Saturday, 15 June 2013

The craft of... Bulmer & Lumb

"I get a great rush from seeing someone in the street wearing a garment made from our cloth and  I can actually tell this almost straight away," explains Bulmer and Lumb's Edward Waterhouse. Fine worsted cloth, and its reputation for excellent quality and fine designing is renowned the world over and for a erudite eye like Waterhouse's, it captures the attention. "Textile manufacturing excites me personally due to increased demand from UK retailers and designers to source cloth from the UK again. It is extremely encouraging that brand such as Alfred Dunhill, Richard James and Burberry are looking to source made in England cloth." As the curtain raises once again on London Collections: Men and especially on The English Gentleman at Lord's with The Woolmark Company and blog favourite Lou Dalton, the great rush experienced will become more familiar in its frequency. After a whistle stop tour of West Yorkshire that saw me explore their homes in Bradford and Huddersfield, I'm beginning to feel the rush too.

"Being based in two places in West Yorkshire and employing 70 people in Huddersfield and 130 in Bradford we have a close link with local communities. There is family atmosphere within the company and we have had several generations from the same family working for the Bulmer and Lumb Group, this ranges from a Dye Operative to a Combing Operative to a Weaving Technician.

Today, the Bulmer and Lumb Group produce a wide range of fabrics, ranging from its luxury fine worsteds to worsted fabrics worn by the military. Bulmer and Lumb’s history is as a dyer, with expansion into fabric production in 2001 and then in 2005 with the addition of Taylor and Lodge. Now, the group has the ability to sell finished fabric but actually we also sell raw wool top, dyed wool top, space dyed yarn, package dyed yarn, top dyed yarn along the various manufacturing stages of producing fabric."

Weaving an intricate and dazzling group, Bulmer and Lumb Group is ever evolving, helping to drive the textile industry forward. For the last eight years the group has owned the world renowned Taylor and Lodge in Huddersfield. Reputations do not come about by chance. The fame Taylor and Lodge enjoys is built on over a century of experience and a deep appreciation for the methods and skills that go towards producing a superior product. The company has occupied its Rashcliffe Mills factory in Huddersfield, on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors, since its founding in 1883. Craftsmanship and well honed skills are essential to the product and it was a pleasure to be able to watch it all unfold in a space that has seen the same processes come together for centuries.

As I walked through and looked on at each process of construction, the balance between old and proven techniques and machinery from various eras since the industrial revolution, really left a lasting impression on me.

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Through its careful selection and control of raw materials together with continual investment in the latest equipment, Bulmer and Lumb continue to push textile manufacturing to new heights. These elements ensure that the production processes are amongst the most efficient and balanced in the industry and provide all the essential elements for growth. Edward Waterhouse explains.

"Due to the fact that Bulmer and Lumb dyes its own raw material we are the world leaders in supplying Uniform fabrics, which have mix and match shade repeatability. We can guarantee that a fabric made from a top dyed yarn is the same shade from the 1stmetre to 100,000th metre. This then also lends itself to producing fine worsteds for suiting’s made by Taylor and Lodge, we use yarn from our own range but supplement them with yarn bought in to make a highly sort after fabric collection. With our skilled and experienced design team we can offer individuality to our customers on a made to order basis, differing from the uniform business which is primarily stock based.

Bulmer and Lumb will keep evolving to meet the tough demands of our customers. The blend we offer of our knowledgeable and experienced staff and up to date machinery, I feel we are well placed to increase our sales globally with the sales to new markets important. A point that I must stress is that due to the fact we dye in the UK, we have to adhere to a very strict code of practice of which many around the world will not have to."

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Hare, four swans, ten candles and you

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This spring/summer 14 season sees Mr. Hare reach the landmark of ten collections old. Ten. Collections. Old. We remember our heart skipping a beat the moment our eyes focused on his black beauties in Purest Form for autumn/winter 09 like it was yesterday. Mr. Hare has always a been a work in progress driven by one man's passion and it shows no sign of resting on its well crafted heels. Time has flown by as we've been caught up in Marc Hare's whirlwind. From season to season there is constant evolution and revolution. One step after another, all eyes remain transfixed by Mr. Hare's fancy footwork. Having closely followed the label's continued rise, we're offering two readers the opportunity to be a part of the special occasion at London Collections: Men and to help blow out the candles at his after party this weekend. For a chance to join in with the festivities all you have to do is sign up to their mailing list. Easy. Just hot step and click here.

