Social enterprise success
is off the charts for 
pop designer

A designer who has made clothes for Elton John is helping Berwickshire women transform their lives through the medium of creative industry

Jacqueline Thompson is the trainer for a new Eyemouth-based social enterprise which works with women and provides skills development and training in craft, design and technology.

It is quite a change for Berwick-born Thompson who is a graduate of the London School of Fashion and who had a contract supplying clothes for BBC hit show Top of the Pops but having returned to her home town she is enjoying the new challenge.

"I absolutely love doing this as the women are doing some fantastic work and their sense of achievement is unbelievable," she said.

Two courses have already been run by ReTweed since it began in May with graduation certificates presented to the second group of six women by Calum Kerr MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk.

Three women from the first cohort of students have secured jobs while the others have gone on into further education and volunteering work.

Two of the women who have just completed the second course are exploring opportunities for developing their own businesses.

"I think I've found myself doing this course," said Erin Inglis, from Eyemouth. “I had no faith in myself and this has inspired me to make something of my life. I’m going to speak to Business Gateway to see if I can set-up a creative enterprise of my own and in the meantime I’ll continue to volunteer and help increase manufacturing at ReTweed.”

Added Sarah McDougal. also from Eyemouth: “I needed something or someone to give a nudge to get moving with my life and ReTweed has been the answer. I’m now going to explore my own options for setting up a business.

As well as building confidence, teaching skills and helping women into work or further education, ReTweed also aims to change attitudes to recycling in the area.

People often don’t realise that textiles are just as bad in landfill as plastics,” pointed out ReTweed’s founder Hazel Smith.

We have had textile donations which would fill a house and the materials which we are not using we have donated to charity shops and small community groups including craft groups for the elderly. We are also using the stories of donations in our branding, labelling and selling. Some of our donations have come with stories so we want to build a real sense of community ownership of ReTweed.”

Smith believes it is appropriate too that the social enterprise is textile based, given that textile manufacturing has been an important part of the Scottish Borders economy.

Originally from Chirnside, Smith has worked in the third sector for years at one point managing an Edinburgh-based organisation called Women onto Work then working with the European Union as a policy researcher looking at ways to provide routes into education and employment for women. She more recently volunteered in Senegal helping women to set up community enterprises before ending up in Skye volunteering for a social enterprise, upcycling textiles into artisan furnishings.

This is a distillation of so much of my past work and it is achieving better outcomes than we could ever have expected,” she said. “There is so much lost talent in the area particularly among women who have no formal qualifications or employment opportunities. The project has tremendous potential to promote an aspirational culture for women and the area.”

There are no further or higher education opportunities for people in the Berwickshire area but Borders College has said they interested in exploring the potential of delivering vocational learning through ReTweed. It is hoped the enterprise will eventually develop and sell a wide range of fashions, furnishing and crafts made with upcycled and donated fabrics and materials and continue to develop their pre-vocational training model which incorporates craft, design and technology in textiles and routes into further education, creative enterprise and employment.

The above article by Nan Spowart first published on in Jan, 2017.