written by:
July 11, 2012

It seems an unlikely place to come across a design revolution, but if you venture into the valleys of the Pembrokeshire coast in west Wales you will find a thriving creative community. Inspired by their industrial heritage and spurred by the economic downturn, small businesses and enterprises in the Cardigan Bay area are working hard to keep their local skills and manufacturing traditions alive.

“At some point you realize that we are going to have to start making stuff again,” explains Cardigan Bay-based David Hieatt, founder of Hiut Denim—a brand name that merges his surname with the word utility. It’s a sentiment that’s echoed across the many of the creative businesses in the area. “The recession has made us realize that to buy less but better is something we have to get back to,” says Hieatt. “It’s an ethos that society started out with many years ago and the recession has helped us to rediscover it.” Provenance is certainly a buzzword in retail at the moment, and products made in Cardigan Bay have it by the bucket load.

Amanda Griffiths, of local woolen mill Melin Tregwynt, attributes the area’s surge in creativity to the quality of life that it offers and the inspiration the landscape provides. “It’s always been a creative area full of crafts people—we joke that it’s Wales’ answer to California.”

This combination of history, natural resources, craft, passion, and ideas creates ideal growing conditions for new and old manufacturing businesses. Dwell tracks down three of the area’s entrepreneurs to find out how they are turning to the triumphs of the past to find success in the present.

Pembrokeshire coast in West Wales
Pembrokeshire’s history is rich in arts and crafts traditions, from the woolen mills and potteries to the manufacture of glass, wood, slate, metalwork, and textile products. Inspired by her Welsh heritage, Denise Lewis set up Blodwen, an online store that serves as a platform for Welsh design in Cardigan Bay. “I grew up with an extended family of craftspeople, we were farmers, my grandfather was a woodcutter, my aunts and uncles were potters and weavers my mother worked at the local textile mill. There was true craft and true quality.” says Lewis.
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Hiut Denim in Cardigan Bay
New to Cardigan Bay is Hiut Denim, run by husband and wife duo David and Clare Hieatt, who previously founded and sold a UK–based clothing brand called Howies. Up until its closure in 2001, Cardigan Bay was known for its jeans factory, which used to produce over 35,000 pairs of jeans a week. “Cardigan used to employ 400 people at the jeans factory,” Hieatt says. “It was really important to the town and when they stopped, Cardigan was a much poorer place for it, quite literally. It was part of this town’s identity.” Inspired by this history, in February of this year, David and Clare Hieatt launched Hiut Denim with the ambition of making Cardigan a world-class denim producer once again. Five months on, and the response has been almost too good. “It’s a learning process,” says Hieatt “We’ve got one pair of jeans on the shelf after three months which is unsold, we’ve had to stop taking orders for the time being.” The factory currently employs just ten staff and can produce ten pairs of jeans a day. Hieatt is keen to stress that Hiut is a mono-minded brand. He believes in doing one thing, and doing it well: “No bobble hats, no fluffy things, no scary dice that you put in the car. Just jeans.”
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David Hieatt of Hiut Denim Co.
David and Clare Hieatt want to build the brand on what they believe is a winning combination of craftsmanship, sentiment, and ideas, their first idea being to create the History tag—an app that combines tradition with technology. Each pair of jeans they make has a unique ID number that has its own online account that you can log into. Hieatt tells us: “You can go online and see images of your jeans being made, and then you can update it with your own log of where you went and what you did in the jeans. If we make things to last, they have more stories to tell.”
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Welsh-made products by Denise Lewis
Two years ago, while traveling the world working as a director at an international telecommunications company, Denise Lewis decided to make a dramatic career change. She quit her job and set up online store Blodwen – a Mecca of Welsh-made contemporary design products. Born and bred in north Pembrokeshire in a Welsh-speaking family, Denise was inspired by the incredible skills of the craftspeople in her local area. “On my travels I was always collecting textiles and artifacts from the places that I visited and I thought to myself ‘we really have got all of this, if not better, at home in Wales.” After 18 months of scouring the country to connect with the right craftspeople, Blodwen now works with a stable of 15-20 master artisans on a regular basis. The aim is to create products that will appeal to the modern consumer. “People are fed up by products that have no inherent value and no dignity. People are much more discerning about what they buy with their money now,” says Lewis. “What we buy as a luxury is so important. It’s something you want to have for the rest of your life and possibly even hand on to your children.”
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Blodwen Blanket
Blodwen sells a diverse range of products, from a skincare range based on rose water recipes written by Lewis’s great-great-grandmother, to ancient Coracle designs made on the banks of the River Teifi at Llechryd. “All of our packaging and everything on the site is bilingual (in both Welsh and English),” says Lewis. “We’re passionate and proud of where we come from.” Denise’s latest initiative is the heritage blanket project. After discovering an archive of blanket patterns dating back to 1784, Lewis has joined forces with her local textile college and local mill to create soft lambs wool blankets in modern colorways using two of the historical patterns. “It will be a huge community investment and initiative launching in September,” she says. For Lewis, Blodwen is more than just a business; it’s a platform for promoting her country. “I want to create a complete Welsh lifestyle brand. I want to be the Welsh Ralph Lauren!”
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Wooden mill Melin Tregwynt
Further along the coast in Castle Morris, Eifion and Amanda Griffiths own a woolen mill called Melin Tregwynt that has been in Eifion’s family for exactly 100 years. The mill is one of the few in the area to have survived two world wars and weathered tough economical times in the 1980s and ‘90s. Their survival is due largely to their ability to diversify while retaining their core values. “It’s a balance of what we can do,” explains Eifion. “If we were to scale up and make the wool elsewhere, we would lose sight of why we’re doing it in the first place. We’re doing it to preserve a way of life.”
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Textiles by Melin Tregwynt
When other mills in the area were producing run-of-the-mill copies of traditional Welsh patterns, Melin Tregwynt diversified and used their looms to produce contemporary woven patterns. Their business expanded into Japan and they began to sell online, extending their range with clothing, shoes, bags, and other lifestyle products. The mill’s production is still growing year on year. In 2011, with a staff of just 25 people, Melin Tregwynt produced 16 tons of yarn. That’s 4050 sheets or 20 kilometers—enough to fill 137 tennis courts.
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Pembrokeshire coast in West Wales
Pembrokeshire’s history is rich in arts and crafts traditions, from the woolen mills and potteries to the manufacture of glass, wood, slate, metalwork, and textile products. Inspired by her Welsh heritage, Denise Lewis set up Blodwen, an online store that serves as a platform for Welsh design in Cardigan Bay. “I grew up with an extended family of craftspeople, we were farmers, my grandfather was a woodcutter, my aunts and uncles were potters and weavers my mother worked at the local textile mill. There was true craft and true quality.” says Lewis.

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