Durability knocks guernsey sales
Monday 3rd January 2005, 12:00AM GMT.
THE traditional Guernsey jumper is a victim of its own success. Producer Le Tricoteur has had to diversify to cope with declining demand because the jumpers last so long.
The windproof and shower-proof garments are passed down through generations and have been sent out to soldiers in Iraq, to transatlantic sailors and even to royalty.
‘We have very few local buyers now because they last too long. Some people come back after 15 years and ask us to re-knit the neck for them,’ said owner Neil Sexton.
He bought the company in 1973 when it was based at Pitronnerie Road, before moving to Perelle about 15 years ago. The range of knitwear is also sold in the Mill Street shop.
Mr Sexton said that demand from visitors had declined as tourist numbers dwindled.
To try and encourage people to come to the shop, and especially during the winter, he has a gift shop and a section which sells other ranges of clothing other than its own knitwear, including ethnic styles and various surf and skateboard makes.
Being able to see the jumpers being made on the traditional machines behind the glass and then watch one of the hand finishers at work is still part of the appeal.
Olive Sarre, 73, has been working for Le Tricoteur for 30 years. An image of her knitting features on a tea towel.
Three times a week she goes to the shop to finish the guernseys and is also one of many who finishes them at home.
‘I talk to all the visitors and they are always interested to hear patois and talk to me and what it was like to be here during the war. I knit at home, too, to relax, and could probably just about do it in my sleep.’
She was taught to knit by her mother just after the Second World War. They started selling a few guernseys at a small shop and then moved to Le Tricoteur. Since then she has made thousands of jumpers.
‘It used to just be the original navy, but over the years different colours have come in and now we also sell some in cotton and indigo denim,’ she said.
The traditional blue remains the most popular choice and represents about two-thirds of those sold.
The new mix of linen and cotton jumpers have grown in popularity because they can be machine washed and tumble dried and the shop has diversified to sell zip jackets and roll necks.
‘I think there will always be a market for the guernsey, albeit a dwindling one,’ said Mr Sexton.
‘Knitwear is not fashionable anymore, people prefer other materials like fleeces, but then there are a lot of people who live in theirs and would not dream of wearing anything else.’
The export market is a large part of the shop’s turnover with a lot of the sales being made over the Internet.
The biggest export market over the last five to 10 years has been Japan – Le Tricoteur features on the Sony mail order catalogue.
‘We did an exhibition and picked up an agent and they in turn supplied six or seven accounts in Japan,’ said Mr Sexton.
‘We also mail-order to probably every country in the world. We used to do a lot to New Zealand, Australia and America, but we were knocked sideways by the new postal rates which are so much more expensive.’
Regular buyers include the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, to whom Le Tricoteur supplies a particular green guernsey. They were also asked to supply oatmeal jumpers to a regiment which went to Iraq last year so that the troops could cope with the cold nights.
‘We have also made jumpers for royalty,’ said Mr Sexton.
‘We had a call from Harrods, saying, ﾓIt’s for royaltyﾔ, in hushed tones.’
Several of the British challengers in the America’s Cup yacht race have worn guernseys and when Richard Branson attempted the powerboat Atlantic sea speed record, Le Tricoteur supplied his guernsey.