We chatted with Freytag Anderson about their recent re-branding project for knitwear accessory manufacturer Robert Mackie. We thought it would be really interesting to hear about their influences and what they had to take into consideration when designing for this heritage brand. They've picked up some really good tips along the way.

Talk us through the rebrand - what was the brief, and how did you approach it?

MACKIE is a premium manufacturer of knitted accessories with various different strands to its business. The company makes wholesale knitwear on its own account, undertakes collaborations with retail brands, and manufactures and designs for prestigious customers. MACKIE is still making the traditional Glengarry and Balmoral ‘bonnets’ for which it was established in 1845.

This business model meant that the MACKIE brand initially felt quite disparate. We were asked to consolidate, modernise and articulate its different parts. We also needed to create a website which better represented the brand and was straightforward to use for MACKIE’s primarily trade audiences.

Photo Credit : Mackie / Reuben Paris

What influences did you find useful for the design?

MACKIE has a fascinating history in the Scottish textile industry and has played a part in Stewarton’s reputation as the ‘bonnet toun’ since 1845. The factory is known for technically very difficult, colourfully patterned knits and we wanted to let the garments speak for themselves. Plain serif lettering and a monochrome palette did this in a way that felt clean, modern, impactful, but also a natural evolution of MACKIE’s historic brand identity.

MACKIE also had an archive of irresistibly idiosyncratic heritage labels from various points in the 20th century. They all used a thistle motif, which we re-interpreted as an elegant modern craft mark: avoiding the Scottish cliches, yet instantly recognisable and still distinctly Scottish. This was backed up by a provenance legend for each label application.

Are there elements of the design that are different when marrying together a company that helps other brands manufacture textiles, but also produces its own range?

As the cornerstones of a strong brand architecture we created two distinct labels: one for collaborations and traditional headwear, and one for MACKIE’s own-brand products. (Garments created to other brands’ designs are white-label.) These labels were each distinctive in their own right but linked through font, layout and the use of the MACKIE craft mark.

For collaborations and traditional product a sense of provenance is an important selling point, hence the legend: Robert Mackie of Scotland / Since 1845. For own-brand product, targeting a fashion-aware end consumer, we simplified ‘Robert Mackie of Scotland’ to a confident MACKIE. Provenance wording was retained here too: the product’s Scottish origins is popular in MACKIE’s core international markets.

Photo credit Mackie / Reuben Paris

What was your favourite part of working on the project?

In terms of its history alone MACKIE is a really special brand. There aren’t many companies that can tell a story like it can tell. For its Glengarries and Balmorals, the factory is still using the same processes - even some of the same tools - that it did two hundred years ago. It’s an interesting place to walk around.

History aside, the complex brand architecture was an interesting one to get our teeth into. There was a deep satisfaction in knitting together its various strands so cleanly and simply… excuse the pun!

Photo credit Mackie / Reuben Paris

What questions should manufacturers be trying to answer with their website?

There are two sets of questions which make a good website.

Firstly: the practicalities. Why is the user visiting the site? What do they want to know? For the majority of manufacturers, the answer will be the same: the product, the price, and how to get it. Ask yourself how people find this information, in the few seconds they’re likely to spend on your site. What’s the cleanest, simplest, most intuitive way to show it?

Secondly: the emotive sell. Why should people buy your product, rather than someone else's?

The visual language of your site and brand should say everything about why it’s special.

Storytelling through engaging content can bring credibility to your products and people. People like to get a sense of the ingenuity that’s created what they’re buying. Give them a glimpse behind the scenes!

And show the product in its end environment. Why is it useful or aspirational? How does it enhance its buyers’ lives? Even if your direct customer is not the end consumer, you want to show them the desirability of your product.

With this in mind, cleverly used film and photography on your website can work alongside social media - linking with live Insta-feeds and the like - to suggest the right messages and tones for your brand. Does your product have topical relevance? Are you a friendly brand or a practical or a sophisticated one (or something else entirely)? What do your customers’ lives look like with your product in them?

Photo credit Mackie / Reuben Paris

How do you think manufacturers value the web as a way to reach new audiences?

Businesses as a whole are much more aware of the value of a good website. But in our experience, there’s not as much clarity on what that constitutes! Often it takes a fresh perspective to point out what’s missing, confused, misleading or off-brand. We see a lot of websites that don’t make nearly enough use of imagery, for a start. People buy with their eyes and good photography, well deployed, can really showcase a product.

That links to the role of social media. Photography and video can sell both an interesting making process and the lifestyle or environment you want to associate with your product. An image-led platform such as Instagram can link with your website and has a strong role to play in building brand presence in the end-consumer market. If the consumer demand is there, the retailers will buy.

What’s the role of a website for a factory?

It’s the end source for core information such as product catalogues. But it’s also a chance to tell the story of the manufacture and source materials (ie. demonstrating quality and USP). And whether the end environment is heavy industry or aspirational living, it should suggest the markets the product can reach. 

You’re trying to demonstrate how your product will benefit your buyers. The re-sale potential it offers, the value for spend that will appeal to end consumers, and the breadth and variety and longevity of market demand.

This was certainly reflected in the MACKIE project. Through languid imagery, under a coherent brand, we communicate the experience of wearing these beautiful lambswools alongside a set of practical tools that let the re-seller make informed choices about product ordering.

Photo credit Mackie / Reuben Paris

Did you get a chance to visit the factory? Did you learn something new about manufacturing while you were there?

Yes - we visited the factory on a number of occasions. It has an amazing range of equipment - from state-of-the-art multi-gauge machinery to wooden bonnet lasts that are still in use. The variety of what MACKIE can produce is bewildering - and every part of the manufacturing process is handled in-house.

There are many more stages in the manufacturing process than the layperson might know about. We met locals working at all stages of the process: pattern design, machine knitting, hat- and glove-making, make-up, washing/drying, label sewing. Years of experience is needed just for the selection of the yarns. It’s certainly given us a new appreciation of our winter woollens!

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