Tweedmill - from Flint to the Far East
PUBLISHED: 10:29 14 September 2017 | UPDATED: 14:32 20 September 2017
Tweedmill, in Flint, is a British success story that began in Wales, but found international fans. Kate Houghton reports.
The current MD of Tweedmill Textiles, in Flint, is Bart Ryan-Beswick, son of Jackie Ryan and Robert Beswick. And yes, that is Beswick of Staffordshire pottery heritage …this apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.
Tweedmill was founded as Tweedmill Greenwoods in 1965 and its first home was in Denbigh. Makers of traditional tweeds and tartans, by the early years of the 1990s it had somewhat lost its way and its future looked bleak.
Bart’s mother, Jackie, bought the company fully aware of the issues it faced…and less than 20 years later it supplies luxury lifestyle retailers such as John Lewis, Selfridges, Made and BlackbyDesign.co.uk with fabulous, contemporary collections of throws, blankets, cushions, bags, dog beds…in fact almost anything that can be created using high quality woollen textiles in any shade from ghillie green to fuschia pink.
‘When mum bought the business it was making very traditional tweeds and tartans and the market was failing,’ says Bart. ‘The archive books we have dating back to the early days show collections of tweeds for “hunting, shooting and fishing” types and tartans such as Black Watch and Royal Stewart. Cheap imports and a change in demand resulted in a failing business, but she recognised that the retail market had changed and believed she could create a product that would find an audience.’
Initially, Jackie was faced with sheer hard slog, travelling up and down the country, visiting retailers and attending trade shows. This wasn’t new to her, however, as she and her husband Robert had met at a country fair, where he too retailed country fashions and textiles.
‘Mum also recognised that to reach the new markets we needed a new approach to our design,’ Bart says, ‘and she worked to create textiles that met the demands of people seeking a more contemporary look.’
Jackie’s efforts placed them in the perfect position to take advantage of a sea-change in interior design which started around six years ago.
‘Fashion designers such as Tommy Hilfiger, Missoni and Matthew Williamson moved into interior design, with many bringing out seasonal accessories collections. The recent Scandinavian trend known as ‘hygge’, which can be summed up as a desire for comfort and cosiness, also means people are looking for ways to accessorise their homes using high quality, stylish products.’
Tweedmill uses mainly wool from New Zealand, plus some alpaca yarn, and it’s woven to their design in a traditional mill in Yorkshire. Everything is finished at the factory in Flint, where skilled technicians cut, stitch and finish every item before despatching.
‘Our design team is based here,’ says Bart. ‘They work in a variety of ways. We make items to be branded by clients and some want us to present ideas to them against a loose brief, some clients send us designs and some have a keen idea of what they want but need some help. We also have our own branded in-house collections.
‘These can be both completely traditional or absolutely contemporary. There’s still a strong market for high quality tweeds and tartans, but it’s overseas. We have a big presence in Japan, for example.’
Bart and the team are constantly investigating new ideas and new markets. ‘We undertake a lot of work for companies seeking branded blankets, for example,’ Bart says. ‘One of my favourites was a black picnic blanket with the Southern Comfort logo. We’ve also worked with Jaguar Land Rover, Hendrick’s Gin, Rick Stein and Somerset House. It’s really interesting; you never know quite what they might demand.
Ice ceam shades for summer picnics
Bart Ryan-Beswick with some of the the 2017 collection
Heather Jones operating a whipping machine.
Kath Wild cuts neckerchiefs for dogs.
Paul Dunster at the cutting table, cutting waterproof backing for picnic blankets.
Tweedmill's own branded summer collection
Traditional checks in contemporary tones
Perfect in pink
‘We’re also developing new lines – the luggage range and the canine collection and, next year, we’re looking at furniture.’
Bart knows his family business backwards.
‘When I left school I asked my mum for a job, and she said “no!”’ he tells me. ‘I was told to go and work elsewhere first. I worked on a large sheep farm in Wales and then travelled and when I came home I asked again and she put me in the factory, learning every skill.
‘From here I went to work for Dawn Hughes, our head of production. She’s been with the company for over 40 years, longer than we have! I just soaked up her knowledge. As time went on I took on greater responsibilities and now here I am.This is not a big business and any decision taken has a resultant knock-on effect in every area that has to be managed. Without understanding how everything fits together, you can’t run it properly and the only way to know that is to have worked in every area.’