Words by Bethany Allen
As the seasons turn and a perceptible chill begins to creep into the air, we surreptitiously pull our jackets tighter and turn into the crisp air of autumn, ready to face another Cornish winter.
It’s the season for long walks along empty beaches, for discovering the divine sense of solitude amongst nature that Cornwall’s cliffs, coves and ocean landscape ignite, and for cosy evenings relaxing in front of the fire.
Celtic & Co are experts at designing products that provide a cocoon of warmth to snuggle into over the colder months. With almost 30 years’ experience crafting sheepskin products, the company design and create enduring contemporary pieces using the finest natural fibres because they are renewable, sustainable and a pleasure to wear.
Like most great adventures in life, the Celtic & Co story stemmed from spontaneity. In 1990 husband and wife Nick and Kath Whitworth saw an advert in a local paper offering a small boot making business for sale. They bought it with just seven pairs in stock, two sewing machines and a hydraulic press.
Originally branded as ‘UGG’, in 1997 Nick and Kath sold UK rights to the ‘UGG’ trademark, which funded the move to a larger workshop and warehouse space. They changed the name to Celtic Sheepskin Ltd at this time – then in 2013, the name was changed again to Celtic & Co as a way of retaining their distinctive heritage but also to reflect the wider product range.
Nick and Kath
The style of boot that Nick and Kath initially chose to design was inspired by north Cornwall’s rugged landscape of steep cliffs and crashing surf, and it’s a landscape that still inspires the collections today. The idea was to design a supremely comfortable sheepskin boot to keep surfers’ toes warm in the depths of winter, and be machine washable to remove tidemarks.
As she reminisces on the company’s humble beginnings, Kath smiles and says: “With determination to create a living in our home town of Newquay, we decided to try our hand at making footwear from British sheepskin, for the surfers the area so famously attracts. Renting a small building in the middle of Newquay and employing just one seamstress to start with, we produced sheepskin boots, known as the Original Celt Boot. The response was incredible and we couldn’t make enough of them! One day, a keen customer came in requesting a pair of slippers to be made for him, so we tried it. The customer was thrilled and this was the birth of our best-selling product of all time – the Bootee slipper, still made today.”
As I admire the various styles, the classic design stands out due to sheer comfort; the soft boot allows you to encase your toes in the warmth of sheepskin, with an inner lining that cradles your feet in a cosy embrace that’s as close as you can get to walking on clouds. The lightweight and durable design provides support with a dedication to comfort that stems from years of experience hand crafting these stunning designs, and the overall quality of the product is exceptional.
Twenty nine years on, Celtic & Co is still handcrafting boots, slippers and flip flops the traditional way, but is also now renowned for a range of clothing and soft furnishings made from the finest natural fibres, with understated luxury being the hallmark of the brand. “We believe our customers buy into a brand, not just a product. They love the fact we are British, many of our customers from overseas have ties to our little island, and even have fond memories of holidays by the sea in Cornwall. Ethical sourcing and British manufacture is close to our hearts and, we believe, ensures the quality of our items.”
In regards to the design process it’s clear that sustainability is a core aspect of the business. Nick elaborates: “The ethos of Celtic & Co from the beginning has been to sustainably manufacture and source suppliers. 75% of our suppliers are based in the UK and we make all our sheepskin boots and slippers in our factory in Newquay, so we really keep our garment miles to a minimum and our carbon footprint as small as possible. Additionally, because sheepskin is a by-product of the UK’s farming industry, we are utilising a resource that would otherwise be disposed of. If sheepskins aren’t used they need to be incinerated at very high temperatures. There are only around 10 of these incineration facilities in the UK meaning that even the process of transporting the skins generates a high carbon footprint and is a costly process for UK farmers. By purchasing the skins, we are helping local farmers make a profit from this otherwise wasted part of the animal.”
All the components of sheepskin boots and slippers, apart from the soles, are consciously sourced from within Great Britain. The local sourcing ensures that the company builds strong relationships with its suppliers and knows that they are ethical. Celtic & Co also only buy from farms that operate within the highest standards of animal welfare, and the company has worked with its suppliers for decades, forming relationships they can trust.
It’s refreshing to see a company as successful as Celtic & Co be so committed to sustainability. The fashion industry is notorious for waste, with some of the most exclusive high fashion designers choosing to burn warehouses full of clothes instead of allowing them to flood the market, and a fast fashion culture that sees outfits worn for one evening and never again. Therefore, for Celtic & Co to avidly promote slow fashion and sustainability is a step forward in the right direction. Furthermore, as part of this commitment, the company provides a resole and repair service, allowing you to give your boots a new lease of life and encouraging consumers to repair, re-use and restore products rather than throwing them away.
In 2018 Celtic & Co were given the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category – the highest official UK award for British businesses. “As a company this is the pinnacle of our achievements so far,” says Nick.
“Being recognised within the UK for our contribution to the economy has given us more to aspire to as we continue to grow.” As well as growing the trade side of the business, Celtic & Co is also looking into creating an even better experience for international customers, allowing them to navigate the website in their own language. Production in the factory has increased to match the rising demand and the Celtic & Co team are in the midst of their biggest and most exciting autumn and winter collection to date, offering yet more styles to the ranges of outerwear, footwear and homeware.
It’s an exciting time for Celtic & Co and the company continues to go from strength to strength. Having developed from relatively humble beginnings, Nick, Kath and the team have an inspirational approach to fashion with an ethos that revolves around high quality products with sustainability at the core of everything that they do. Collectively, the company is making changes both within the business and throughout wider operations to promote a more sustainable fashion future. Kath elaborates: “Although our range, turnover, staff and premises have all grown over the last 29 years, the core values of the brand remain the same: to only ever use sustainable natural fibres, to always source suppliers as close to home as possible, and to create high-quality pieces that are designed to last.”