Lockdown officially began here in the UK in the last weeks of March, but we had already been dealing with some of the effects of Covid19 on the business for a few weeks prior to that. All in its been 2 months of change here and we wanted to share a little bit more of what we have been getting up to behind closed doors.
Bill Baber Knitwear is divided over 2 locations in Edinburgh, the Workshop at 66 Grassmarket and our Studio located on the edge of the city in Loanhead. The Workshop is the place most of you would be familiar with and many would have visited, its our retail shop, head office and where most days you’ll find Bill himself working on new designs and producing a collection for the shop. The Studio is our newer location and is closed to the public, from the studio we work on our export collection and store most of our yarns. Generally Jack & Helen are in the studio most days. Becky, Yoli and Lucy drop in to either location depending on whats going on during the year while our expert linkers Rachel, Lorna and Jackie all work from home.
Since the lockdown both locations have been closed to all visitors. Bill & Helen have been working behind closed doors in the Workshop while Jack is covering the Studio and working from home.
So, what have we been getting up to? Well fairly soon after lockdown began we were able to reopen the eCommerce shop online. We had originally closed everything while we were unsure how best to operate safely. While things were closed we had some lovely emails asking when we would be able to sell online again, so we decided it was time. As people are unable to come visit us as they would normally, we suspended the cost of shipping orders and many folk have been wonderful and placed orders during the shutdown so parcels have been flying off around the world for the last month or so. We really appreciate all of your support during this time and buying from the online shop is a great way to help us out. as styles are bought we replace them so that has kept us all in a bit of a routine as we knit, link, wash package and mail garments. We keep stock of around 500 items in the online catalogue so there is always something needed doing.
On the export side, most everything as you would expect came to a sudden halt. We supply stores all over the world and as everyone handles the crisis as best they can, we send our best wishes to all our stores and hope we will soon be able to pick up where we left off. We do have a few good news stories coming in the last few weeks. The Old Loom in Rees, Germany have been performing a superhuman effort in arranging deliveries to their regulars on a try or buy basis, while a few stores in the states have been able to operate kerbside collections or online sales. For the Old Loom we have been making up a range of Pico tops in assorted sizes and colours getting them ready for their summer trade. Mostly though folk are getting their paperwork in order, spending time working on their own ecommerce sites, or staying safe and supporting their families best they are able. Its humbling to consider the size of the network we operate in and we are really looking forward to reconnecting with everyone when we can.
Cleaning has been a new pastime for us, not just the disinfectant cleans that I am sure we are all familiar with by now, but the maintenance cleaning jobs that we undertake on a regular basis. All the tools & surfaces we use on a day to day basis are now on a regular covid19 clean and we are sure that when we are all able to come back to work or to accept visitors again, all this practice will make us super effieicnt in preparing the shop and keeping ourselves and our visitors safe. We have also been able to take extra time to get into the machines we use to give them a really intensive clean and maintenance regime. The linkers and knitting machines take many hours of intricate attention to keep them running smoothly and have never sparkled so much!
One of the biggest projects we are undertaking is a long overdue assessment of our sizing. Its the single hardest thing we do as a business and one of the most commonly asked questions “will it fit!”. Our garments are not factory produced in the sense you would expect, but we do use some pretty amazing machines. In truth however each piece is essentially hand made and the variation between garments can be perplexing. If we try to knit the exact same thing twice, often we end up with 2 different results. The same yarn in two different colours can make 2 different sized garments. If we knit 2 styles, each with 3 or 4 colours then each of those colours has a differing effect on the final size. If its a mix of linen & silk it wont be the same as a mix of linen and wooll! A dye batch of black cotton from 2018 wont be the same as one from 2019!
We think of it a little like baking. You try and make a tray of cupcakes and no two will be identical, if you look close enough you’ll see that each is unique. Well the same is true for our knitwear. As a result we are constantly working on the sizing of garments to try to minimise the breadth of the variation. While we have some time behind closed doors we are going back to basics and reworking some of the items to give us a more even size range. As the sizes are finalised we will be publishing them online and keeping them updated as best we can. in the meantime, if you are not sure, just ask us. We can always knit and measure up your garment so you can check it against some styles you have at home.
I am afraid we still can’t undertake custom size requests, its just not a quick job and we cant possibly charge you for the time it takes us. We get asked for a jacket with a wider sleeve or a longer body, that could be 2 days of work for us and no guarantee that after its done you will even like the result.
Alongside the resizing, we are still working on new designs and improving existing ones. We are confident that when we get out of the Covid19 lockdown there will be a bunch of lovely new things to share. Below some images of the Islay Jacket we launched last year, we are looking at ways of making it in stripe effect which will add some excitement to what has already proved to be a really popular style. There are plans for a jacket based on the Crail top and some new colours in a range of yarns across the collection.
Just before everythign closed down we were mid way into a project looking back at the Mull Collection. We wanted to create some new colours and outfit combinations using our classic jackets, although we only got part way into the project, we have released the first few online and are working on a socially distanced photoshoot to complete the set. Luckily soon to be husband and wife team Julien & Rose have a home studio and can work behind closed doors getting us some beautiful shots without having to leave their own home, so keep an eye out for new colours and combinations online. Meantime a few are here already! You can whet your appetite with the Clover and Sleet sets here.
We hope this little tour has been interesting and that if you have any questions about how Covid19 is affecting us or what our plans are in the coming months, then please get in touch.
Hopefully it wont be too long before we can welcome you into the shop once again.
Please stay safe and we wish you all the best.