We are always fascinated about what makes the people behind our favourite brands tick and we couldn't think of anyone we'd like to chat to more than Wendy Goode - the lady behind our feathers...
How & why did you start making feather accessories?
I started making feather pins when I first moved to Strathdon, Aberdeenshire some 16 years ago. It was very much pheasant country and unfortunately, for the pheasants, loads of roadkill. Well the colours were quite spectacular so as often as I could I was picking up and popping the carcass into my car, or if I was on the way out, I would hide them in an obvious place along the road and pick them up on my way back. Once I picked my mother up from the airport and we must have stopped 5 times on our way home to collect them. She was rather horrified seeing these birds alongside her luggage. Today, she doesn’t bat an eye, as like most mums she is proud of where I have got too all these years along.
At this stage I had newly arrived back from South Africa where our family had emigrated in ’69. In S.A. I used to encase feathers in bevelled glass and I used to make the most wonderful feather mirrors. (Some of my talents I have already forgotten about and it sounds like I am talking about another life here) smile. (I will try and send you a pic of a 20 year old mirror now in the downstairs loo).
So I guess I have always had a leaning to feathers and glass.
Where do the feathers themselves come from?
Today I could no longer maintain my business if I existed on roadkill alone. Before we moved to Shetland I had various Aberdeenshire gamekeepers that I used to visit and bartered for plucking the feathers before the birds went through the plucking machine, which reduces feathers to fluff, and prepares for the table. This too became more difficult the busier I became as it’s a full time job plucking and sorting and cleaning. Today my time is more valuable in the workshop and its rare I get to pluck birds. So when the time came to consider moving to Shetland I had a system in place.
Has anybody famous worn your feathers? Who would you most like to see wearing one of your designs?
Yes, some years back the Duchess of Rothesay (Camilla) bought a few of my hats with feathers, and Billy Conolly’s wife, Pamela Stevenson has bought from my stand when we still did The Highland Games. Fiona Kennedy, the Scottish singer loved my feathers and one year bought every single Peacock feather I had made for the Scone Game fair, for her daughters 21stfeather and tiara party. That year everyone wanted peacocks at the show, typical. I am sure over the years there have been many famous faces, I know I commissioned loads for tophats for specific equestrian events and we were often besieged by entire bands when we attended Belladrum music festival. Such an unlikely venue but one of our busiest shows. I think I could make a piece fit for a queen? Whether it be this one or the next.
How long does it take from design inception to finish?
Lets see, I can have an idea floating around for days and I wait until I know which feathers would work before I make time away from everyday commitments before I play. I call this playing as part of me feels rather guilty putting orders aside for creative time. Some work and others don’t, either way its fun and necessary, when it works it I have happy clients.
I guess my stock feather takes about 45 minutes, this is excluding the base. My daughter gives me a hand making the copper cones. Here I order the base copper from Germany and we cut mould and solder into a cone shape, before we solder the pin on. We also use cartridges and bullets which we convert for feather vessels. All told, each feather pin leaving my workshop has taken at least an hour.
Where do you get your design inspiration from now?
Every year I tell myself that I have exhausted all possible designs and there is no way I can possibly come up with a new original feather pin, yet I do. Where the ideas come from I just couldn’t say, but they come! Recently I noticed a feather worn by one of M & G customers, immediately, I spot bits i'm not so keen on and then go back to the think tank to improve on an original idea. Melanie and Chris and their wonderful team are very much hands on at all the events, whereas I tend to be workshop bound and live on a small island so I do depend an awful lot on their feedback.
Perhaps the obvious answer would be my environment, but living on an island with not a tree nor pheasant in sight means I need to draw on my imagination. We do have miles and miles of heather covering most of the peat land with very few fences and many many sheep. I love the stark beauty of the landscape and love knowing that I am certainly the most Northerly feather pin maker in the U.K.
What are your favourite feathers to work with?
Pheasant feathers all day long! The cock pheasant has the most wonderful autumn colours, these are what I first loved and today I still marvel at what nature has produced. The Hen pheasant is less of a looker but I do make lovely pins with her. Then you have the Melanistic or some call it the Polish pheasant. These colours are just perfect iridescent blues and greens, if these feathers are seen in full sun they are perfection! Sadly they can also look dull and dark in the wrong light, this is why I always try and intersperse the melanistic with the light hen, that way the two complement each other. The other pheasant I work with all the time is the Golden pheasant. How one bird can have vibrant, reds, oranges, yellows greens and blues is just beyond me. Not only are the feathers so striking but each colour has a totally different shape/structure to the next, all on one bird! Yep, I still get excited after 16 years.
What does a typical Wendy Goode day look like?
Generally, I like to be in the workshop/office by nine, in order to do my emails and make calls. I seem to be far more creative late at night, so sometimes it is easier said than done. Chris always does the early morning dog walk and I will do the easier one later in the day, probably a stroll down to the beach or a quick detour to the loch on the way to the post office. We have 2 adorable and very well behaved active springers. They have both grown up to be amongst the feathers and take it in their stride to sit closest to the heater in the workshop. I tend to spend all my hours in the workshop and often get my meals delivered to me on the first floor by my wonderful partner Chris. We often joke as Chris bring me my morning tea in bed and then I just have to go thru the inter-leading bathroom to the workshop, there are days when I don’t leave the first floor until the afternoon. I try and set daily targets but this is where creativity and business clash, because although I need to do fixed numbers of pins per day I will never force it, I would rather delay and work later when my energies are better. I do believe that I must enjoy my work otherwise it is kind of pointless and it shows. In a nutshell, I get up, make feathers, go to bed. Haha.
If you weren’t making feathers what would you be doing?
Whew! I have no idea. I certainly know that I wouldn’t be working in the corporate world again. Nor would I have a boss. I do fancy farming mushrooms and sprouting seeds or get back into hat making.
What is your favourite thing to do outside of the workshop?
Living on the Isle of Yell, we have no trees, due to the high winds we experience, so my new fetish is collecting sea glass and pottery on my walks. I can visit a new beach every day so I have gotten to know the beaches and which beach has glass or certain shells. I am loving making sea glass bowls and mussel kilt pins. Random I know!
What other small businesses do you love & why?
Living on an island with under 1000 people we do tend to shop online. As shopping is determined by who is prepared to post to Shetland without adding a surcharge, we are rather limited. I haven’t left the island for over a year now, so as you can imagine my shopping needs are few. We are currently doing up a very old house so most businesses we deal with are for kitchens and bathrooms and paint and carpets!!
All of the wonderful pictures in this blog are from the seriously talented Lindsay Robertson Photography