John Smedley

Proudly British knitwear with a rich history and a sustainable future

Customer service that goes the extra mile is as important to John Smedley as making the best quality jumpers in the world. So says Ian Maclean, managing director and eighth generation member of the founding family, recalling the time he took a call from an Englishman based in New York. The client, who was running a sizable luxury goods business himself, was dismayed that he couldn’t purchase a limited-edition jumper from the John Smedley British website because it had sold out. Maclean quickly grabbed one from a London store and personally shipped it to him in the US: ‘It all ended well, and we remain in contact to this day.’


No surprise then that the Royal Warrant-holding John Smedley business has survived for over 235 years. From its home in Lea Mills, Derbyshire, the oldest functioning factory in the world, it is proud of its claim to create ‘the world’s finest knitwear’ and its heritage of employing expert home-grown knitters, linkers, dyers and seamstresses. Its history is peppered with highlights, such as crafting long Johns in vicuña for the Emperor of Japan, working closely with Florence Nightingale who signed the original company deeds, knitting pint-sized gifts for Princes Charles  when he was a child and dressing screen stars from Marilyn Monroe to Eddie Redmayne.

John Smedley’s history is peppered with highlights, such as crafting long johns in vicuna for the Emperor of Japan and working closely with Florence Nightingale

John Smedley

Despite being distributed all over the world, today’s brand is evolving and innovating to ensure it stays on track for generations to come. Taking action to become more sustainable, the company has signed the UN’s Fashion Industry Charter, committing to reductions in CO2 emissions. In 2020 it will focus on home-grown luxury British fibres, such as undyed sheep wool and natural alpaca, to create ‘herd to here’ garments that are completely traceable, and achieved within a low-carbon-footprint 90-mile radius.


The brand is looking ahead to the season with curious optimism, with several projects on the move, including working with natural plant dye experts, launching new childrenswear and producing leather accessories, handcrafted by specialist artisans in London and Derbyshire.


It maintains a watchful eye over a possible slowdown in consumer spending, and continues to stress the quality/value proposition that will give EU-based customers the confidence to buy. ‘There’s a lot to contend with and we can only rise to these challenges by working together as the best team, making the most of our strengths,’ says Maclean.


John Smedley’s biggest single export market is Japan, where it has been doing business for over 100 years. For the past three, it has worked closely with Mitsui, which is now investing to take the brand to the next level through both product and retail innovation.


‘It is great to see our teams working closely together on different facets of this complex challenge – good communication is everything, and we are learning from each other every day,’ says Maclean. ‘I am most looking forward to the potential of a new John Smedley store in Kyoto, an historic city that, in many ways, is the home of Japan’s finest crafts. A great home from home for John Smedley.’