Established in 1929 by Peter Harley Buchan – great-grandfather and grandfather of the current owners – Harley of Scotland’s factory remains located on the original site, which was previously a herring fish yard. This location inspired the company’s genesis, knitting traditional fisherman’s hosiery socks for the local marketplace.
How it all began
Having spent his early years learning to fish on his grandfather’s sailboat, Peter Harley Buchan gained a postal diploma in Woollen and Worsted Designing in 1925 from the International Correspondence School in London, and after graduating he began working within the Alexander Kirkburn Mills weaving department.
A family business
In 1929, Peter Harley bought a herring yard in Queen Street, Peterhead – where the company remains to this day – establishing a hosiery company. The company made hand framed fisherman’s socks and woven blankets for the fishing industry that was thriving in the northeast at that time.
Moving into knitwear
In the mid-1930’s Peter evolved the company’s production focus to create knitwear for the fishing industry, producing premium fisherman’s ganseys.
At the end of the second world war Peter – now 33 years old – purchased his first mechanical machines, these technological advancements permitted a significant increase in production. This was the year that the brand Glenugie Knitwear was established, generating considerable market expansion. He built connections in the north of Scotland, Northern Ireland and started working with his first agent in Newcastle.
Photograph – Harley of Scotland staff, 1947.
Adam joins the business
At fifteen years old, Peter’s son Adam joined the business. He recalls early sensory memories as a child of staff singing while working on hand frame machines and the unique scent of the wool fibre blending with the oily metallic aromas of the knitting machines. He began working from the ground up – helping clean machines and sourcing yarns, establishing a solid understanding of every stage of the production line.
In 1966, Adam enrolled at the Leicester Regional College of technology for a one-year intensive course studying “Manufacturing of Hosiery & Knitting Goods” that would broaden his textiles education.
There he met contemporaries from all over the world, aiding a new understanding of the value of global exports which went on to become a primary focus of his decades of hard work within the business.
In 1968, Adam and Peter began exporting to Belgium and France, initiating new demand for their products overseas.
In 1973, Peter Harley retired and passed the company over to 26-year-old Adam. At the time, the company had twenty-five employees.
Travelling the world
From the mid-1970’s, Adam spent a lot of his time travelling the world with Glenugie Knitwear across North America, USA and Canada. Later that decade the company began exporting to Italy and Germany.
Expansion to Japan
Adam travelled to Japan for the first time in 1979, working to expand global reach and meet new business partners. British heritage brands held a large market across Asia at that time – particularly in Japan, and Adam remained focussed on establishing the Glenugie Knitwear brand as a market leader in Shetland knitwear.
John joins the business
In 1983, John Watson joined the company aged 17 as a machine operator. At this time, all of the machines were mechanical, and it was John’s role to ensure they were running at full capacity. Despite his young age, Adam detected a lot of potential in John and quickly took him under his wing, helping John’s role within the company evolve rapidly.
First programmable machines
Adam’s penchant for innovation meant he was always seeking new technologies. The advancement of computers in the mid-1980’s impacted the functionality of every industry, but it was the introduction of the first programmable knitting machines that would prove to be a pivotal milestone in the Harley of Scotland timeline.
These machines allowed the company to pre-programme different sizes and shapes, as well as the development of more complex patterns for their designs. John demonstrated a keen interest in learning how to programme the machines and was sent to Leicester to carry out a pattern development diploma, working alongside some of the best engineers in the industry.
1985 saw the launch of the Nor’easterly Tradition brand within Harley of Scotland which is still used to this day.
Resisting fast fashion
The 90’s were a difficult decade for the premium knitwear industry, with a consumer appetite for fast fashion developing, and the growing ubiquity of synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon.
Committed to continuing use of superior natural fibres, Adam had to respond dynamically to navigate these challenging times, strategically focussing on the development of the private label sector within which he forged relationships with strong brands that could work alongside the core Nor’easterly Tradition collections.
Isabel Evolves the Scottish Market
In October 1992 Isabel set out to forge much stronger links with the Scottish market, establishing meaningful relationships with Scottish Trade customers that still stand to this day.
Thriving within the sales sector, Isabel took great enjoyment in visiting the broad range of locations and the enjoyable encounters with many different personalities that came with it.
Isabel continued to drive the Harley brand across Scotland through sales trips and trade shows up until 2004, and she still enjoys visiting the trade show to catch up with friends made throughout her years promoting the Harley brand.
