Ireland is also called “Green Island” for its beautiful scenery.
A land disputed by many peoples during its history, from the Celts to the Vikings, then passed under papal domination, before being offered to the British crown by Adrian IV1.
According to Celtic mythology, it was founded by Partholon, son of the Ocean.
Arriving on the island after the original deluge, accompanied by a colony of 24 men and 24 women who will populate it, he created seven lakes and four hills, shaping the landscape of Ireland.
Partholon taught humans to manipulate magic, taught them druidism and the art of war. Thus able to defend themselves, they would have repelled each invader, gods or giants, so that the island remained in their hands.
With its 250 days of rain a year, we understand better what one owes such a nature…
And so many sheep grazing! Since the installation of the Man on the island in the Neolithic2, Our curly friends thrive on the island3.
They also never left: in 2012, there are roughly 6 million people in the territory to 5,000,000 sheep.
How could they help us…?
Ireland, land of wool
A practice as old as the island
We found there looms of nearly 4,000 years, and not so far from those of today.
It was such an anchored activity that the laws of Brehon (Irish ancestor of the civil code, written between -800 and -600) specified that in case of separation of a couple, the woman kept the weaving looms of the home.
Passed under domination in the eleventh century, Ireland is a gold mine for England.
The motherland becomes its first trading partner, so much of England is warmed by Irish wool according to estatelearning.
Precisely preserved know-how
From the sixteenth century, England promulgated several restrictive laws against Ireland. Among other things, it has no right to export any wool goods. This is called big protectionism!
Ireland was then a colony, with all the imperialist policy that goes with it.
Lack of income, the island struggles to industrialize. After the famine that hit the country in 18454, We realize that we must still take care of these Irish. England realizes that it is frankly too painful towards the country and begins to let go of the little by little.
In the 1880s, the government created the Congested District Board, a body responsible for ensuring the maintenance and transmission of knowledge. Specialists are sent to the most rural regions of Ireland including Donegal (to which we will return later), in order to structure the crafts.
Finally, Ireland became independent in the early 1920s: it became industrialized more freely without having the English on its back. Relying heavily on the side of “heritage”, the work of the wool first seduced Europe and the US and, more recently, Japan is a big fan of this authentic mode.
The discovery of Inishmaan by Tarlach
A unique island…
More than 40 years ago, Tarlach, a young Irish scholar, immersed himself in the study of Celtic languages, especially Gaelic, all in Dublin.
In his research, he is interested in the archipelago of Aran, a group of three small islands where the Gaelic is particularly well preserved.
One of them attracts more attention. This is the island of Inishmaan, neighbor Inishmore (the largest and most touristy) and Inis Oirr (the smallest, but also very touristy).
What intrigues him is not the great variety of butterfly species (si, si!), Nor the coexistence of Arctic, Mediterranean and alpine plants, nor the curious fort of 400 BC. Almost square. No, it is its inhabitants and the language they practice.
Inis Meáin is the least populated island of the three: less than 200 inhabitants, compared with 850 and 250 on the other two. It is very popular Irish linguists and authors for the richness of its language, its traditions and its folklore. It is a small piece of land sheltered from mass tourism and with very strong traditions. A real corner of paradise for authors in search of authenticity and calm!
It will remain strongly marked by the strength of its inhabitants, their independence and their ability to find a solution for everything, even on this 3.5 x 5 km pocket handkerchief.
Agriculture, fishing, breeding: their sense of resourcefulness impresses on an island that hardly contains trees!
In any case, when I went there, I do not remember having seen (there are only groves and shrubs).
And originally, a life project
With a temperate climate and cool-between 6 and 15 ° C-Tarlach soon realizes the value of having its chunky knit!
Given its size, its low relief and its proximity to the ocean, there is a lot of wind. The inhabitants protect themselves precisely by being warmly dressed, but also via the famous stone walls.
They are so emblematic and inspiring that I can not ignore them.
Relatively high (often exceeding 1m50), they are very stable and wear-resistant over time5, Also protecting livestock from the elements. Advantages rather nice face wood, a rare material on the island.
Besides, the first thing that strikes us when we arrive is the incredible number of these walls. One researcher estimated that their total length was over 3,000 km!
Each field belongs to a member of the family, which gives a myriad of small walled fields.
Tarlach falls in love with this atypical geography. His wife, Aine, is also a native of the island. They married in Dublin but a year later, it’s stronger than them: of Inishmaan the call is going too feel. They go back there.
