Piecing the Cotton Industry Back Together

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When the cotton spinners clocked-off for good towards the end of the last century, the weavers, dyers and finishers were forced to follow suit or diversify, and processors at many stages of cotton manufacturing all but disappeared.

To pave the way for retailers and designers to buy British once more, English Fine Cottons has set about re-linking the old supply chain, scouring the country for manufacturers that can help produce high quality cotton fabrics.

Now, working with partner suppliers, we have embarked on a project to produce samples of luxury shirting fabrics made entirely in the UK, proving buyers no longer need to look off-shore for their cotton.

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English Fine Cottons’ Tracy Hawkins, said: “The challenge we face isn’t convincing people to buy British.  There’s no shortage of retailers and designers who want to be able to offer luxury, home-grown products to their customers.

“The challenge is showing them it’s possible to source their yarns and get them made into fabrics and designs, from start to finish, in this country.”

Rebuilding An Industry

English Fine Cottons aims to produce both yarns and fabrics in various states of finish, as a bespoke service for customers ordering larger quantities and eventually, for smaller designer labels and business start-ups.

In cotton spinning’s hey-day, when Manchester was known as ‘Cottonpolis’, mills were the dominant feature of the North West’s landscape and the factories where the yarns were dyed, woven and finished stood beside them.

After the collapse of cotton spinning, buyers were forced to go off-shore for their cotton and it made far more economical sense for them to get their fabrics made where they bought their yarn.

So with the industry decimated, many of the processors shut-up shop, selling-off their machinery to the likes of our parent-company, Culimeta Saveguard, which started-out using old looms and spinning machines to produce technical fabrics for the automotive industry.

Some managed to find a niche producing specialist textiles, for example composites for the military and aerospace industries.  However, a very small number were able to downsize and sustain their businesses with a high-end customer base – typically designer labels in fashion and furnishings.

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As the cotton yarn produced at Tower Mill will be ideal for use in a wide range of luxury products – from clothing and outerwear to bed linen – Tracy needed to find a number of manufacturers with different capabilities.

She started off by tracing the old supply chains to track down the right skill-sets and machinery and found, although hidden, many of the links are still there.  For example, some machinery wide enough and able to weave fine enough for bed-linens is now being used by a company producing fabric for parachutes.

Quality and Vision

Tracy said: “It’s not just about the machines and capability.  Some companies have what we’re looking for, but they want their businesses to go in another direction.

“Our main priority is finding people who share our vision and can work to the high quality standards we want to achieve.

“The manufacturers we’re working with really want to partner with us, but some might have to re-acquaint themselves with certain processes and others might need to join us in investing in new machinery.”

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English Fine Cottons is already working on a project with weaving specialist John Spencer Ltd and fabric finishers H &C Whitehead Ltd (pictured) to produce sample shirting fabrics.

Tracy said: “They have been incredibly supportive and we look forward to a great working relationship with them.

“It’s a great step forward to have something tangible to show our customers – a beautiful piece of fabric made from high quality cotton yarn right here in this country.”

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