Mary started working at Harley in 1993, bringing drive and a strong business acumen to the company, which had an immediately positive impact. She learned from the ground up just like John and leads resiliently within the company to this day.
Susannah joins the business
Susannah had a Saturday job working in the retail shop and factory as a teenager but holds vivid early memories of visiting her grandfather Peter in the factory in the early 1970’s, recalling the smell of the raw wool and the noise of the machines.
At 16, she learned to collar link, hand-finish and invisible mend, as well as teaching herself how to hand knit. This inspired her to further her education, going on to study for a degree in Industrial Design and Textiles at Heriot Watt University in Galashiels where she attended the course from 1987-1991.
On graduating, Susannah moved to London for several years where she worked in interior design. However, the call home was strong and in 1998 she moved back to Peterhead to begin working for the family business.
Susannah explains the motivation for this return home: “I had always loved my time helping in the family business, it had always felt like it was in my DNA, and I treasure the early memories of spending time with my grand-father and father in the factory. I especially loved working alongside my mother Isabel at trade shows and the day-to-day aspects of working in the factory. I love the fact that every day is different, working towards building the business alongside our incredible team of staff that I feel is very special. It holds tremendous appeal for me”.
She began working as the sales manager alongside her mother Isabel in 1998.
Harley of Scotland is born
With increased demand for their own product line, Susannah formulated the brand “HARLEY OF SCOTLAND” implementing a full rebrand that year.
The Harley of Scotland collection was established in direct response to the burgeoning market demand for premium Scottish Shetland knitwear brand.
Following a visit to Germany in 2001, Adam placed an order for the first seamless garment machine to be delivered to the factory, a pivotal moment in the evolution of the business.
This highly complex advancement in knit technology allowed programming to be established to knit sweaters in 3D flat bed tubular, knitting a complete sweater on the machine as opposed to traditional fully fashioned panels to be linked into garments.
This allowed for a significant increase in production, quality control and importantly minimised yarn waste.
Succeeding her father, Susannah took the reins of the sales sector and spent a large part of the early 2000’s travelling all over the world to meet customers, attend trade shows, build relationships, and promote the Harley of Scotland brand – working with customers within the USA, Canada, all over Europe and Japan.
Lucy joins the business
Lucy started working in the factory on a Saturday cleaning the knitting machines during her teenage years. School holidays consisted of helping in quality control and despatch, but whilst studying for her degree in Business Administration in Aberdeen, she began to work shifts on the knitting machines.
From an early age, she had absorbed Adam’s strong work ethic and following a successful career working in HR for the energy sector, Lucy decided to return to Peterhead and began to work in the Harley of Scotland office focusing on payroll, orders, and stock management.
Speaking of why she made the change Lucy said:
“At Harley of Scotland, no day is the same, one minute you can be behind a computer, the next you are helping on the factory floor. That diversity was something I was lacking in my previous career.”
“However, Harley of Scotland for me is not just a place of work, it’s something more. The people who work here are the engine of the company and I feel immense pride working alongside them, we have a fantastic team. My goal is to do justice to, and hopefully build on this quality brand that my father and grandfather before him worked so tirelessly to create”.
Susannah propelled Harley of Scotland into the exclusive Korean market, securing a highly connected agent with fantastic trade links. Remaining singular in focus on building the Harley of Scotland brand – this was a big milestone for the company and would prove to be a significantly strategic move for the business from an export perspective as Korea had become a hugely important market for the Harley of Scotland brand, alongside Japan.
John and Mary appointed directors
After thirty and twenty years of service respectively, John and Mary became directors of Harley of Scotland.
When asked about his career at Harley so far John said:
“Harley of Scotland is a true family business and not just in literal meaning, the team is at the heart of the business and the success is truly a credit to them. Adam has created a nurturing environment for the staff which I will look to carry on alongside Susannah, Lucy, and Mary. My goal is to see the Harley of Scotland brand everywhere and continue to develop all aspects of the business”.
Adam retired from the business, handing the company over to his daughters Susannah, Lucy, and Juliet.
When asked what business advice he would pass on to his grandchildren, Adam said:
“Do what your heart is set on, invest in your staff, for they are not just staff… they are part of the family too, as without them there is no business”.
The future of Harley of Scotland
With the primary focus on an expansion of production capacity and further investment into new markets in China and Scandinavia – Harley of Scotland remains committed to growth and the evolution of the next chapter. With all operations continuing to remain focussed on quality, reliability, and innovation whilst celebrating Harley’s rich heritage.