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D MacGillivray & Co Ltd, Balivanich, Benbecula

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D MacGillivray & Co Ltd, Balivanich, Benbecula

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In 1941, Donald MacGillivray, was a travelling salesman working throughout the Hebrides. Originally from Oban, he moved to Benbecula at the age of eight to live with an Aunt and later married his wife, Effie, there.
Looking for a gap in the market in order to set up on his own account, in 1941 on a visit to Harris he purchased a couple of pairs of hand-knitted woollen socks which he sold on. He purchased further pairs, branching out into handwoven garments produced by handweavers and knitters who were looking beyond a domestic market for their wears. Donald established the Hebridean Crofter Weavers Ltd to sell textile products for worldwide sale by mail order from his base at 28 Muir of Ord, Benbecula. Although domestic ranges were sold for local consumption, musch of the produce was high-end knitwear, tweeds, sweaters, blankets, scarves, gloves and sheepskins. Products were not just produced in the Hebrides but included Fair Isle, Orkadian and Shetland knitwear.
In 1955, the company sold over 50,000 pairs of socks and 45,000 yards of tweed, sales being boosted by the military stationed on Benbecula. The company was also advertising widely in Vogue, the London Illustrated News.and other English newspapers and also visited trade fairs on the mainland. At its height, mail order accounted for 95% of the company’s sales. Following an advertisement, potential customers would write to the company for tweed samples and prices which would be mailed back to them with up to 40 different tweed samples. An order then may following, the products being posted off with an invoice. An article in Family Circle in the USA saw a massive request for samples. Clients were located in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Oman, South America and across Europe.
Donald’s son, Robert, joined the business in the 1960s and his wife, Katie, joined him upon their marriage.
In 1981, the company moved to new premises on the main road in Balivanich. The army presence on the island provided good local trade along with tourists, many of whom remain loyal customers. The shop premises gave them the ability to cater to new markets, including tourists, and they were able to diversify into clothes, furnishing, souvenirs, jewellery and music CDs and DVDs.


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