The John Smedley story began during the infancy of the industrial revolution at our factory in Lea Mills, Derbyshire where you can still find us, over 230 years later.
In 1784 our factory started life producing simple muslin fabric and spinning cotton and in 1825 we moved on to producing more complex garments using one of the first ever fully fashioned knitting machines, creating the original.
Moving on to 1914 where we began exporting to the far reaches of the globe and over time established ourselves as one of Britain’s most famous clothing brands.
Within the 1950’s and 60’s we became the brand of choice for many famous faces, including Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and the Beatles amongst many others and by 1980 we had established ourselves as the go-to knitwear brand for British designers such as Dame Vivienne Westwood and Sir Paul Smith.
Our Merino is selected from the very best farmers in New Zealand to supply our extra fine wool. The wool must adhere to strict specifications not only to the quality of the fleece but also the welfare of the sheep, sustainability and protection of the farm land. In terms of the quality of the finished garment the most important specification is the fibre fineness and length. Each fine Merino strand must be between 18-19 microns in diameter. If you compare this with the 90 microns of human hair you can see why Merino is so soft. Each smooth strand of merino ensures it’s soft to the touch and makes a finished garment perfect to wear next to the skin as opposed to other breeds that would have a higher micron count and therefore create a rougher even itchy feeling when worn.
Sourcing the fleece is just the beginning of a very long journey, after ensuring the Merino meets our strict list of requirements it will then be washed. This removes the oils and dirt accumulated over the time it’s taken to grow; getting this right means the weight of the fleece is halved. The wool can then be spun into yarn and dyed. We ensure each dye we use conforms to the highest standard and certified free of any harmful chemicals, this involves sending a cutting of every colour for stringent testing. Moisture will then be added back into the yarn and re-wound to ensure there is no distortion when used on the knitting machines.
Technicians create a “recipe” for each new shade which as with our Merino dyes will be rigorously tested for chemicals, the effects of washing, perspiration and wear. Only after passing all these tests is the colour approved.
After these initial processes it will then take another 35 stages before a fully formed garment emerges. This includes knitting the garment panels and trims, seaming, button sewing, hand finishing, pressing and numerous quality inspections to name just a few. Each stage involves the experienced hands of our talented craftsmen; it’s this human touch at every level that makes our knitwear so good. Creating just a fraction of the amount of garments a year compared to mass producing manufacturers, we make timeless, hand finished styles made with the unwavering support from everyone involved whether they be in New Zealand, Mongolia or here at our Derbyshire factory.
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