As a follower and admirer of Agi & Sam’s work, I was thrilled to be invited to take part in the trip as the only fashion writer with exclusivity to the story. However, as the feeling of elation waned and the day of the trip loomed, I spent increasingly more time pondering on the purpose of the initiative: on the surface, the relationship between fashion and manufacturing seems to be an easy one to comprehend as both activities can be interpreted as distinctive and yet complementary. Nevertheless, it seems undeniable that any sartorial concept underpinning the design of a garment tends to adjust to the physical limits of the fabrication processes available (with the final product becoming the result of making constant concessions throughout), whereas production instruments and methods do not tend to change owing exclusively to creative imperatives. Furthermore, as Agi & Sam are renowned for exploring the possibilities of fabric (such as using polyester fabrics made of recycled plastic bottles) and pattern (namely by incorporating trompe-l’oeil digital prints of tweeds, tartans, pinstripes and other forms of traditional tailoring), I became progressively more interested in the dynamics between designers and manufacturers. And with a series of unanswered question in my head, I joined Agi & Sam and two representatives from Woolmark one early morning in a late September day at London’s King’s Cross train station ready to embark on our day trip to Yorkshire.
After arriving in Bradford, our first stop was Luxury Fabrics, a limited company that owns the long-established British brands Charles Clayton (founded in 1985), William Halstead (1875), Reid & Taylor (1837) and John Foster (1819), all well-known for their luxury suiting fabrics such as fine worsteds and mohairs. Despite being told that the mill produced 7,000 meters of fabric a week and generated annual sales worth approximately £8 million (of which 95% come from exports to international markets such as Japan, South Korea, Italy, United States, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia), what impressed the most in this operation was listening to sales director Marcia Jennings. With 35 years of experience in the industry, Jennings revealed an impressive knowledge of the industry and shared fascinating stories about working with young British designers such as Lou Dalton and high-profile fashion houses from Paris and Milan like Jean Paul Gaultier, Hermès and Dolce & Gabbana.
|Agi & Sam in conversation with Marcia Jennings at Luxury Fabrics|
Our next visit was to Abraham Moon & Sons, founded in 1837 and one of the three manufacturers left in the region that can be considered a fully vertical production mill, with different teams on site involved in all stages of producing and selling fabric, including working the wool (dyeing, blending, carding and spinning), weaving the fabrics, designing prints, cutting and finishing items, and selling and marketing them. A succession of large rooms devoted to different production stages revealed a series of impressively complex operations that flowed seamlessly. By the time we reached the business sales division of the company as the last room in our visit, there was no doubt that this was an extraordinary machine with an esteemed reputation. However, if the fabrication processes and machines used at Abraham Moon & Sons couldn’t fail to impress, they also suggested a certain reluctance to depart from existing design and production habits towards exploring new ways of thinking and making, something that could be confirmed by the numerous reproductions of heritage pieces from the company’s rich archives.
|Alan Dolley introducing the work of WT Johnson & Sons to Agi & Sam|
A few days after the trip, I realised that the many questions I had been asking myself about how design is engendered through production and production is shaped by design would always be left unanswered as long as the processes of thinking and making involved in creating fashion remained removed from each other. Woolmark’s ‘Loom to London’ programme was, without a doubt, an important step towards forging stronger relationships between designers and manufacturers to attempt to find an answer. But, two centuries after the Industrial Revolution changed manufacturing so irrevocably, maybe what fashion as an industry needs right now is a Design Revolution, or a radical change in the different stages and processes of manufacturing that incorporates creative and original thinking throughout in a continuous cycle that does not take London or Loom as starting or end points.