Simon Cotton is the Chief Executive of Johnstons of Elgin, Scotland’s leading textile company with mills at Elgin in Moray and at Hawick in the Borders.
These two heritage mills are open to the public and manufacture for the world’s greatest luxury brands as well as their own, internationally recognised label, sold in the world’s best department stores. The company is one of only two fully “vertical” mills in the UK which means that they buy their own wool and cashmere fibre and complete every stage of processing down to the final product. It is also the only one of the world’s leading textile mills which is fully open to the public. Simon is passionate about maintaining traditional skills, innovation and sustainability.
Johnston’s of Elgin is situated in a very pretty part of Scotland, what are the regional highlights for you?
Moray is this incredible little jewel within Scotland that many people in Scotland don’t even know. We have our own warmer, drier micro-climate, amazing beaches and beautiful hills and rivers. There is so much to see as well, from some of the finest distilleries in the world to the Moray Firth dolphins and, of course, one of the world’s finest textile mills.
Where in Scotland did you holiday as a child, and did they influence you as an adult?
I remember touring the West Coast of Scotland with my parents and staying in rented caravans. I woke up early one morning in Laide, overlooking Gruinard Island and there was no sound at all. I remember hearing sheep on the island, but otherwise it was so silent. I had never even considered that real silence like that might exist. I still love those moments of peace that we can find here.
Why are Scottish textiles so highly prized all over the world?
It’s very much a combination of knowhow and geography. The plentiful supply of soft, exceptionally pure Scottish water is a natural advantage and has enabled Scottish fabrics to gain a reputation for an exceptional hand feel and, because this is achieved, largely without chemicals, they naturally perform very well and become much loved wardrobe staples. But it’s the knowhow of generations of weavers and knitters passing down their skills from generation to generation which is the real foundation.
You have travelled extensively, how do you think Scotland is perceived by people in other countries?
Lots of people around the world have a great affinity for Scotland. They love the landscapes and cities and also feel an affinity towards the people who are normally friendly and open. The part they perhaps don’t realise is that Scotland has always been a cradle of innovation as well and that’s as true today as it has ever been. It’s that combination of connection to the land and dynamism that I love.
Do you have a favourite Scottish food?
It’s not one for every day, but I do love Scottish tablet! It’s an incredibly comforting and sweet mixture of sugar, condensed milk and butter. It’s so obviously unhealthy we have to joke about it, buts wonderfully good for the soul.