Shop has a worldwide market for its rug kits
BEHIND an unassuming Penzance shopfront a business has grown to become a market leader in its very specialist trade.
Iriss in Chapel Street is one of those shops where you could spend hours looking at what's on offer even if you don't know what it is – but behind the knitting wool and haberdashery is a firm leading the world in pure wool rug-making kits.
The craft might not be as popular as in its heyday in the Forties and Fifties but there's still a healthy online demand that Mariarosa Martin and David Gray, the team behind Iriss, have capitalised on.
It's the official Singer repair centre for the area, having taken over the Singer haberdasher's in nearby Queen Street, and David supplies and maintains the sewing machines used for the Golowan banner-making workshops each year, which create the colourful flags that adorn the seafront and town centre.
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The shop thrives on enthusiasts who will travel large distances to pick up the wool, thread, tools or patterns they need – but business is even better online.
As competitors have moved into new areas, Iriss has found its latch-hook rug-making kits selling to a global clientele. "People from all over the world who first found us online come and visit us so that they can feel the wool," said Mariarosa. The kits use pure British and New Zealand wool sourced by Iriss and the company is also heavily involved in the campaign to reinvigorate the British wool market.
Designs by Mariarosa, who came to the UK from Austria in the Sixties, will feature in a show in Glastonbury this month staged as part of the Great British Wool Revival.
"There's a big push on for British wool at the moment," said David. "British farmers have had a rough deal for a long time and we're part of a campaign to get people using British wool again."
Part of Iriss's expansion has seen it take on a unit at the Long Rock Industrial Estate, where Mariarosa will shortly begin offering lessons in needle felting – creating patterns on wool garments or rugs with felt. "I've been in this business all my life," she said. "I've been in this shop since 1986, and I've always taught."
At the moment the unit is housing a clearance sale of hand-knitted display garments, beads and fabrics to help free up space for the business to expand.
"The way things have gone with the internet we need less retail space and more storage space," said Mariarosa.
"We've used the unit for two years for manufacturing. We're having a clearance sale there; then we'll be using it for storage and teaching."