Saturday, 27 June 2009

John Smedley blows out 225 candles

John Smedley flying the flag for craftsmanship here in the UK. Who said the sun never shines up North? Oh I said that...

As I have one lazy eye on the runway action over, I thought it would be nice to change the pace somewhat and take a step away from the latest collections and focus on an award winning heritage brand, John Smedley. I think it is a crying shame that we don't celebrate, great craftsmanship based here in the UK in the same way that our cousins from across the pond do (ACL being the prime example but one of many.) Still family owned, John Smedley continues to innovate whilst retaining the hand crafted finishing techniques that has established its reputation for more than two centuries yet it is the type of brand which is often taken for granted and over looked. 2009 is a landmark year for the company because it sees the family run business celebrate 225 years of making fine knitwear in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales.

The luxury British knitwear brand was founded in 1784 by John Smedley and Peter Knightingale (great-uncle of Florence) and the pair decided to set up business at Lea Mills, in Matlock as a brook provided (and still provides) a source of running water and power. I was fortunate enough to explore this factory and see it in all of its working and operating glory as I was invited up to cover the anniversary for Fashion156. It was great to experience the close knit nature of the brand on the work floor and see firsthand, how the latest technology has been integrated with age old methods.

A knitting machine with 20,000 needle components.

Wandering through the various knitting and construction stages it was great to talk to the workers, most of which had been working there for generations themselves and to watch them expertly use the machines. As I walked through and looked on at each process of a garments construction the balance between old but proven techniques and machinery alongside the latest knitting machines from Japan (some with over twenty thousand needle components) and laser presses from Holland, really left a lasting impression. This is a company that continues to learn and strive for the highest quality in a family environment like nothing I've ever encountered before.

The beginnings of a jumper...

The modern press uses lasers. Each John Smedley garment goes through three stages of hand supervised pressing to ensure correct fit and shape

The fastest use of a pair of scissors I've ever seen...this lady took less than ten seconds to expertly cut out the neck.

Highly trained seamstresses hand finish the garments, applying neck trims, buttons and John Smedley labels. Long lasting style and quality are vital ingredients to Smedley, creating sweaters which are appropriate to wear with anything, at any time.

The finishing touches...

Provenance and traceability from raw material to end product are integral to the brand and are sort after credentials by today’s consumer and rightly so! I think it is about time that we celebrated the true craftsman of the UK...I see a Made in the UK series of posts coming up.


Michael K said...

Please do that series!
There are so many great UK heritage brands that make top quality garments.
Woudl love a closer look at Pantherella an Aquascutum too.
I need to take a look at John Smedley as the cornerstone of this upcoming A/W season (seems strange to be talking about knitwear and winter on the hottest day of the year!)

Michael said...

Another great post. Smedley is one of my cornerstone brands for knitwear staples, although it does tend to come up a bit large on me requiring additional tailoring. I definitely look forward to seeing more on heritage brands.


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