Mill unveils plans to take on 50 trainees

Hawick Knitwear managing director Benny Hartop
Hawick Knitwear managing director Benny Hartop

HAWICK knitwear boss Benny Hartop has confirmed plans to hire 50 new trainees over the next three years to meet an increase in demand for the firm’s sweaters.

The Liddesdale Road mill has already taken on 15 new employees during a first phase of recruitment, for which there were 150 applicants. And one year after a management buyout from investment group Harris Watson, boss-turned-owner Mr Hartop says that with production doubling, they want to fill key positions with those who will be trained on-site.

He told the Hawick News: “We are looking to create 50 new key production jobs, such as hand sewing, machine and collar linking, which we have already started. It is fantastic to be able to give 50 people the opportunity to join the industry, which is definitely on the up.

“Despite having to accept huge raw material price increases, we have had a busy year.”

In April the firm reported a 20 per cent increase in turnover following a boost in orders which saw the workforce rise from 200 to 230, and Mr Hartop says they now employ 235 personnel.

And highlighting such successes, which saw production rise from 2,000 sweaters a week to 9,500, he went on: “The main key to sales growth is the Hawick Knitwear own-brand range which launched at the start of the year and has exceeded all expectations, as well as private label customers being up.”

Mr Hartop says the classic lambswool v-neck sweater is proving the most successful. He explained: “People are willing to pay a bit more for authentic Scottish products which last, and we continue to benefit from consumers rejecting disposable fashion.”

And with strong sales in the UK and America, as well as Europe, he continued: “We wouldn’t make the decision to increase our workforce if we weren’t confident there was a growing global market for the sort of luxury knitwear we provide.”

Meanwhile, the mill boss says a current decrease in workers’ hours does not indicate any form of downturn. He explained: “We are not on short time, it is our flexible working agreement. This means we flex up in the summer and flex down in the winter. We are really busy over the summer, and some people have 150 hours in the bank. It’s about matching capacity with demand, and it’s a balance that has been working.”

And with the 137-year-old mill’s expansion being endorsed by Scottish Enterprise, Mr Hartop says the hiring of trainees is a vital step to ensure the continued success of Hawick’s famous trade. “It is a big investment for the future, but with a lack of experienced workers it’s what everybody in the town needs to do for the industry,” he said.

Cathy Black, head of textiles with Scottish Enterprise, commented: “The fact that Hawick Knitwear is providing employment for 50 trainees is a testament to the continued growth in the industry.”