McNair - luxury shirts made in West Yorkshire
- Credit: not Archant
The stone mills and clattering looms of Huddersfield are a world away from the icy stillness of the French Alps, but that gap has closed a little in recent years, writes Paul Mackenzie
Huddersfield has long been famed for its textiles and although the mills are quieter now and the industry much smaller, one new business is drawing on the town’s heritage. Based in a mill which was once part of Huddersfield’s proud tradition, McNair is one of few companies to have been launched with the intention of going downhill.
The clothing firm was launched to provide warm and stylish shirts for snowboarders such as Neil McNair, one of three partners who launched the business a couple of years ago. Now living and working in the Alps, Neil was joined by Manchester-based creative agency boss Richard Hamshire and Natalie Stapleton who worked for years in the textile industry.
‘We wanted to create something that wasn’t already out there,’ Natalie said. ‘We wanted it to be tailor made and luxurious but also something that looks good and gives a top class performance, a product that’s wind and water resistant as well as warm and strong.
‘We thought we could get someone to make a garment for us but no-one would because it was quite complicated so we ended up setting up our own factory.’
That factory is housed in an old woollen mill in Slaithwaite and what they now produce there are shirts made of merino wool which have been tested to their limits by Neil on the Alpine slopes and which are also selling well to gardeners and other outdoor workers.
The first shirts came off the production line almost two years ago and last month they launched two new designs in their men’s and women’s ranges. They now employ eight people and plan to extend the ranges further and to add accessories.
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‘We are growing step by step,’ Natalie added. ‘But we are conscious that we want to keep our supply chain as short as possible. There are obvious benefits to the environment and it means we get to benefit from the expertise in this area. Huddersfield produces some of the best wool products in the world and it is known and respected around the world.
‘It is absolutely horrific what has happened to the textile industry in this country, and more recently to the steel industry and it’s very difficult to recuperate from that kind of a blow. We are happy to be able to use the local knowledge and expertise and heritage and hopefully there will be a resurgence in textiles.
‘We are proud to be based in Slaithwaite. There’s hundreds of years of expertise and heritage in this area and a fantastic amount of knowledge.
‘We source the yarn from Huddersfield, within ten miles of the factory, then get it plied and send it to a weaver and then it goes to a finisher and then to a second stage finisher. The whole process takes several months.
‘At the moment we are having to buy in yarn sourced from Australia but we are trying to get a British breed. We will lose a bit of the softness when we do that, but we will get a much stronger and abrasion resistant product. Our ultimate goal is to use wool from Yorkshire sheep but the sheep we have found are at least in northern England.’
The shirts are made to measure – customers send in their details or visit the factory to be measured – and can take up to four months to be made. They sell for between £335 and £375 and each shirt bears the name of the machinist who worked on it and a unique serial number so if a customer wants another shirt, they have their details on file.
‘I think people’s buying habits have changed in recent years,’ Natalie said. ‘They tend to buy less stuff now but check the provenance of the clothes they do buy. They’re looking for something that looks good and will last longer, something that gives value for money.
‘There’s a real mix of people who buy our shirts – skiers and snowboarders, but also people who work outdoors, gardeners and architects who are using them as an everyday garment. It’s an investment purchase and the people who buy them really do get their money’s worth out of them – and they say some very nice things in the testimonials on our website