Alfred Brown was recently featured in industry magazine Twist, here is the text of the article:
When Alfred Brown appeared for the first time at IdeaBiella in September, its distinctly British fabrics created an outstanding reaction, as demand for English tailoring and cloth continues to grow in several global markets. Jonathan Dyson went to the West Yorkshire mill to hear about the company’s plans to expand its overseas sales, and its enduring success with major UK retailers.
If anyone visiting IdeaBiella (September 16-19) needed confirmation of the resurgence in demand for British fabrics, the debut at the show by the Yorkshire label Alfred Brown (Worsted Mills) helped provide it. Exhibiting among many of the other leading British mills, Alfred Brown made the decision to exhibit at the Milan show in order to help provide the catalyst for its renewed export business plans, and in the process further capitalise on the current desire for classic British tailoring and cloth, both within the UK and overseas.
At IdeaBiella, Alfred Brown, which offers its well-known 700 range of stock-supported classic British fabrics, introduced a new 60-pattern Super 100’s and Super 110’s collection. The new range features what joint managing director Nigel Brown describes as the company’s “flagship cloth” – a 2/2 twill, 2-fold warp and weft Super 110’s semi-milled cloth with a very traditional English handle. The collection features birdseyes, hopsacks, pick & picks, herringbones, pinstripes and houndstooths, with weights ranging from 280 to 340 gms, and the range includes several fabrics with luxury blends of wool/cashmere and wool/mohair. This collection of timeless English classics received a predictably warm reception from buyers at IdeaBiella searching for the quintessentially British look and feel.
For Alfred Brown, the handle of the cloth is particularly important in distinguishing itself from the Italian mills. ‘Many visitors at IdeaBiella were saying that a lot of fabrics felt quite feminine in construction,’ explains Nigel Brown. ‘We want our fabrics to have some body – this represents British heritage. British fabrics are fuller and more rounded. At IdeaBiella, visitors didn’t want Italian-type fabrics from an English mill and some didn’t even realise that these specialist fabrics are still manufactured in England. Both our traditional stock range fabrics and our new collection received tremendous interest.’ From its very name, to its work ethic, to its classic ranges, Alfred Brown is as proudly and defiantly British a fabric mill as you could imagine. Based in Bramley, in Leeds, West Yorkshire, the company was established in 1915 by Herbert Brown, a liberal and well-respected businessman, who became Deputy Lord Mayor of Leeds in the early 1920’s and had ambitions to become a Member of Parliament. Initially weaving uniform cloth for the military, fire and police services, the company survived the tough trading conditions of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Herbert’s sons Alfred and Stanley successfully led the company through these years, and Brown and Sons (Bramley) enjoyed a period of growth. In 1950 the company was re-named Alfred Brown (Worsted Mills) Ltd, and the next generation of the family entered the business, run by Alfred and David, sons of Alfred senior, and Peter, who was sales director and son of Stanley. The company flourished, with continual investment in weaving machinery ensuring production capacity was maximised, peaking at around 1.3 million metres per year, at which it remains today.
For the last 15 years, Alfred Brown has been run by the family’s fourth generation, with Alfred junior’s sons Ian and Nigel joint managing directors. Ian is responsible for buying and production, with Nigel focusing on design, finishing and quality control. Roger McArdle, a non-family-member, is sales director, though Ian and Nigel are also closely involved with the sales side of the business.
Alfred Brown supplies many of the major retailers in the UK, as well as the London tailoring trade – principally Savile Row and Jermyn Street – and has an office in London on Regent Street. The company has been encouraged of late by the growing number of major British retailers trading up their suit ranges, and subsequently looking to source quality British fabrics. A growing number of suits on the British high street feature Alfred Brown’s woven labels – Alfred Brown, Empire Mills, and Brown & Sons. ‘Today there is an increasing interest in our textile heritage, and our woven-in-England labels in garments let consumers know there are still mills in the UK making great products,’ enthuses Nigel Brown. ‘With the majority of UK retail garments produced overseas, the next best thing for the consumer is of course the fabric, so the desire for British cloth is great news for us’. A recent edition of the BBC documentary series British Style Genius, on the growing popularity of British tailoring, featured Alfred Brown fabrics.
While Alfred Brown is keen to maintain its strong position in its home market, as the desire for the British look grows overseas, it is now also focusing on growing its sales in several global markets. With customers in the US, Italy, Japan, Germany, Spain, and the Middle East, Alfred Brown is looking to expand in the mature markets. ‘We are making a huge effort to develop the export side of the business, though our main focus is still very much on our existing UK customers’, explains Roger McArdle. ‘We’re trying to offer our product to the widest possible audience, though our sales strategy has always been very focused – whichever market we attack, we like to do it well. Italy, Japan and the US are our biggest potential overseas markets. Italy is a new market for us, and we were pleased with the response from Italian buyers at IdeaBiella. Japan used to be a big market for us, and we are looking to return there, while our business in the US also has huge potential, and is being helped by the current exchange rate’.
From its very name, to its work ethic, to its classic ranges, Alfred Brown is as proudly and defiantly British a fabric mill as you could imagine
As well as its distinctly British fabrics, Alfred Brown sees its customer service and competitive prices as key elements of it success. ‘Our fabric represents real and perceived value to our high street customers’, says Ian Brown. ‘Just as important are our quick delivery times and design service, both of which we are told are second to none. Our typical lead time is 6-8 weeks’. Roger McArdle adds: ‘Having our manufacturing unit, and a close partnership with our dyers and finishers, enables us to offer a quick response at every stage’.
Ian Brown says that we are proud of our position as one of the few volume producers left in the UK who can also service the smaller customers. To achieve this we are continually investing in new machinery and technology. Alfred Brown recently purchased six woven selvedge jacquards, which Ian Brown says will enable us to supply the very finest bespoke outfitters.
Alfred Brown was one of the first companies in the UK to offer mix and- match suitings. Today, this expertise is as important now as it was then, explains Ian Brown. All our yarn is bought to mix and match standard, which creates real challenges for our yarn suppliers, who say there is nobody more critical on shade than Alfred Brown. We also work closely with our finishers, who work with us to produce fabric of first-class colour consistency, handle and drape. Following the reaction at IdeaBiella, Alfred Brown has already confirmed its appearance at both editions of the show next year. ‘IdeaBiella is proving an important part of putting our name on a bigger stage’, concludes Ian Brown.
With that global stage yearning increasingly for cloth with a British look, a British feel, and which, crucially, is also produced in Britain, Alfred Brown would appear to be at the beginning of one of the most exciting periods of its long and proud history.