Monday, 10 June 2013

The craft of... W.T. Johnson & Sons

"Finishing is the instrumental process between weaving and garment making," Alan Dolly, W.T. Johnson & Son's Technical Manager begins as we embark on an intimate and extensive tour of this Textile Finishers' Bankfield Mills home. Having explored and celebrated the craft of both weaving and garment making across a plethora of previous posts, the world of finishing was wholly unfamiliar until my visit to Huddersfield with Woolmark and Lou Dalton a couple of ago. As London Collection: Men's curtain raising design talent researched the possibilities for spring/summer 14, my eyes were opened to the artistry and alchemy of the finishing touch.

Helping to create unique garments that help distinguish themselves from all others, the finishing process – which invariably dictates the appearance, handle and performance attributes of a fabric – is receiving more attention than ever before. There's no better place to explore these processes than Huddersfield. The history of textile manufacture in England is intricately woven into the history of this town. For over seven hundred years, weavers have been attracted to this area of West Yorkshire by a combination of conditions ideal for sheep grazing and a plentiful supply of soft water streams for washing or scouring wool. By the mid nineteenth century the town had a well established reputation for the manufacture of fine worsteds, fancy tweeds, and woollens and there were several large woollen mills in and around the town. W. T Johnson & Sons was born out of this boom. One of the thriving mills was Glendenning’s where, in 1910, the middle-aged Walter Thomas Johnson arrived at the bold decision to take his skills as Foreman Finisher and set up his own, specialist finishing firm. It would prove to be a wise decision for, within a few decades, the large mills began to close one by one, beaten by cheaper offshore competition. Today, W. T Johnson & Sons is one of four cloth finishers left in Britain. They are a Huddersfield institution and have been on the same site for over one hundred years. "We're the only town in the world that can add value to a bit of fabric by having its name on the edge of the cloth and we're very proud of that," Paul Johnson excitedly exclaimed to Nicholas Crane on a recent episode of the BBC2's TOWN. This pride and passion is infectious.

With unmatched craft skills and expertise having been handed down through four generations of master fabric finishers, from Walter Thomson who started the company in 1910 to Paul and Dan Johnson who continue and evolve its offering, plus a skilled local workforce who today are seeing the business lead the world in the craft of fine fabric finishing. As I hovered over its hive of activity, it was obvious that despite being hugely proud of its heritage, this is a family run company that is constantly striving forward.

"The long term investment in machinery and careful selection of smart innovative machinery gives us a huge range of finishes and possibilities. Added to that we have the luxury of working on most of the wide range of fabrics that the area produces, so we have a very privileged view, and are consistently asked for something more. Hopefully we add value to everything we finish, whether £10/m or £1000/m.
Alan Dolly, Technical Manager at W.T Johnson & Sons.

As I toured the space and bounced from machine to machine, I was amazed by the variety of finishing options. From milling to scouring, decating to drying and cropping, the opportunities to transform cloth are seemingly limitless. "The fact is that there are almost infinite possibilities and the market wants these differences more and more. With the right customer, finishing is recognised as an important part of the design process," explains Alan over the hum of a machine in full momentum. "As a commission business, our customers put a lot of trust in us to deliver and when we suggest and then hand over the finished article to their approval, it is very rewarding." As Lou Dalton's mind raced through her whims and finishing fancies, our senses were treated to a cacophony of sights and sounds, from the traditional wooden scouring dolly to jets, the familiar yet large scale image of tumbling cloth in dryers to the ultra high tech precision of Swiss machinery intricately removing surface fibres.

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A cocktail of tradition and technology within the craft of the finishing touch.

From its Bankfield Mills home, W.T Johnson & Sons employs ninety skilled finishers and I was fortunate enough to interact with a few of them. As I happily snapped away I could clearly see their passion. The family ethos of the company‘ if we look after our employees, they’ll look after us,’ quietly echoes throughout the space. The workforce skill-base and perfectionist attitude is an invaluable part of the company’s success and helps to drive their goal to be the world leader in high quality textile finishing. "There is a strange relationship that develops over time between WTJ and the employees," explains Alan Dolly drawing the whistle stop tour to a close. "They clearly learn what is required of them and at the same time are 'looked after' and valued by the company. The work is hard at times and its essential the quality has to be very good. From recent figures thirty two per cent of the workforce have been here more than twenty years!" Has the demographic changed? "Historically textiles generally was a major employer in the area. People were able to find employment in their 'local mill'. We still have a large number of our team living locally, but the industry as an employer is a fraction of what it was in the 60’s and before. Recently we have had some success in convincing younger people that textiles can still offer a career, and have been able to start with hopefully the next crop of expert finishers."

