A Cut Above the Rest

Ernest Wright & Sons - Sheffield

As I write this post, a pair of ‘Ernest Wright & Sons’ 6-inch clothwork scissors are lying on the desk in front of me. After spending the day filming their workshop in Sheffield, we were kindly given a pair each from Nick Wright, the latest descendant of the Wright family to take the reigns of this historic company.

I feel slightly ignorant. Prior to our visit I wouldn’t have appreciated the rich history that lies behind this piece of steel before me. It’s a story that not only spans the rise and fall of industrial prowess in Sheffield, but details the passage of a company down generational lines.

In many respects, Ernest Wright and Sons (EW&S) is the last of a dying breed. Forty years ago, numerous traditional scissormakers would have populated the streets of Sheffield. However with the rise of competition abroad and a decline in the number of skilled apprentices, EW&S is one of the last bastions of scissor making. Of course, a similar story can be applied to numerous other manufacturers and industries that flourished from the steel production Sheffield was renowned for. Unfortunately it would seem that there are only a handful of these heritage manufacturers that can still make ends meet in today’s world of mass production and automated processes.

Spending the day learning about the people and techniques behind traditional scissor production has altered my perception of this gift in front of me. It’s a brand new pair, but the traditional style suggests they could have been a feature of my desk space for years. The light reflects off the smooth stainless steel, defining the contours of the bows and blade. Below the screw that joins the two halves together, I can just make out the laser cut calligraphy of the company name. I curl my fingers into the bows and attempt to cut the air. The blades oppose each so closely that is almost seems like they’re in competition. The contrast against the anaemic nature of my workspace – Mac, notebook, coffee – is stark.

For companies such as Ernest Wright & Sons, the biggest challenge they face is remaining competitive in a market full of cheap imitations and poor quality products. The attraction of EW&S is their company heritage and high quality. However the difficulty lies in attracting new customers both in the UK and abroad.

The potential of online media to promote a brand is clearly massive, however sometimes it can be a chance video that can suddenly generate a huge following. For EW&S this happened when a local filmmaker produced a short video entitled ‘The Putter’ that detailed the work of the highly skilled ‘Putter Togetherer’ – a key stage of the scissor making process. Initially intended simply for historical documentation, the video went viral and sent their orderbook into overdrive.

This was followed by a BBC interview and a lucrative place on the BBC homepage which only added to the resurgence in orders the company experienced. Of course, EW&S is well known in the ‘Arts & Craft’ world and has enjoyed exposure in the likes of Craft magazine  as well as Monocle. Nick himself frequents all the major craft shows (with what sounds like celebrity status), in order to extol the wares of his company.

I’d like to finish with one of the more poignant moments of our visit to EW&S. Aside from the rich history of the company, there is a much more personal, family element to what EW&S is about. Nick only recently took over running the company after working in other industries and roles over the years. We asked what brought him back to this modest business, vying to compete with big business and multi-national manufacturers. To put it simply, it was his love for the place. The smell of the oil that hadn’t changed since he was a boy, the putters and apprentices who had known him his whole life, they weren’t his employees and he wasn’t their boss. They were family.

We only spent a day at Ernest Wright & Sons. We would have needed weeks to be able to tell you all the stories that place has to offer. All we can say is, if you’re ever in the market for a pair of scissors, consider EW&S. You never know, it may be the last pair of scissors you ever have to buy.