Take to the skies in an Airbus, hop on-board a Virgin train or sit inside a Jaguar and your comfort comes courtesy of a local manufacturer whose story pre-dates even the Paisley pattern.
For Bridge of Weir Leather – which can trace its roots to 1758 – supplies the finest leather to the greatest global brands as part of Scottish Leather Group. The group boasts a £150million turnover and has more than 660 employees, including an academy supporting the next generation.
Scottish Leather Group Director is James Lang, born in Paisley and now living in Kilmacolm. We asked James, chair of Renfrewshire’s Economic Leadership Panel, to share his story and outline what he sees as key to the area’s future economic success.
The family connection is why I’m here. I had an older cousin who was destined to come into the business, before Scottish Leather Group was established, in Langs in Paisley. He got given a round the world ticket for his 18th, reached Australia and never came back, so I wasn’t allowed out the town, never mind out the country.
I wanted to be a lawyer, but father decreed I was far too stupid for that, so I went into the tannery, working on the shop floor. I went on to study in Northampton at the only place that teaches leather technology in the whole of the English-speaking world.
When I came back, I found it very difficult working with my father and my uncle as I was expected to know everything, so after a while I was dispatched to Glasgow to Andrew Muirhead and Son. I eventually became Managing Director there and ten years ago I transferred to Scottish Leather Group.
We have invested heavily in all of our sites and continue to do so. We are now the largest leather manufacturer in the UK and we try to adopt best practice in everything we do. We have a lower carbon footprint than any other company in the leather industry which is ground-breaking.
We’re very proud of our academy which is now on the fourth intake of apprentices. Those guys who have come through that process are our best ambassadors, every one of them. They are getting opportunities in manufacturing, that their parents didn’t get, like studying at university.
“There is now a general concensus that we can achieve something special…”
Manufacturing now offers high-skilled, high-tech career opportunities and I’m delighted that the National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland is coming to Renfrewshire. It’s exciting to have manufacturing innovation based locally and the development of the advanced manufacturing district by the airport will put Renfrewshire out in front.
I see Renfrewshire as up and coming and there’s a positivity that wasn’t there before as a result of the excellent bid for UK City of Culture. We are keen that we as a company play our part in what’s happening.
I’m quite clear we have to make Paisley a destination where people want to go and where they can achieve something they couldn’t do elsewhere. We’re starting to do that through the cultural events and now we must go further and be braver, getting people to make things in Paisley that are unique to us and even better that celebrate our heritage, whether that’s leather handbags or paisley patterned products.
There is now a general consensus that we can achieve something special and the economic leadership panel, with such diverse interests represented, provides an opportunity to work together towards a common goal.
I see the council focused on the issues, people’s attitudes are changing and business leaders have a view now that we can make a difference. When businesses are talking to each other and working with each other, then better things will happen.