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Royal visit to British button manufacturer Courtney & Co

HRH The Princess Royal, President of the UK Fashion & Textile Association, visited Courtney & Co in Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds this week to meet the company that has brought natural button manufacturing back to the UK.

The UK originally had a thriving button manufacturing industry but one by one, companies closed as cheaper imports and a move to global sourcing took their toll.

James Grove & Sons was established in 1857 and supplied the armed forces, police forces and governmental organisations around the world, as well as Savile Row tailors and global brands.

It grew to become the largest maker of horn buttons in the world, employing some 600 people at its peak.

But despite a worldwide reputation for the highest quality buttons it produced, James Grove & Sons closed its doors in December 2012 for the last time after 155 years of family ownership and operation.

In June 2013, David Courtney and his wife Andrea responded to an appeal featured in Country Life magazine to acquire the last remaining button-making and finishing machines, as well as a collection of several thousand historic button dies, sample books and other memorabilia.

Then they set about learning the trade as button makers using the archives and patterns of James Grove’s past, and reconditioning and repairing machinery.

Three years later, Courtney & Co launched and today the company is going from strength to strength, supplying a range of high street retailers, designer labels and independent brands.

Courtney & Co is passionate about manufacturing in the UK and restoring an industry to its former glory. Currently buttons are turned at premises in Corby, Northampton, but a number of processes are now being undertaken at the Bourton-on-the-Water site, which acts as an office, showroom and heritage centre to showcase the extensive archive materials.

During her visit, HRH was shown memorabilia kindly donated by Peter Grove, the fifth generation of the family and direct descendant of James Grove, as well as given an overview of how the buttons are made. She was also told about the firm’s plans for the future, which include expanding its selection of designs and using new innovative, sustainable materials, in addition to corozo and horn.

The company has also recruited its first two employees from outside of the family to accommodate growing sales and position the firm for further growth.

David Courtney, Co-Founder of Courtney & Co, said: “Our ambition is to follow in the footsteps of our predecessors and make the finest buttons using the best quality materials available, while employing traditional techniques and processes. We are delighted that HRH The Princess Royal could learn more about button making past, present and future and to show her the James Grove Heritage Centre, the Courtney & Co showroom and our new dye shop.”

Adam Mansell, CEO of UKFT, said: “Courtney & Co is a fantastic example of how far the demand for UK-made product has come and how closely brands are looking at sustainability and provenance when building their collections. They are also inspiring in that they are embracing heritage techniques yet looking to the future with new innovative materials.”

The UK is home to a diverse range of businesses producing fashion and textiles, from heritage manufacturers fusing artisan techniques with the latest technology through to cutting-edge technical textile producers and high-end designer manufacturing specialists. UK fashion and textile manufacturers produce product worth more than £9bn a year and employ more than 100,000 people.

In her role as UKFT President, Her Royal Highness is keen to recognise the exceptional skills, craftsmanship and talent within UK fashion and textile manufacturing businesses. This year she has embarked on a series of visits, from central London to Ayrshire in Scotland and Flimby in Cumbria.

UKFT is a passionate supporter and champion of UK manufacturing, encouraging best practices and innovation while fostering a long-term sustainable environment for companies to thrive.