On a visit to Ireland last May, we made it to the lovely town of Westport, situated along the Wild Atlantic Way in County Mayo. This town, with its stone bridges and tree-lined streets, and in the shadows of Croagh Patrick, is a must see if you are in the north west coast of Ireland. It also happens to be the home of one of our sweater suppliers, Aran Woollen Mills (formerly Carraig Donn). The sales director, Kieran Costello, was more than a gracious host in giving us a tour of the impressive facility, as well as treating us to a delicious lunch in town, along with owner Vincent Hughes and his daughter.
The beginnings of Aran Woollen Mills actually go back more than 50 years to the nearby Aran Islands (see our previous blog: Aran Islands – The Right Choice ). Vincent is part of a large family, and his parents, looking to keep the children occupied while on the Aran Islands over the summer break, put them to work selling their homemade sweaters to the throngs of tourists. Since those humble beginnings in 1965, the family has grown Aran Woollen Mills into Ireland’s largest home-based knitwear manufacturer.
A walk through the manufacturing facility gives one a great appreciation for the amount of work that goes into making the sweaters we sell. Each piece is a testimony to the skill and craftsmanship associated with the entire process, from the design team to the quality control inspector. Working almost exclusively with natural materials, the three designers on staff don’t have to travel far for their ideas. Westport is surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery imaginable and provides an unlimited source of inspiration to the team.
While the sweaters themselves are no longer knitted by hand (machines knit the six to eight individual sections of the sweater), we were amazed at how many craftspeople are actually involved in the process. About 15 workers play a major role in producing one sweater — from a sizer, to the people assembling each individual section that comes off the machine into a wearable garment, to creating the neck line, to putting on the zipper and/or buttons, to sewing on the label, and finally to the packaging.
Lest I forget, there are at least three to four quality control stations along the production process, where each garment is set on a light board. The background light allows specially trained workers to detect even a minor flaw, in which case the sweater is pulled from the process for repair or discard. When I say specially trained workers, some who have been there for decades, I am not joking. We looked at a piece as it was placed on the light board and, to our untrained eye, everything looked perfect. To our surprise, a minute flaw was pointed out, and the sweater was flagged for further work.
While lunch afforded us the opportunity to hear family stories from a generation ago, our tour gave us an even greater appreciation for the amount of work that is required to produce even one sweater to sell. Not only are there many sets of eyes looking at and many hands touching each one, every stitch is steeped in symbolism from the surrounding countryside, from the fisherman’s cable (representing safety and good luck) to the honeycomb (a just reward for hard work).
And you, our customer, are the beneficiary of that hard work. Please check out our different styles of Aran sweaters, both for women and men, and the next time you put on a genuine Aran Woollen Mills sweater, you’ll appreciate the large team of craftsmen who literally had a hand in it.
Enjoy a Classic,