To be honest, I find a lot of “heritage marketing” tiresome. Everyone wants some deep, storied history, even if they have to borrow or invent it. Every once in a while, however, you find out a little bit more about a place or company, and it gives you a new sense of appreciation for what they do. My latest find is this documentary clip on Inishmeain (or Inis Meain in Irish, meaning “middle island.”). Inishmeain is one of the three Aran Islands located off the west coast of Ireland, seated just in the mouth of the Galway Bay. In his book, The Aran Islands, John Millington Synge wrote about it in stark and graphic terms. Residents are constantly waterlogged by thunderous storms and crashing waves, but despite such violent sea-tempests, the area seemed quite idyllic. Women were described as being in deep-red petticoats, bracken gleamed after the rains, and men rowed together in curraches (a type of Irish boat that looks like a canoe). That kind of peacefulness and beauty comes out really well in this video.
The island has a whooping population of 160, and in that relatively small group of people is the sixteen person team that comprises one of my favorite knitwear companies, also named Inis Meain (after the island, obviously). Long ago, they were just one of the island’s many knitting co-ops, but at some point, Tarlach de Blacam, a non-native Irishman who came to do community development, began heading the operation. Though he retained the local knowledge and knitting expertise, he also introduced new machinery; substituted local yarns with British wool, Italian cashmere, and South American baby alpaca; and injected a bit of savvy business know-how. Before long, the co-op became a luxury knitwear brand with an international cult following.