John Smedley began in 1784 as one of the first mills built at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Two hundred and thirty seven years later, it remains a family-owned business and a British brand that proudly designs and manufactures all of its garments in the UK. John Smedley has two factories in Derbyshire and Yorkshire, employing over 300 skilled staff, who are dedicated to making the world’s finest knitwear for discerning consumers all around the globe.
Like so many businesses in the fashion sector, John Smedley found significant challenges in 2020. Due to supply chain disruption and the urgent need to make factories safe, it closed operations for six weeks, taking time to put all the necessary adjustments and precautions in place. On May the fourth it invited a small team of volunteers to restart work in the Lea Mills factory – this time not on its traditional knitwear garments, but on making scrubs for the hard-pressed doctors, nurses and carers in the NHS.
Through its contacts in the industry, John Smedley was able to secure a source of medical -grade cloth from a British supplier and to have the right patterns cut at no cost by a partner business in Nottingham. It then quickly re-trained its staff to sew and finish the reusable scrubs to NHS standards and completed over 1,000 sets in the next few weeks. The Emergency Design Network put John Smedley in contact with hospitals, GP practices and care homes in the county, to whom the scrubs were donated based on need. A great combined effort, this story beautifully illustrates just how creative and versatile our British textile industry can be.
Looking forwards, John Smedley has seen a varying response across its diverse export markets to the various restrictions and challenges being faced within the industry. Japan is an important export market for the brand and managed the pandemic well, resulting in more robust orders for knitwear. The Royal Warrant-holding brand is hoping that all European markets will recover as speedily, with a renewed sense of buoyancy and undiminished appetite for the highest quality British products.
The brand produces two fashion collections every year, with the dominant yarns being Extra Fine Merino in the winter season and John Smedley’s Sea Island Cotton in the summer. Most recently, it has added to its repertoire of yarns with two new products. The first, Anglo Indian Gauze, is a new trans-seasonal merino/cotton blend and is proving extremely popular for spring and autumn wardrobes. The second, an Eco-Cashmere, has sustainability credentials resulting from new processes in its production.
The brand is confident that both these new products will add a boost to its collections produced this year and into the future. John Smedley, with its time-honoured tradition of delivering the highest quality knitwear, has come through many challenges in its long history. Its expert, homegrown teams are as dedicated as ever, so John Smedley is set to continue delighting international customers with new collections, adaptability and innovation.