Wool Week

Last week was “Wool Week.”

Run by The Campaign for Wool since 2010, it’s an international salute to the mighty sheep, on behalf of woolgrowers, fashion designers, retailers, artisans and shifty looking Welshmen.

Patronised by The Prince of Wales, it’s a PR platform to extol the virtues of a fibre that is sustainable, bio-degradable, non allergenic, with fabulous insulation properties.

Events have been run up and down the country and here I am in front of the warping beams at Glendale Mills in Huddersfield.

Owned by Scabal since 1971, it’s been weaving cloth since 1899 and was bought by the group to secure their supply of what is arguably some of the finest quality threads on the planet.

With only thirty percent of the mills production used for its own needs, it’s very much a business in its own right. Trading under the name “Bower Roebuck,” and also incorporating a sister company “Savile Clifford,” they design and weave cloth for the biggest names in fashion. Prada, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, and Dunhill are all loyal customers.

Here I am with the mills Managing Director, Ronald Hall (RHS), and the agent for Scabal, Robert Oakes, having a sneak preview of the Summer 2014 collection before taking a tour of their looms with designers Hayley Cresswell (Bower Roebuck) and Clare Wheeler (Savile Clifford).

It’s my experience that people in textiles genuinely love what they do. Get them talking about yarn counts (see Hayley below), the merits of using soft Yorkshire water in the finishing process, or the flexibility of using the older looms and they literally light up.

With quiet pride, the production director explained they’d recently found a way to weave a particularly complex and luxurious wool and silk blend in a hopsack design. “Most mills in Europe wouldn’t want the hassle.” Coming from a Yorkshireman, that’s emotional stuff. I swear his whippet’s lip nearly trembled.

Evelina (pictured below), one of the ‘menders’ who spots and repairs any faults in the cloth, was equally ebullient.

She explained the extensive training required to do the job and personal satisfaction gained by contributing towards the production of the most sought after fabrics in the world.

The Super 200’s with Vicuna and Chinchilla cloth she was working on would cost about three and a half thousand pounds for a suit length. Ouch.

Whist Scabal’s genius is in strategy, marketing and customer service, these guys simply live to produce something beautiful. It’s a craft, an art and their commitment, pride and passion in the work they do is heart warming.

Later that evening, the Victoria Quarter threw a party to kick off Wool Week. A collaboration between the SIL group, Leeds College of Art, Harvey Nichols and myself, various installations were featured throughout the centre. The mayor showed up, rocked his chain, speeches were made then we all got stuck into the good stuff.

Most of my time is spent with customers and tailors, so it gives me a real buzz to talk shop with men of the cloth.

Here I am with Paul Johnson from WT Johnson & Sons who finish most of the top end cloth produced in the UK. A top bloke, his reputation in the trade is only matched by his performance on the golf course.

It was great to catch-up with old friends Matthew “smiling inside” Simpson and David Gallimore (of John Fosters) and be introduced to David Ogilvie (in the Tweed), Managing Director of Reid and Taylor, now part of the SIL Group.

Final beers were supped with Simon Murgatroyd of Brook Taverner (on the RHS below) who introduced me to James Laxton (on the LHS) of Laxtons Ltd .

He’s a young, sparky entrepreneur who has bucked the trend of off-shore production and invested millions in state of the art technology in their new production unit in Guiseley, West Yorkshire.

As well as the huge environmental benefits and reduced carbon footprint, UK production has delivered improved service with quicker lead times, better management, and a greater control of raw materials and quality. Simples eh?

It’s been a week of getting out and amongst it with the textile massive and I’ve loved every moment. With five different photos of me in this blog alone, I do apologise if I’m coming across as the Michael Winner of the tailoring trade.

Then again, if you’ve got it, flaunt it, so “Calm down dear!” – I’m just getting started!