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John Smedley’s Derbyshire factory opens for third-party knitwear manufacturing

Coinciding with the knitwear company’s 240th birthday, UKFT member John Smedley will reopen its production lines to brands for seasonal orders. Working in partnership with key industry bodies, this strategic initiative by John Smedley aims to encourage brands to bring knitwear manufacturing back to UK shores. By boosting the factory’s output, it will also futureproof the company and proudly support local jobs.

John Smedley knitwear

Based at Lea Mills in Derbyshire since 1784, John Smedley is the oldest, still-operational knitwear maker in the world. Awarded two Royal Warrants, the company, specialist in exquisite merino, sea island cotton and cashmere, is renowned globally for its craftsmanship and commitment to quality. Its production schedule will open to brands from April 2024, for the forthcoming Spring/Summer 25 season, for the first time in more than 40 years.

John Smedley knitwear

“John Smedley is spending upwards of £3m to install the newest and most advanced machinery in its factories – producing a generational change in its manufacturing capabilities – and this will enable us to serve not only our own needs, but those of the most progressive brands in the UK, Europe and the US. Brands can work with us as partners to take advantage of our skills and experience, honed over generations, as the best knitwear specialists in the world. We will also bring to the table our knowledge and ambition to make knitwear that is amongst the most sustainable garments in the market – good for brands, good for the world, good for everybody.”says Ian Maclean, MBE Managing Director of John Smedley.

John Smedley knitwear

In 2023, John Smedley invested £2 million in expanding and enhancing its manufacturing capabilities. New Shima Seiki machinery — among the most advanced, cutting-edge equipment in the industry — has been installed. Alongside new machinery that enhances the brand’s capabilities to include traditional fine gauge but also chunky textures, knitting with fibres finer than the human hair at 19 microns all the way to chunky fisherman style textures. Combined with John Smedley’s centuries-old heritage, the factory’s marriage of age-old craftsmanship techniques with modern technology gives the company a competitive edge in the market. It also offers third-party fashion brands the opportunity to benefit from John Smedley’s specialist manufacturing prowess and specialist, skilled workforce. Many of its craftsmen have been employed by the factory for decades, offering unrivalled expertise on British soil for third-party brands.

John Smedley knitwear

This year, a further £1.5 million will be invested by John Smedley to conclude renovations on its existing manufacturing site. This includes a large expansion of their design and new product development team particularly investing in new technology to program and develop designs. It also includes relocating and expanding their wash & dyehouse functions. Brands can choose from more than 70 fibre and colour combinations each season: its on-site and now unrivalled dyehouse offers unlimited possibilities in terms of colour development.  The team are also pioneering a new project in partnership with their Yorkshire based textile recycling partner Iinouiio, to complete the circularity loop by taking waste panels and yarns and knitting them into new bespoke yarns. These new fully recycled and recyclable fibres will launch first on the John Smedley channels from October 2024 and will be made available to external brands from the Autumn/Winter 25 season onwards.

This investment plus the brand’s renowned reputation in craftsmanship has already proven persuasive enough to bring fellow British brand Daks back to manufacturing within the UK, with their 12-piece Spring 25 knitwear collection being entirely produced by John Smedley under a collaborative label to mark this celebration of heritage meets innovation on British soil.

John Smedley knitwear

Speaking about the project Jo Smith, General Manager PR & Advertising, Daks stated “As part of our 130thAnniversary, DAKS is committed to returning to UK manufacturing. Collaborating with John Smedley for our SS25 knitwear collections is an important part of this process. We were looking for a partnership with a like-minded brand who share our core values.  Both DAKS and John Smedley share a rich history, but most importantly one which has focused on innovation. The brands complement each other perfectly with a focus on tailoring and knitwear respectively.” 

By reopening its third-party production schedule, John Smedley hopes to inspire more brands to make goods closer to home. In the 1980s, prior to the manufacturing exodus that saw many companies’ offshore production to the Far East, it created knitwear for luxury labels including Prada, Burberry, Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood.

John Smedley is committed to responsible production and sourcing. A fully transparent, traceable supply chain sees its merino & British wools sourced from farms in the UK — where fibres travel less than 300 miles from field to the Derbyshire factory — and New Zealand, which John Smedley has partnered with for more than 50 years and follows the highest ZQRX standards. John Smedley’s Sea Island Cotton and silk, which are offered as standalone fibres and cashmere blends, follow a similar sourcing pattern with cottons from California grown to a bespoke specification with the fibre being GOTS certified and grown to an extra-long staple with an average Micronaire of 2.9-3.5 and an average fibre length of 38mm -42mm. Cashmere is sourced from the Upper Alashan regions of inner Mongolia before being spun by specialists Zegna Baruffa whom John Smedley have been working closely with for over 25 years. All cashmere fibres are GRS (global recycle standard), SFA (sustainable fibre alliance) certified.

Aligning with the Fashion Industry Charter, and the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, John Smedley is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% within the next decade, achieving net-zero by 2050. All production runs for third-party brands will follow the same strict, sustainability protocols.

“When I think about the future of our business, I see us responding to challenges with the same enthusiasm, passion and faith in our craftspeople that we have had for the past 240 years and I fundamentally believe that we make the finest knitwear in the world, so my message to brands would be ‘If you can design it, we can make it; and if you want a quality product, that will stand the test of time, then you should be making it with us” Jess Mcguire-Dudley, Deputy Managing Director, John Smedley.

For brands wanting to explore the new manufacturing capability and an introduction to John Smedley, please contact info@ukft.org