Victoria Stapleton is the founder and creative director of Brora Scottish cashmere.
Founded almost twenty years ago by Victoria Stapleton, today Brora is one of Britain’s best loved contemporary cashmere brands. Inspired by a love of vintage fashion and a passion for Scottish cashmere and tweeds, Victoria is also a passionate supporter of British manufacturing.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to start the business…
A. I started Brora in 1993 because I was passionate about Scottish textiles, especially cashmere & tweeds. Having been brought up in the north of England, I was aware of the wonderful mills that produces the finest textiles, which were then shipped around the world.
When my family became involved with Hunters of Brora, a 100 year old tweed mill in the north east Scotland, I jumped at the opportunity of creating a retail arm. This, in turn, led to the establishment of my own business, which today is a fully fledged fashion brand with a very British aesthetic.
Q. Where is your business located?
A. All our cashmere is made by our mill in the Scottish borders that has been producing cashmere for over 100 years. I strongly believe in ‘made in Britain’ and Brora is unique in many ways and proud to be making the majority of our clothing in the UK.
Q. Do you use any specialist techniques or equipment to produce your goods?
A. Rare and precious, cashmere is one of the world’s most prized commodities. Our cashmere is ethically sourced from the native goat of the Mongolian plateaux. Sustainability of our supply lines is critical and we have been buying our fibre from the same farms for many years.
Every season, the best fibres are carefully selected from the finest producers and brought to Scotland, where the coarse ‘guard hairs’ are removed. By making sure that only the finest and longest fibres make it through to the next stage, we can be sure the end product will be as soft and downy as can be.
Only those that are a minimum of 34mm in length and a maximum thickness of 16.5 micron are chosen. Fibre falling short of these specifications will be weaker and will result in quick pilling with wear and a jumper that loses its shape after only one season.
Continuous investment in the latest cutting edge technology combined with traditional skills and techniques ensure the quality and longevity of every Brora piece. There are over 50 processes involved in making a Brora cashmere jumper and this attention to detail gives every garment its luxurious finish and fabulous feel.
Creating a clothing range was a natural progression born out of my love of vintage designs and my passion for colour. The clothing collection is made mainly in the UK, with the emphasis strongly on quality of workmanship and detail.
Brora uses traditional factories all around the British Isles where seamstress’ skills have been passed down through generations. We also work closely with Liberty art fabrics, creating exclusive prints for the collection from the vast archive, re-working colours to complement the cashmere collection.
Q. What are the most popular products in your range?
A. We are proud to have something for everyone and we love to dress the generations with whole families wearing Brora; from new born babies to grandparents.
What sets Brora cashmere apart is the workmanship in each piece, much of which is done by hand. At the mill, the skills involved in working with cashmere have been passed down through Scottish families by word of mouth and example.
Every step of the way they apply their expertise and, in doing so, take their part in creating the highest quality, long lasting cashmere. Brora is also renowned for its colours. Up to seven shades are used to create each Brora colour and our depth and range of tones are unique in the industry.
Q. What’s the best thing about what you do?
A. The company is 100% privately owned and the business focus is determinedly “Buy British”, the key element being that all our cashmere clothing is made in Scotland to the highest possible standards. Cut and run profit is not what we are here for.
The company is run personally and democratically and this ethos extends to the customer, who becomes a good friend with whom Brora has a relationship, built on trust, honesty and willingness.
Q. Why do you choose to make your products in Britain?
A. In the retail world, we are rare in that the vast majority of our collection is made in the UK. By supporting British manufacturing, we can react to customer demand quickly, repeating popular lines. We are still small enough to deal with our suppliers personally and have built outstanding relationships with them.
Q. What’s been your proudest moment?
A. I have to say I was extremely flattered and indeed felt very proud when I was nominated as a finalist in the veuve Clicquot business woman of the year. I was chosen not only for my entrepreneurial spirit but also because Brora was an ethically & socially responsible company. I am extremely proud of this business that I started almost 20 years ago and have made many friends along the way.
Q. Where do you sell your products?
A. We have 14 shops nationwide including a flagship store on Symons Street at Sloane Square as well as a thriving mail order and internet business.
Q. Which other British producers inspire you and why?
A. I love Bridgewater pottery and Emma who founded the brand is an old friend of mine. We share many of the same ideals when it comes to producing in Britain and indeed I am going up to her factory in Stoke on Trent next week for a special event. I have her bird mugs hanging in my kitchen and plenty of other pieces collected over the years. I love the creativity of the brand, the quirky Englishness and the company ethos.
Q. Do you make an effort to buy British when food shopping?
A. As a family we do much of our food shopping from local markets. I live in Hertfordshire and we have a wonderful local farm shop as well as regular weekly markets in both the local towns. It is a pleasure to shop in this way! Fortunately we also grow plenty of our own fruit and vegetables which taste out of this world.
Q. Where is your favourite place to holiday in Britain?
A. Last year we rented a small farmhouse on the island of Colonsay off the west coast of Scotland. It has to go up there with my top favourite holidays; we had beautiful August sunshine, ate plenty of lobsters & oysters, drank delicious locally brewed beer, engaged in a little highland dancing, made pictures on the beach from shells, played gold amongst peat stacks and meandering sheep and cooked up our supper outside. And to top it all my blackberry didn’t have any signal.
Q. And finally, what do you do to relax and unwind when you’re not busy working?
A. With difficulty! I like to be on the move so even when I am not working I keep myself pretty busy and with three daughters there is always SOMETHING going on. We have a cottage in Cumbria where I grew up and the minute I open the door I feel a great sense of peace. I am sure it is the place where I am at my most relaxed.