The warp and weft of family history

The Times – Thursday 27 August 2015

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Alfred Brown, which supplies the cloth for suits in high street shops across the country, has survived plenty of changes in Leeds textiles industry over the past 100 years.

Ian Brown, the joint managing director, says that the industry is “very much depleted”, even since he joined the business in the Eighties. He says that the company needs what is left of the industry to remain healthy.

The company only weaves the fabric, another dyes the yarn, while a third washes, dries and finishes the material. “ Just like a lot of manufacturing, we’ve all got ancillary processes that we’ve got to rely on. It’s important it doesn’t get smaller. Because if it does then possibly it would start to lose some of the lynchpins that holds it together”.

Alfred Brown supplies retailers from Marks & Spencer’s to Paul Smith and Hackett. It helped to dress England’s football squad last year, when they wore M&S suits to the World Cup in Brazil. “Because we deal with most of the UK retailers currently, it is difficult to grow the UK side unless we go into a totally different product area” Mr Brown says.

Instead the company has built its exports business to about a quarter of its £10 million yearly revenues, with strong sales in China and Japan, where there is a love of British cloth.

The company is a family-owned business, founded by Mr Brown’s great-grandfather, Herbert Brown. This has helped it to survive for a century, says Mr Brown.

“Being a family business, there is a great determination to succeed and put a lot of money back into the business. That’s the only way that you can actually compete.