I went to Cardigan… for a pair of jeans: Discovering how a Welsh town is taking on the world’s fashion capitals
- Cardigan’s once derelict denim factory is now home to fashion brand Hiut
- It’s a hip, hand-crafted jeans line worn by Ant and Dec and Meghan Markle
- People drop by every Friday to meet staff and be measured for their perfect pair
The homely market town of Cardigan has suffered its fair share of knocks over the years. Once a booming port, its prosperity dwindled with the shift to the railway in the late 19th Century.
Later, its fortunes became inextricably tied to the town’s denim factory, which churned out 35,000 pairs of jeans every week for firms such as M&S over nearly 40 years. When production moved to cheaper Morocco in 2002, the factory closed, devastating the local economy and leaving 400 of the 4,000 population unemployed.
Yet recently, this remote corner of West Wales has quietly rebuilt itself as a progressive, arty enclave, with all the charms of Cornwall, for instance, but none of the crowds. The quayside has been rebuilt, old shopfronts restored and its Norman castle given a £12 million makeover.
Arty enclave: The charming streets of homely Cardigan are lined with bunting
The duchess of denim: Meghan in her Hiut jeans
Now there’s bunting strung down a high street lined with independent cafes, craft shops and galleries. Walk five minutes out of town and Cardigan’s future seems even rosier: the once derelict denim factory is now home to Hiut, a hip, hand-crafted jeans line worn by Ant and Dec and Meghan Markle (hiutdenim.co.uk).
Owner David Hieatt and his wife Clare now have a staff of 26, and say their aim is to get the workforce back up to 400. ‘When we decided to open in 2012, it wasn’t about us. It was about getting this town making jeans again. These people all have such incredible skills – we produce some of the best jeans on the planet.’
Around 200 pairs are lovingly handmade each week and sold online for upwards of £130. Most are made from hard-wearing, raw indigo denim which naturally softens, fades and creases with every wear to make an entirely bespoke pair.
People also drop by every Friday to nose around the factory, meet staff and be measured for their perfect pair.
It’s a world away from the usual much-dreaded shopping trip to buy uncomfortable jeans that never look quite right.
As the machines hum in the background, the convivial head of customer service, Lex Cundy-Knight, offers jeans already in stock to work out the best fit, cut and size – almost always not the pair you’ll expect as Hiut produces rare in-between sizes that seem to work miracles. She’ll suggest an inch longer on the leg perhaps to find the elusive pair that feel like they were made for you.
Most variations are in stock and can be taken away the same day for a unique holiday souvenir. If not, the jeans will be whizzed up and sent on to you within six weeks.
With the dream denim packed up in an eco-friendly tote bag, stroll back into town to celebrate with brunch at Crwst, where pancake stacks come dripping in Pembrokeshire sea-salted caramel sauce.
Afterwards, follow the narrow cobbled lanes that sweep down towards Cardigan Castle, which Rhys ap Gruffydd seized from the Normans in 1165 and rebuilt in stone, hosting the first Eisteddfod of Welsh literature and music in 1176.
The castle is home to surprisingly contemporary B&B rooms and self-catering apartments in its Georgian wing, with the sun-speckled River Teifi wrapped round its walls like a moat. Staying over includes free access to the castle too, with its Grade II-listed gardens and interactive digital exhibition on the history of the Eisteddfod.
Around 200 pairs of jeans are lovingly handmade each week at the Hiut factory
Just over the bridge is Cardigan’s acclaimed Pizzatipi, a fairy-lit waterfront tent serving wood-fired pizzas. Walk south of town to pick up the dramatic Pembrokeshire coast path, past the ruins of the 12th Century St Dogmaels Abbey and onwards to blow away cobwebs on the Blue Flag Poppit Sands beach.
Stop for lunch on the way at The Ferry Inn, for piled-high burgers or salmon fillet with basil, pea and laverbread risotto, while looking at the fishing boats bobbing on the estuary.
Choose to head north and you can take a hair-raising single track road to Mwnt, a sandy cove that is prime dolphin-spotting territory if you’re lucky. And in a town where you can find the perfect pair of jeans, anything is possible.