Mill may be mini, but it's mighty
Everyone loves their pets, but do you love yours enough to make a scarf or sweater out of its hair?
That’s just one of the things Belfast Mini Mills customers are doing with unique – and sometimes rare – animal fibres like bison, muskox, camel, and alpaca. They’ll turn almost any animal hair into yarn, including the brushings from the family pet.
“Dog fiber is becoming popular. Samoyed fur has a beautiful halo effect,” owner Doug Nobles explains. “People love something made out of their pet’s fur.”
The two-decade-old Belfast PEI business has a worldwide reputation for the advanced technology and design they use to make top-quality products in small quantities. Besides knitted products, they also sell all the locally built machinery to enable others to set-up their own mini mill. The company even offers lifetime repairs on equipment they sell.
The advantage of these small mills is that producers can have their own fiber returned to them as high-quality finished products – and some big names have taken notice. Belfast Mini Mills sold a large mill to now-deceased Libyan Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi in 2008 so he could weave camel-hair gifts to visiting dignitaries.
“Gaddafi liked to give things made in his country,” Nobles explained. However, due to unsafe travel conditions, lifetime repairs were not offered on the product that was sold to Libya.
More than 20 years ago Doug Nobles and his wife Linda decided to move to PEI from British Columbia and take a chance by building a small business. They bought a farm in Belfast -- where they could grow everything except oranges and bananas – acquired some animals and built their first mill.
Like many things in Prince Edward Island that start out small, it didn’t take the Nobles' enterprise long to grow big.
Today they have mills all over the world and host 10,000 tourists a year to their remote operation, hidden eight miles down a dirt road in Belfast. They had visitors from Iceland this December.
They operate a store selling warm toques and mittens made by local knitters using exotic yarns. Linda’s favourites are the ultra-soft Merino wool and cashmere, but Doug prefers to work with the hard and cold edges of the machinery.
Most people who see how the mills work will end up buying one, Doug Nobles says.
“We show what we’re trying to sell,” he explained. “It demonstrates that you can run a successful business from virtually anywhere.”
The $3 million gross the company expects helps power the province’s rural economy and demonstrates how the world is taking notice of our small but mighty province.
The rural business has opened a world of opportunity to its 20 year-round staff. Staffers have travelled by boat to the Orkney Islands off the northeastern coast of Scotland to service a mill that spins rare-breed sheep fibers.
One longtime staffer - who grew up in rural Prince Edward Island - has been called on to visit every Canadian province and U.S. state as well as 50 different countries. In fact, a pair of local brothers on staff are in Italy right now working on an Alpaca and sheep mill.
Of Doug and Linda’s four children, two have gone into the family business. Their youngest son works in the Belfast mill and the oldest son just put a mill in his Ottawa garage.
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