the coastline in Shetland

Laurence Odie Knitwear

This employee-owned Shetland knitwear company is creating a lasting legacy for jobs and skills in the area by developing new talent.

First Shetland employee-owned knitwear company

Laurence Odie Knitwear was founded on Shetland’s south mainland in 2004. Operating from premises on the edge of Hoswick, the company is part of an unbroken presence of knitwear manufacturers in the same location which stretches back for a century.

Laurence Odie Knitwear operates the Shetland Woollen Co. brand and its primary focus is on the manufacture and wholesale of high-quality garments.

In 2019, when looking to retire from the day to day running of the company, Laurence Odie sold his 100% stake to an employee ownership trust, establishing Shetland’s only 100% employee-owned knitwear business.

While Laurence remains on the board to facilitate a smooth gradual handover, the business is now led by joint Directors Sarah Riley and Louise Laurenson. Retaining the link between the company and the community was a major factor in the founder’s decision to transfer ownership, leaving a lasting legacy for jobs and skills in the area.

We’re carrying on a legacy, but in a modern way. Shetland itself has a huge history in knitwear, and we want to keep that going for the future.
Sarah Riley, Director, Laurence Odie Knitwear
two staff stand beside a white board

E-commerce is the way forward

Pre-lockdown, the business had been building additional sales through an onsite retail outlet. The impact of COVID-19 restrictions on tourist footfall and shop opening hours accelerated the development of a consumer facing website.

“We had plans to develop our e-commerce activities,” explains Director Sarah Riley, “but COVID-19 gave us the kick we needed to really move them forward."

A Digital Enablement grant from HIE had let the business start the process of building a new e-commerce website. They quickly realised that they needed somebody on the team with the skills to drive the brand forward, take the lead on social media and take them forward with marketing online.

Sarah and Louise were delighted to be able to get help for this through our Graduate Support Programme.

Laurence Odie Photography

Graduate Placement makes a real difference

With a graduate placement agreed the business then had to find the right candidate! 

They managed to do just that in the shape of Orkney born Fashion graduate Martin Turner. Martin was able to slot seamlessly into the team giving momentum to the Shetland Woollen Co. brand development.

“Martin really fitted in well from day one. When we were thinking about the brand and speaking about what we wanted it to be, we were all on the same hymn sheet. He really grasped what we were thinking. We couldn’t believe our luck really," says Sarah.

With their new website having undergone a soft launch while final adjustments were made, the business was already enjoying a boost.

"As well as individual sales we’ve seen a massive increase in wholesale enquiries too, sometimes from markets we don’t even currently sell to, so the brand work is definitely having an impact on our discoverability.

“Martin has run with the project really well, it’s come so far so quickly and it really is his project. He brought the right skills to do things such as editing the website and he’s learning new skills all the time – yesterday he was doing some coding for the first time.”

director working at shetland knitwear company

Action towards net zero

Martin’s project is not only focused on building the e-commerce site, the net zero agenda is incorporated into the placement as well. Working closely with Sarah, the pair are examining ways to work towards achieving net zero emissions, including measures such as the recycling of waste yarn. 

“Natural wool is already a sustainable material, but we’re looking to become a more circular business. We also want to promote that to our customers, so that they know when they buy from us they’re not buying ‘fast fashion’ – they’re getting something that’s made by skilled craftspeople and built to last.”

Together, Sarah and Martin are considering a number of ways to become a more circular business. This includes exploring repair services, highlighting the suitability of quality wool for long term wear.

Graduate outside Shetland knitwear company

Programme offers a lucky break

Martin grew up in Orkney before heading to Galashiels in the Borders to study fashion and design at the Heriott Watt School of Textiles and Design. After moving to Shetland with his partner in 2019, he struggled to find a role which would allow him to use his fashion qualifications.

While at high school, Martin worked in the Orkney shop of Scottish fashion designer Kirsteen Stewart, and later returned on summer breaks from university to undertake fashion-focused internships.

“A lot of what I was doing was an entry-level version of what I’m doing now around marketing, social media and the website, as well as some design projects, so it was really valuable experience for my current role. While that was all very guided, I’m now a lot more self-led. Having that experience under my belt meant starting out in this role was a lot less daunting.”

The opportunity came at the right time for Martin. He had graduated around two years before and felt like the longer it took to find work in his field, the less likely it was he would find something. The placement has allowed him to develop new skills as well as building on existing strengths.

For Martin, the main benefit of the scheme is the ring-fencing of positions for those just starting out on their careers. “The scheme narrows the field so you’re not having to compete with people who already have more experience. It can be hard to get started, especially if you want to work in the Highlands and Islands in a field like this where jobs don’t come up often. It’s a great way to take the first step into the career you want to have long term, and to get the experience and professional network that will help you get there.”

It’s great to work with people who know so much about knitwear and who are so passionate about it. I’ve had a chance to become involved at different parts of the process and I’ve learned so much, it really keeps you excited to come to work each day.
Martin Turner, Digital Marketing & Branding Graduate, Laurence Odie Knitwear

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