With its insatiable appetite to collaborate in the creation of the finest and most innovative cloth, feeding the imagination of designers like Lou Dalton and exciting the research teams at Woolmark whilst upholding its tradition and investing in its future, W.T. Johnson & Sons offers a welcome reminder that the British manufacturing industry can still thrive.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Style Stalking (Snapshot).... House of Hackney

Ever since we first peered through Frieda Gormley and Javvy M Royle's kaleidoscope of printed furnishings and finery a few years ago, we've been transported to lavish landscapes filled with fair florals, marvellous menageries and the fanciest of fantastical flights. Continuing to challenging a minimalist world of beige, House of Hackney's evolving empire of playful prints has seen it open the doors to its East London retail home, an enticing emporium on Shoreditch High Street. As Susie searched the seductive, sensory shake-up of a space, I soon followed and dived into dizzying daydreams, softened by feathers, petals and palm leaves whilst sweetened by candy stripes and eccentricity. As one member of its team built a beautiful bouquet of Wild at Heart blooms wearing a Palmeral printed t-shit (of House of Hackney's soon to be launched menswear offering - stay tuned) and camouflaged by a printed plantation of palms and inked sleeves, I couldn't resist taking a quick snapshot... 

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House of Hackney's Jay standing outside of the store wearing... 
a Palmeral t-shirt and tribal necklace from World Archive at Dover Street Market.
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Monday, 3 June 2013

A swoosh and three lions

Two weekends have come and gone without an Arsenal game. Two long, enjoyable and stress free weekends but there's been an undeniable void. Non football fans might think I'm weird to admit to this but weekends just don't feel the same without looking forward to Football Focus, anxiously checking live updates and wincing or celebrating (delete as appropriate) through MOTD. Having waved goodbye to another season of consistent inconsistency before dancing into the top four, I have to wait ten more weekends until it starts all over again. Thankfully, there are a few distractions, the odd sporting appetite whetter and they rarely get any odder than international friendlies. The white noise emitted from the media fanfare, egos ricocheting across the pitch and fans chanting the likes of "I'm England till I die" and "Ingerland, Ingerland, Ingerrrland" to the beat of an ever over enthusiastic band. As England gained two relatively insignificant draws agains Republic of Ireland and Brazil, there was one significant change on show and it was an aesthetic one. Nike had rolled up its socks and effortlessly tackled kit design duties from Umbro. To mark the occassion, the sportswear giant tweaked two of its ow icons to encapsulate the story of one hundred and fifty years of English football heritage. With sartorial nods going back to the birth of the Football Association and the beautiful game itself, Nike unveiled the limited edition England NSW Destroyer and England Nike Air Max 1 iD. Thanks to the generous folk at Nike and Exposure I am one of the lucky few to sport them...

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England NSW Destroyer worn with... 
silk shirt by Tim Soar (with a football badge worn as a button) and cropped trousers by Christophe Lemaire.

Since its introduction in 2006, the Destroyer jacket has become one of Nike's most recognised pieces. Staying true to its varsity jacket roots, it is often a beautiful blend of sports heritage with youth cultures from practically every decade since the 50s. With the first letterman jacket being designed for an imaginary team called the Dunk High Destroyers, the latest brings hope to national football's great underachievers and is suitably drunk on detailing. The addition of rich English heritage design cues including sleeves and pocket trims crafted from the finest rainproof British Millerain waxed cotton, subtle embroidery and embellishment, four bespoke gold pin badges – a star, an England Crest, a patch crest and vintage football - that represent the past and present for an additional level of personalisation and play. For a closer look of the gold pin badges I photographed detail shots on my Subbuteo pitch... 

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Detail shots of the pin badges. 
Some have already been appropriated in to my everyday wardrobe and have been used to replace missing buttons.

On the subject of everyday wardrobe, the special edition England Nike Air Max 1 iD have confidently stepped in to my uniform.  It is a NIKEiD customisation of one of the most famous footwear styles. Since 1987 the Air Max 1 silhouette has transcended its running origins to become a wardrobe staple for a myriad of subcultures in England and beyond. Designed by Tinker Hatfield, the shoe turned things inside out and blew our minds by making the invisible visible, exposing the world to Nike Air. I've not worn a bubble since I was fourteen years old. It feels right returning to the original. This understated black-on-black version features discreet details that once again reference the history and culture of football in England. Linking to the NSW Destroyer Jacket, a gold star has been embroidered onto the back of the shoe while the eyelet features in bold red, in honour of the St. George╩╝s Cross. They are perfect...

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England Nike Air Max 1 iD worn with cropped trousers by Christophe Lemaire

"Catch me if you can
'Cause I'm the England man
And what you're looking at
Is the master plan"

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