Men of the Cloth

A business is only as good as the suppliers and people behind it and as far as my business goes, having a good relationship with the right cloth merchants is vital.

When I was first starting out in the trade, some companies were reluctant to provide me with their bunches (swatches of cloth bound in a holder) as they are expensive to produce and I was an unknown entity.

So, I have a soft spot for Carole Hannaford (see below), Sales Director of Lear Brown and Dunsford, who was the first to decide to take the plunge and send me a box of all their clobber. My first order included a length of “Millionaire’s Cashmere” and a length of “Havana” Super 120’s with Cashmere for a suit for myself, so it was worth her while. She’s a charming girl and an absolute pleasure to deal with.

Then, through family contacts, I met with Jonathan Spencer, Sales Director of Edwin Woodhouse, one of the oldest mills in England and based five minutes from my home. Until recently, it was run by John and William Gaunt and produced cloth using it’s own looms but last year they sold the business to John Fosters.

Fosters is known in the trade as a “manufacturer without looms” and many years ago, decided to shut down their own weaving facilities and outsource the manufacture of their cloth to what are known as ‘commission weavers.’ Two of the biggest in Yorkshire are Pennine Weavers and C & J Antich, with whom I met with last week. Chris Antich, their Managing Director, is pictured below and he very kindly gave me a tour of their state-of-the-art facility which has over 40 looms.

His enthusiasm for manufacturing is infectious. He’s very entrepreneurial, bursting with energy, educated me on the benefits of using two ply yarn on both the warp and weft and gave me a nice overview of why some cloths are more expensive to weave than others.

Lot’s of other companies such as Cavendish, Charles Clayton and Clissolds , have followed this business model, and in a way, I suppose it makes economic sense. They focus on the design of the cloth, finance the raw materials (yarn) and leave the production (and fixed costs of running a factory) to the experts, who can then achieve economies of scale.

Mills weave cloth in ‘pieces’ which have a length of sixty running metres (with a width of one and half metres) and usually only deal with people who are prepared to buy in bulk. Tailors, however, only require about three meters of cloth to make a suit, often called a ‘length,’ which is why they deal with merchants who are set up to hold stock and provide a ‘cut length service.’

Fewer companies in the UK are actually weaving cloth today and those that do include the likes of Bower Roebuck, Minova, Abraham Moons, Hainsworth, Reid & Taylor, Johnstons of Elgin, Bulmer & Lumb (Taylor & Lodge)

The industry is consolidating with a few firms having a near vertical operation whereby they own yarn companies, mills, merchanting businesses and even their own garment factories and retail outlets.

A good example is Scabal who owns the mill Bower Roebuck in Huddersfield and sells cloth and made-to-measure suits from shops all over Europe with it’s flagship store on Savile Row. The gang on Savile Row are pictured below – the lady is Hazel, a veritable rose between the two thorns that are Terry and John (now retired) and Ricky is the youngster. Have you noticed all their top buttons are pulling a little? I’d recommend less pie and eels, or, letting the side seams out half an inch on the double. :-)

Dormeuil is another good example. They have a large shareholding in the mill Minova in Wakefield, have a shop on Sackville Street, just around the corner from Savile Row, and below is Chris Juett who is my contact on the cloth side of things. He’s a lovely guy and a true gentleman.

When it comes to cloth made in the UK, Dormeuil and Scabal produce some of the finest, rarest and most expensive cloth in the world. Wonderful designs, beautiful colours, noble fibres and marketing savy is their strongpoint. If a customer has deep pockets and wants something different, these two firms will deliver.

If the customer is looking for slightly more traditional cloths with more subtle designs then I will use my network of local merchants such as Robert Charnock of Dugdale Brothers of Huddersfield pictured below . Their cloth is often woven by the same mills, is incredibly good quality but is often cheaper as their overheads are smaller.

Other great local suppliers are Bateman Ogden, Brook Taverner, Hunt & Winterbottom and Premier Worsteds. Then there are other merchants such as Holland & Sherry, Lessers, HE Box, W. Bill, the list goes on.

Over the years, I have built up excellent relationships with many of the above and have learnt much in the process. I think it is wonderful that Yorkshire remains the heart of Textile Manufacturing in the UK and our weavers continue to provide Savile Row and brands like Ralph Lauren, Kiton and Lanvin with their threads. Long may it continue.