This month, I’ve brought to fruition a project that’s been dancing about in my mind, since clearing out my winter wardrobe.
I love the texture and drape of tweed, and it was with a sigh that I bagged up my heavy Donegal & Shetland wool jackets, to make room for the wool, silk and linen numbers for Spring.
My existing 14 to 18 ounce tweed numbers are all very British, with padded roped shoulders, horse-hair canvas in the chest and fully lined. They are perfect for keeping out the chill on a breezy Autumn stroll in God’s county, but feel like an oven if the sun’s on your back in Summer.
So, I had an idea…
Let’s find a lightweight, but proper tweed, and make the jacket in our more informal, Italian style. No lining. No shoulder pads, No canvas. Just tweed. Less gubbins. Cooler to wear.
Here’s what we came up with.
As far as style goes, it has the very essence of something you’d find at a tailors in Naples. Wide notch lapels, patch pockets, slightly shorter in the body, cut away fronts, kissing buttons on the cuffs, a smaller armhole and wide sleeve-head, to give the wearer greater ease of movement.
But the star of the show is the cloth, from Abraham Moon of West Yorkshire.
Coming in at 11 ounces in weight, it’s very light for tweed, but the woollen yarn used in its production strikes the perfect balance to produce a handle that is soft, and yet has some guts to it.
Based in Guiseley, they are only a five minute drive from my home town of Otley, so this week I paid them a visit to check out their facility.
Here I am lined up (like the usual suspects!) with their Managing Director & Chairman, John Walsh (who is the fourth generation of the family that succeeded the Moon dynasty) and their Sales Director of thirteen years, John Pickles.
With a turnover of around £22 million, they employ 250 people and are a truly “vertical mill.”
This means that sheep fluff comes in at one end of the factory, and finished fabric and home furnishings and accessories (like scarves, throws and cushions) come out of the other.
The Moon story is a compelling one. Founded in 1837, Abraham Moon provided yarn to villagers to weave at home, collected the cloth, washed it, dried it in the surrounding hills and took it for sale to Leeds market.
Success led him to building a mill on Netherfield road, situated close to the river (for ‘scouring’ / cleaning wool) and right next to the railway for transporting goods in and out.
His son, Isaac, took over the reigns (after he died in a carriage crash in 1877) and was a chip off the old block – the business flourished, and by early 1900’s was fully vertical.
Looking through their incredible textile archives, I was shown the cloths they produced for army greatcoats in the First World War and an array of stunning jacketings that would have been worn by Bertie Wooster types in the 1920’s.
He died in 1909 and ten years later, the Moon family sold the business to Charles Walsh (their designer and mill manager) for £33,000. The business was then passed down to Frank, then Arthur and now John, who spent many years at the textiles giant Courtaulds, before running the family business in 1989.
He started at a tough time when the textile trade was really up against the wall. Emerging producers in Spain, Portugal, Eastern Europe, Turkey and more recently China were putting huge pressure on margins.
They did what the remaining survivors of our apparel trade did today, and focused on higher value / niche markets with an emphasis on flexibility, customer service and design prowess, working with designers like Ralph Lauren, D&G, Burberry, Brooks Brothers, J Crewe and Paul Smith.
They also diversified, and started producing fabrics for furnishings, and manufactured what has become an award winning collection(s) of accessories like scarves, throws and cushions.
All ranges are stock-supported and are on display in their showroom, which is pictured below.
This was consolidated by the purchase of “Bronte Tweed” in 2009, which gave them access to a fabulous customer base of small to medium sized suppliers of home furnishings and gifts.
This process of putting their eggs in many baskets has spread the risk and provided huge potential for cross selling / growth, whilst at the same time protecting them from being held to ransom by a small number of ‘big’ customers.
As a business, they attend twenty seven trade shows around the world every year, and an impressive fifty percent of their business comes from exports. Key markets are Japan – that has always placed heritage high on its agenda when sourcing quality products – and the US, however, their reach is global.
They’ve recently opened up a retail operation in Settle, where the Michelsberg “conchiglia” jacket will be displayed, and another shop is planned to open in York in the near future.
Providing cut lengths to tailors is a new string to their bow, and the chap behind that is my good friend, Mr John Harrop, pictured below.
Previously at Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, he is a cloth man (and man of honour) through and through, and gave me a tour of the mill.
I will never tire of seeing stuff get made. That moment when I shove in my ear-protectors and walk onto the factory floor always gives me a tingle in my tummy and puts a smile on my face. It’s the smell of oil, clanking machinery and team approach to manufacturing that I find so infectious.
Check out the bloke below. He’s ‘blending’ together blue and white raw wool material at the very start of the process, which goes on to produce the woollen yarn which will then be sent for warping, weaving, scouring and finishing.
Who would believe that the beautiful Moon tweed fabric, on the seating in the foyer of the Oval office in the White House (true!), started its life as a piece of sheep fluff, tossed around by a burly Yorkshireman with a pitchfork in Guiseley! LOVE IT!
As always, time spent in a mill is never wasted, and meeting the people behind what is a truly inspirational brand and local success story was wonderful.
Check out the video below from the Moon massive.
I feel our collaboration on the “Conchiglia” jacket is only just the start between our respective businesses, which share the same values of passion, integrity and self-belief.
Now I’ve reached the Moon, next stop is the stars!