Visitors to the Blackshore workshop-with-store in Southwold are not only fascinated and delighted to find that the company makes half of its products in their own sewing room, but are frequently surprised to discover that there is still a textle and apparel industry continuing to thrive in the UK at all.
Those not involved in the industry have got so used to the idea that the majority of clothes and fabrics are made overseas, that it’s easy for them to assume that ‘made in Britain’ only applies to specialist areas like Saville Row tailoring.
Although it’s true that the vast majority of British textile and apparel manufacture went overseas over the last three decades, there is something of a revival, and there are some very long-standing producers still flying the flag with superb quality products.
One such is County Brook Mill, in Colne, Lancashire, with whom Blackshore Coastal Clothing is now working on a range of its Suffolk-made products.
Textiles have been manufactured at County Brook Mill for over 200 years.
Since 1907 the mill has been owned by four generations of the Mitchell family, but as the company says, the mil family extends beyond the owners. County Brook’s closely knit team of highly-skilled artisans work hard to continue the two century legacy of craftsmanship and innovation, inspired by heritage textiles as well as new technologies. Some of the mill’s skilled craftsmen and women have been creating fine textiles at the company for as long as 40 years, helping tradition to thrive.
The name County Brook Mill comes from the brook which once fed the mill’s mighty water wheel, powering more than 400 looms at its production peak in 1936.
This brook lay on the historic county line, separating wool-rich Yorkshire and the booming cotton industry of Lancashire: a highly symbolic ‘seam’ between two great industries at the heart of British fabric production.
Inspired by the strength and beauty of both county’s textiles, County Brook has historically woven worsted, mixed goods and cottons as early as 1860, and they still continue this tradition today.
The high quality woven textiles they have crafted over the past century have become part of many British institutions, from haircloth for Saville Row to deckchair fabric for the Royal Parks. Under the commission of the mill’s parent company Mitchell Interflex they have also developed decades of experience creating millions of yards of interlinings for curtains and technical industrial fabrics made to highly accurate specifications.
Blackshore Coastal Clothing first encountered County Brook at the Make It British Live trade show in London in early 2019.
Blackshore founder Simon Middleton was struck by the quality of new denim weaves which the mill had just started producing, as well as by the vivid colours and striking graphic designs of some lambswool weave swatches.
On returning to Suffolk, Simon contacted County Brook for more samples and then commissioned the mill to produce two designs of lamsbwool throws, with matching large cushions.
The throws, rich with colour, and cleverly woven with complementary patterning on face and reverse sides, proved popular when Blackshore opened its Southwold shop last October, and customers placed advanced orders when the original stock sold out.
Meanwhile, Simon and his team were focused on producing their cotton canvas workwear, mosty using fabrics finished and dyed in the north of England, but originally woven in India.
Simon’s ambition was to include completely British produced fabrics in part of the Blackshore range, so he asked County Brook to weave a roll of their new mid-blue cotton denim.
“I knew from the original swatch that this new fabric was good, but the finished production roll was even better than I expected. So we have immediately produced our chore jacket style and our smock using it. It’s lovely to be able to tell customers that the entire garment is produced in Britain, right from the original weaving.
“And the fabric is so good that we’ve named these first two garments after the mill, as a compliment to their quality.”
The Blackshore County Brook Jacket and the Blackshore County Brook Smock re both available in the Southwold shop, and online at www.b;lackshore.cc
Now the collaboration has begun, Simon is certain that he will continue to work with County Brook to produce new fabrics for his range of workwear styles, as well as English-woven denim for jeans.
The art and skill required to weave a variety of distinct fibres has been vital to the mill’s growth and development throughout its history. Thier small workforce of weaving and textile specialists manufacture a diverse range of fabrics, built on expertise gathered over generations.
The “British Made” principle is a core value to the Mitchell family ethos, and wherever possible they source and support local dyers, spinners and finishers, most of whom are within Lancashire.
Blackshore, though at the other side of England and far south, has exactly the same ethos, so the collaboration seems sure to continue.