MD of Ernest Wright and Sons
Nick Wright is the Managing Director of Sheffield family firm Ernest Wright & Son, one of the last traditional scissor manufacturers in the world.
Viral Video Resurrection
(Or, how we rebuilt our old fashioned manufacturing business on the back of an arty video)
Things have been tough for traditional Sheffield industries, especially those which rely on skills first forged hundreds of years ago.
That was especially true for Sheffield scissor maker Ernest Wright and Sons.
Wholesale markets for their quality product dried up as cheap imports from Asia filled supermarket shelves. We’ve heard the same story a thousand times in Sheffield and in 2014 it looked like the writing was on the wall for the firm started by Nick Wright’s great grandfather in 1902.
An hour in their small factory is an experience that everyone should have. Watching Nick’s master ‘putter togetherers’ and their apprentices going about their work is a visceral experience of flames and sparks that gradually gives way to the gentle tip-tap and snick of the finished par of gleaming scissors being tested by hand and eye for perfection. Nothing leaves the workbench until the Masters are happy that every pair is perfect in every way.
But surely, scissors are scissors? Well, yes, and no.
When you pick up a pair of their kitchen scissors the first thing you notice is the weight – they have some. Not in an uncomfortable way, but in a reassuringly solid way that seems to connect with the hand. Maybe it’s the cool smoothness of the metal that feels so different from the cheap handled plastic tat most of us have in our kitchen drawer. Whatever it is, something of the craft of the putter-togetherer seems to transfer through the fingers. Where other scissors need manipulating this way and that, Wright’s scissors seem to take over and follow wherever your eyes are looking. These are different from everything else that calls itself scissors. Very different.
The same seems true of their delicate embroidery scissors but in a different way. These teeny gold plated scissors are fashioned in the shape of a stork, complete with feathers, eyes, and a beak that opens as the blades. These are as light as the kitchen scisors are solid, but again they seem to follow the eye accurately to shear like a razor into the most delicate places.
Back to the problem though, people had stopped buying Ernest Wright scissors because they didn’t know better. In 2014 they sold less than a thousand pairs, less than an afternoon’s production in a Chinese factory.
Then Shaun Bloodworth knocked on the factory door.
Shaun is a filmmaker and he was looking for a traditional industry to for the subject of a new short film backed by the University of Sheffield. He makes the sort of films that other people don’t think of, the type of film that catch your eye with a subject that you ever knew interested you. Short. Snappy. Delicate. Incisive. In other words, art.
Nick isn’t an artist. The putter togetherers aren’t either. They have black buffing muck under their fingernails and machine oil staining their clothes. Somehow this unlikely combination agreed to make a film. It’s called The Putter. The film that they made was the start of a new chapter in the history Ernest Wright and Sons.
Nick will share the story, warts and all.