That was 40 years ago.
The return of Tarlach: from the academic to the entrepreneur
Admit that the title of this paragraph could make a beautiful movie
Going back to the island, but to do what?
When they return, there is not much to do. In any case, nothing that can stick with the university Tarlach past, more used to track down isocolies and other prosonomanies in Gaelic text.
They first think continue editing text, but soon realize that the island community of more basic needs. There is no running water, no electricity on the island! As for the ferry service, it is so rudimentary that there is no infrastructure for the boat to dock the island. The inhabitants are obliged to go to the boat at the ferry.
Tarlach even showed us pictures where the cows almost swam back to the shore!
He decided to create a small town council with the inhabitants of the island, convincing the central government to install electricity and running water there.
In 1973, a certain Chris Rodmell shot a short film of 12 minutes of life on the island. This is the year Tarlach moves in, it will give you a very good idea of the atmosphere. We even see the famous scene with the cow in the water that has to get on the ferry…
One day, women come to him to ask for work. He then realizes that they are very skilful with their hands. They knit Aran sweaters in small quantities for export (for tourists) to round off the end of the month of their families.
But this is no longer enough. They do not want to do like their mothers, knitting by the fire, solitary for life.
So he has an idea. Why not enter into a logic of mutualisation and set up a production tool, where women could effectively share work, orders and help each other? This is how his small workshop was born, which later became the Inis Meáin brand.
John Millington Synge, the famous Irish playwright, wrote that the beauty of Inis Meáin’s clothes and houses contribute to the charm of the island. But Rome was not built in one day, and the first years are… rudimentary, not to say difficult.
It starts without electricity, using manual machines, the same as in homes. It produces very simple pieces, away from exclusive twists and blends of unusual materials like silk and linen…
Fortunately, because of his academic background, he soon learns new things. He takes courses to learn how to create a garment and assemble mesh.
A new turning point
Tarlach is investing in industrial machines. If they actually increase productivity, they limit it deeply in its designs. Nothing very elaborate, it is still forced to manufacture only for the tourist market and that of the United States.
He told us that this old DOS programming system6 Was a big galley to use, it was almost cards with holes to insert in the machine!
This is still not enough: it is not enough to produce for sale. Not only is the market dependent on a strong dollar, but given the fierce competition on tourist sweaters, margins are pulled down despite volumes.
Unable to track the volumes and prices of the Chinese competition. And to make matters worse, it is difficult to differentiate with a particular product that tourists do not want.
From the Red Ocean to the Blue Ocean
In other words, for those who read the strategy of the Blue Ocean, Tarlach evolves in mid-ocean Rouge, where competition is fierce and wild. That is the impasse.
It is still necessary to “rotate”, to find something else to develop the activity and to perpetuate his small business: if he starts in the creation of wool coins when he knows nothing about it, it is above all to create Of employment. He has a duty to his employees!
It is perhaps at his daily swims in the ocean that is the idea of the Blue Ocean: a market segment with much lower competition, for innovation, but also more risky.
Motivated by the living conditions that improve on the island (running water, electricity and, finally, a better ferry), Tarlach leaves the small town council to devote himself exclusively to this new challenge, far more ambitious than the manufacture of Wool pieces for tourists.
How to combine stable jobs and sales in a different market? He chose to target the luxury market, pushing the quality much further.
Fortunately, the Irish government is rather generous towards companies that want to export, subsidizing trips to German and Italian trade shows.
When he arrives in a fashion show is the catch: he must introduce new wool, better designs and new machinery in its collections.
Moreover, Tarlach abandoned very early the 100% hand-made. If he is indeed more prestigious, he finds it much harder and wants to offer something else to his young recruits, convinced that the economy of his small town can not rely solely on it. Young people want something else.
It combines the best of both worlds: a knitting on very modern machines and hand finished by a few high-flying knitters.
For design, Tarlach plunges back into the old photos of the island and notices that the inhabitants have a sacred style7.
In its head, everything starts to take shape: a quality product, with irreproachable finishes, beautiful materials, a special design and unique in each season. And for inspiration, Tarlach continues to look around him:
The logo is a reversed currach, that typically English boat on which it arrived,
It is a rare thing for a brand that makes almost nothing but mesh, it proposes two seasons and has fun with mixtures of fibers:
- It is a baby alpaca supporter, soft and robust,
- He likes to introduce silk into many mixtures,
- It mixes a lot of cashmere and merino,
- And in summer, he’s a fan of linen. Not linen woven as for a shirt but knitted, with a choice of colors and styles that I have never seen elsewhere. Here too, he can not help but mixing: I saw linen / cotton but also linen / silk, which takes very nicely the light.
