Julie Greenough has not, compared to the grand scheme, worked at AW Hainsworth for very long. It’s less than four years since she arrived as Marketing Manager; Hainsworth have been creating premium quality textiles at Spring Valley Mills in Farsley since 1783.
233 years versus not quite four. And yet, in that not quite four, Julie has become encyclopaedic on Hainsworth’s history and processes.
233 years of history have given Hainsworth stature, and an order book that is unrivalled for class; they make the stiff red coats of the Royal Guards, and supply heavyweight fabrics to Prada, Valentino, Chanel and more. With the University of Leeds, they developed khaki for the army; they make the cloth on the world’s slickest snooker tables; the pure notes of a Steinway & Sons piano are produced in harmony with the Hainsworth Piano Baize under the lid.
But it’s the refined processes, and dedication to faultless consistency, that keeps Hainsworth at the top end. That’s why Julie hasn’t only put the company’s history at her immediate mental command; she’s learned every stage of manufacturing, from the arrival of the packed-tight punchbag bales of Australian Merino wool, to the packing up of finished products being sent all over the world.
“It’s about a dedication to quality,” says Julie, and that began with the first ever bale of wool that came back from Australia. “Samuel Marsden, who is from Farsley, brought that to the Hainsworth mill, and the guys here took one look at it and said it wasn’t good enough. They advised him what he need to do, so he went back via Spain and took some Merino sheep out, and it’s now Merino wool that you always get in from Australia.”
The standards have remained high in Farsley ever since. The town and the mill are intrinsically linked; the mill can never leave the private spring that is integral to Hainsworth’s processes — and its disasters. Two floods, and two fires, have threatened Spring Valley Mills; the community remains proud of the way it has come together in times of strife to save Hainsworth’s.
Some of that community is still living in the rows of mill cottages within the sprawling mill site, passing down skills and knowledge to the next generation. “The looms have personalities,” says Julie, and its the loyal and experienced workforce that knows how to get the best out of them.
“It’s a place where we will always be,” says Julie, meaning that when the world wants quality cloth, the world has to travel to Farsley. Once the world automatically travelled to West Yorkshire for quality textiles, and to the many hundreds of mills that scattered the valleys all around Hainsworth’s survival. And Hainsworth would quite like to bring some part of those days back.
“We’ve seen such a great history of textiles and fashion in Yorkshire,” says Julie. “But it’s died off and moved. Now anyone that thinks about fashion and textiles thinks about London and Italy. We’re about history and heritage, and we want to bring those elements back and work with all the other people that are trying to make sure that textiles and garment manufacture and fashion is back where it started.”
Hainsworth are doing that already by working with local students; they began working with Christoper Raeburn when he was making his graduate collection, and have worked with him ever since. “We want people to understand what we do, as well,” says Julie. “We always work with students because we know that’s where the future of the industry is.”
In partnership with Leeds Beckett, Hainsworth are also opening up some unused space at Spring Valley Mills as a fashion incubator, where ten startup businesses can have a space in one place, together, and benefit from co-working opportunities with each other, and from the generations of textile expertise in every corner of the mill around them.
“It’s about bringing textiles and creativity and fashion back into Leeds,” says Julie. “We’re not just about the product. Hainsworth is a family business, and it’s about community, and about making sure other people have opportunities to fulfil their dreams.
“We’re absolutely committed to Yorkshire. That’s what triggers connections with the brands that we use. A lot of new designers want to have a heritage brand, but they can’t just set one up. So they use our cloth, our swing tags, our labels, our messages, and that allows them to start their careers with something they’re devoted to, that has a wider emotive connection as well.”
That’s the secret of how Julie could become such a rapid expert in Hainsworth history; it’s not a closed book. AW Hainsworth is a family business, and a heritage business, but it’s still writing its history, and still inviting new participants into the family story. ••
Originally published in The City Talking: Fashion