyond Scottish borders. When cashmere first arrived in Europe, the Scottish mills naturally became the focal point for the manufacture of yarn and knitwear using this exceptional fibre. At Hawick, on the banks of the Teviot river, the Barrie factory was founded in 1903 and rapidly developed its savoir-faire to become a reference in the field. In 2012, its long-standing customer Chanel acquired Barrie as part of its “métiers d’art” expert artisans, and two years later, a house design range was launched to highlight this exceptional craftsmanship.

The cashmere fibre

Centuries of shared travels unite the nomadic tribes of Upper Mongolia and their capra hircus goats. Humans and animals coexist in harmony with a harsh yet magnificent natural context, that must be preserved at all costs. Since 2015, Barrie has been part of a wide-ranging scheme established by Chanel to ensure the quality and traceability of the essential raw material. Three hundred and sixty herdsmen breeders have been grouped into a cooperative, trained and educated to ensure a new standard of best practice. Small herds, a durable use of pastures, nutritional advice and strict standards of animal well-being are just some of the steps put into place to ensure a raw material that is as respectful of the earth as it is for the animals and the humans earning a living from their herds. The collected fibres are treated by batch, each identified by a batch number, making it possible to retrace the exact origin of each fibre down to the zone of provenance and the name of the herder. 

A clean thread

After careful combing of the goats during the month of May, the fibres are carefully sorted and washed to remove dust and impurities. Then comes the process of dehairing, removing the thicker strands to leave only the finest of fibres – a meticulous stage also subject to high standards of quality and practice. The cashmere then makes its long journey to Scotland, where the Todd & Duncan manufacture takes care of the spinning and dyeing process. Founded in 1897, the company exists in harmony with the clear waters of Loch Leven and their bird sanctuary.


The creative strand

In Paris, under the artistic direction of Augustin Dol-Maillot, the Barrie studio is the heart of a rich design process, sourcing shapes and inspirations from fashion as a whole and connecting them with the codes and heritage of knitwear. For Augustin Dol-Maillot, this approach creates a sense of timelessness, as he weaves his creative thread from one season to the next. As a result, Barrie garments are intended to belong together in the long run, becoming the mainstays of a long-lasting wardrobe. These joyful must-haves are a delight to come back to year after year, intended to be passed on to loved ones in the future. But this enduring vision does not exclude a sense of originality and inspiration, far from it…

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A close-knit knowledge

At the heart of the Barrie manufacture in Hawick, tradition and high technology weave together. On the one hand, 70 year-old Bentley Cotton machines knit tirelessly while on the other, cutting-edge Shima Seiki models take on the numerous challenges imposed by Barrie’s own very complex designs (in fact, the Shima Seiki company have admitted their own amazement at what Barrie’s staff are able to create using their machines, far beyond anything the manufacturer had initially imagined them capable of!).

Nevertheless, the human hand and eye remain essential here. Barrie is the only knitwear mill to continue to rely on its machine operators to visually judge the wash of a garment, and each detail of the assembly and finishing details (collars, buttons…) is done by hand. Three full checks are made by separate staff members throughout the process to validate a completed garment. 
In a part of the world currently rediscovering the value of its original industrial heritage, Barrie is now a local reference. The number of employees has almost doubled in seven years, and the factory now counts a training school, closely connected to the area’s colleges and universities. Over several years, students learn the different steps and techniques, ensuring a full transmission of each craft – the hand-sewing process alone requires two years to learn. Since its acquisition by Chanel, Barrie’s average employee age has gone down by a decade, and the area’s young people are proud to work for a historic house with international connections. 

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What makes a Barrie sweater so unique? According to sales manager Clive Brown, with 38 years of in-house experience under his belt, Scottish cashmere stands out by its tighter, very resistant knit. The very soft water of the Teviot River used for the washing of the fibres and garments removes the need for any synthetic softeners – Barrie is a recipient of a Level 1 GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) classification, guaranteeing full respect of the environment through all the stages production and transformation. While this absence of product may create a cashmere knit that seems “drier” and less silky-soft than a cheaper competitor’s, a Barrie garment will become lovelier as it ages, getting softer and thicker with time. Each piece is a long-term investment: Barrie’s customer relations department is used to receiving very old designs in near-perfect condition, with only a small hole or tear due to everyday wear by a very happy owner. Every piece is carefully repaired and returned to ensure an even longer life, with Barrie sweaters often being passed down through generations.

The connecting thread

While it might start with a glance or a touch, the gesture of acquiring a Barrie garment is a complex and meaningful one. Of course, as with every fine object, it requires an initial investment. But here, the action is a global one. A purchase also means the support of a community and its expert knowledge, both in Mongolia and in Scotland. It marks a respect for nature and mankind, the guarantee of a traceable process that respects animals, soil and water. It displays an understanding of the hours of hard work behind a very special object. There’s no doubt that it is also very enjoyable, taking home a piece of creative beauty, a timeless garment destined to warm favourite outfits for a number of years. If ever there was a reasoned purchase to make, this would be the one.

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