Little by little, efforts are beginning to pay off. Inishmaan is entering the biggest international shopping :
- Barneys and Bergdorf in New York,
- Isetan in Tokyo,
- Hollington in Paris,
- And Manufactum in Germany.
Even after the economic crisis of 2008, with sales falling by 30% and banks considering the bankruptcy of his workshop, Tarlach clings and holds up. He says its brand that it is only strengthened.
Besides that, true to its vision of high-end, his son founded a beautiful boutique hotel on the island, which has only fifteen beds8.
Drawing lessons from the dangers of mass tourism (low margins despite volume), they continue to want to preserve the island by offering it a virtuous tourism, respectful of the local culture and the environment.
Tarlach continues to invest in new more efficient machines, but while the big brands are turning for several weeks to get exactly the same design, it is used to be much more creative.
Thanks to a very experienced operator, he uninstalls and reinstalls some designs two or three times a day. This allows him to be very reactive, while managing small quantities with varied designs. Above all, he finally goes fully fashioned, abandoning forever the cut / sewn.
As a reminder, in the mesh, the basic construction is the cut / sewn. This consists of knitting large pieces of stitch and cutting with a chisel a pocket, a sleeve… which one then sews together. Like a shirt finally.
Tarlach opposes it for two reasons:
- He deplores many falls of matter,
- And do not like the small beads on the sides of the two panels sewn together (the joint creates a small thickness of fabric).
So, following the technique of fully fashioned, knitted and all is well assembled to size without any loss. For example, if you want to put a pocket, it is directly knit on the cardigan, instead of being cut and sewn a posteriori.
Tarlach is very proud to say that there is almost no scissors in the plant, they do not cut anything. It’s more refined, but also much more technical and long! On the machine side, each size and style corresponds to a new file. Before beginning to knit, there is therefore programming to make to set the instructions correctly.
It is precisely this mix of technique, style, materials and colors that makes Inis Meáin famous today. When one asks Tarlach how he does to have taste in his designs, he simply says that he loves beautiful things forever.
It is a great feat to have created such a respected brand on an island of 200 inhabitants (it employs 10% of the population!) Which is anything but a “fashion hub”.
One of his greatest pride is that he has limited the exodus by offering local young people highly skilled work in his studio.
Our collaboration: a cardigan in donegal blue
Why the cardigan again? Just because I sign and persists: the cardigan in chunky knit is the most useful item in winter.
The fact that it can be opened or closed without the need to pass the head, that one can see the shirt underneath, and even wearing a tie, make it a very practical piece and with many stylistic possibilities.
As for thermal insulation, those who have already spent the winter with one of our cardigans know what it is: impossible to go back. In this regard, comment received a few days ago:
All these reasons only confirm my taste for the shawl collar cardigan in gros mesille.
Having released a beige and gray with Six & Seven BonneGueule the line, it attacks the blue, but with a twist for the grounds and matter: we wanted the Donegal!
Exactly, what is donegal? Here too, hang on, another beautiful story awaits you…
Donegal, spearhead of Irish know-how
Donegal wool comes from Donegal.
Rural forces, sheep are particularly present in Donegal so that, traditionally, each family has its own loom to work wool: underwear, socks homemade, anything goes!
At the beginning of the 20th century, the inhabitants made a name for themselves in the making of wool carpets. First spotlight internationally for this region, which allows it to adopt a more industrial angle.
I invite you to watch (at least) the first few minutes of this documentary dating from the Seventies, you will see how important the work of the wool.
Donegal wool is quite unique, characterized by:
- A very soft hand,
- A “mousing” colorful,
- A spun yarn in the traditional way (the fiber is rolled to the former).
To tell the truth, the tradition is pushed further, since they are natural dyes that are used. In keeping with the region’s heritage, lichen, berries and flowers are used.
More generally, the tweeds and other rafters of the region are very renowned. If you decide to go on vacation, you will find plethora of shops offering jackets entirely handmade.
These fabrics are part of a stylistic approach less formal than the traditional wool. They are carried to the countryside, during hunting parties for example, which fits well into the very regional DNA of Donegal. #countryside
In our case, it is especially a great way to bring variety and originality, especially with a single color such as blue. You end up with a stronger visual identity, breaking the old-fashioned side that cardigans sometimes have.