On a recent trip away I was sat with some fellow journalists and I was explaining what ‘The Holborn’ was about and what we stand for. While talking about a ‘well-made life’ one of the group interjected and asked me what was the one of the best products I had come across recently. I think they were expecting me to say a certain pair of hand-crafted shoes or a silk pocket square; but seemed pleasantly surprised when I said a pair of kitchen scissors.
That pair of scissors were made from the finest steel, namely Sheffield Steel and made by the very talented craftsman at Ernest Wright & Son Ltd. The Sheffield-based company have recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring back a popular design from the 1960s. We got in touch with head honcho Nick Wright to find out more about the business, Sheffield steel and their Kickstarter campaign.
Can you tell us a bit of the history of Ernest Wright & Son Ltd and your story within the company?
My great-great-grandfather Walter was a ‘Little Mester’ in Sheffield in the 1800s. A little master was a skilled outworker who would perform specific tasks (say, blade grinding) for the larger companies in our famous Sheffield cutlery trade. My great-grandfather Ernest Wright formed our company as fully-finished scissor-makers in 1902, and then his son (my grandfather) joined him. Hence, Ernest Wright and Son Limited! I proudly took over the family business as managing director, from my father, in 2012.
What makes Ernest Wright & Son products special?
What make our scissors special are both our raw ingredient (Sheffield steel!) and our highly skilled and talented workforce. We begin with well designed, high quality ‘hot-drop’ forgings; and we craft those – by hand, hammer, and wheel – into really excellent cutting tools. ‘Putting-together’ (setting the two blades to cut in perfect harmony) is in particular an incredible skill. All our products are designed and hand-made to work perfectly – and to spend a lifetime (or two) doing that as well.
What was the impetus for a traditional established company like yourselves to harness the power of a platform like Kickstarter?
Life has not been as easy recently for the Sheffield cutlery trade as it was, say, before the 1980s. The globalisation of manufacturing (including scissors, etc.) and the influx of “cheaper” products was all but decimating to our local trade for quite a while. Fortunately, a few highly-skilled companies kept the famous ‘Made in Sheffield’ authentication and world-class qualities alive; and have since passed those on to new generations – and even genres – of makers. Unfortunately though, the local ‘infrastructure’ may have forgotten about us a little bit along the way – support, investment, and promotion haven’t always been the easiest of things to find of late.
However, due to a ‘documentary’ film about us (“The Putter”, by local photographer Shaun Bloodworth) going unexpectedly web-viral in 2014, a lot of Americans wrote in and said “We thought Made in Sheffield had disappeared. And boy, we love that stuff!!”.
Let’s say all that got me thinking; both about the power of the internet, and the theory that Made in Sheffield could still be a celebrated brand worldwide. Kickstarter seemed the perfect place to test out that theory. And judging by the truly international support for the project already, it would seem it really isn’t just a theory after all! I will be so pleased, and very proud indeed, if the Kickstarter project lands REALLY successfully in September. But remember, that’s not over just yet.
Can you tell us more about Kutrite pattern; why was it previously retired, and why have you decided to bring it back?
Well I grew up with our Kutrite pattern of kitchen scissors at home – they were always there, trusty and reliable, in the kitchen drawer. I remember cutting through a half-penny with a pair once as a schoolboy. That pair did end up going for repair, and I got a thick ear for it too, but we did cut that poor coin into “quarter-peaces”! All my family and parent’s friends had these scissors too – given as wedding presents and so on over the years.
Then, as I explained about the 80s/90s dip in the trade, this pattern got retired for some economy reason. The thing is, all the friends and relatives have kept popping back in after decades, to have them sharpened or something – or to buy another gift pair particularly! – and it has always kept me reminded as to how loved these are when you own a pair.
Sheffield is a city famed for its steel, how important for you is it for you to still be based there? And how is the health of Sheffield’s manufacturing industry?
In the 1960s there were over 40,000 people working in the famous Sheffield cutlery industry. As I’ve said, that industry was hugely reduced in the globalisation period during the 80s, but you’ll find a few excellent examples of companies in each trade still (knives, tables cutlery, saws, tools, razors, machine knives, medical, etc) that have kept the Made in Sheffield brand alive. The quality has always been legendary from this city, and I am hugely proud to be a part of that with our scissor-making company. We are Cutlers. I do love Sheffield, as does virtually everyone who lives here.
Can you tell us a bit more about your small but perfectly formed team in Sheffield.
Cliff and Eric are our über-skilled masters. They have both been hand-making scissors for well over 50 years apiece. Jamie is our senior apprentice, with four and a half years of experience under his belt now of learning from Cliff and Eric, and is soon to be pronounced a ‘scissor-maker’ in his own right. He’s very good, and very committed. Dan has been with us two and a half years now and is also showing fantastic progress. Sam started with us at Christmas and is already getting really stuck in too! Lovely Pam (our “Office Mummy”) is in admin, and Simon runs our little factory shop and manages all the internet orders. We’re genuinely a happy little working family.
We often say at Holborn HQ ‘he who buys cheap buys twice’ but other than that obvious economic reason why should be people buy well-made, locally produced artisan products like your excellent scissors?
You can buy three pairs of ‘stamped’ scissors in a pack from a pound shop these days. They bend when you cut paper with them, or generally refuse to cut after a very short time. You might not use scissors every ten minutes I grant, but it is so frustrating whenever you do and they don’t work! We see our super quality, super sharp, lifetime-lasting scissors as not just an investment, but a satisfying and fulfilling product to own and use. And our customers certainly seem to agree!
What does ‘A Well Made Life’ mean to you?
Look at our Cliff and Eric. They have been making scissors, “man and boy”, each since they were 15 years old. They would, and do, say that they have lived a fulfilled life; and still in their 70’s have their health, relative wealth, pride, and genuine happiness. And even if semi-part-time now, they steadfastly refuse to retire. They both, as they say, still like to ‘keep their hand in’. Surely that must truly define ‘A Life Well Made’!?
Interview by Morgan Hamilton-Griffin