Saturday, 8 December 2012

Discovering London Cloth Company and Purposeful Activity

Based in the heart of Hackney, the London Cloth Company in a wonderful surprise. Over the last few months, whispers of the existence of this flourishing micro mill located just a short jaunt from my flat have increased to sincere shouts to go and visit it from the likes of S.E.H Kelly and Daniel Jenkins,  both of which use the fabulous tweed that it produces. Having had the opportunity to travel seven hundred odd miles to experience Harris Tweed first hand, falling in with the craft in the process, it would have been ludicrous to fail to hop on the Overground for a few stops. So, as soon as I admired its fruits used in a stunning tobacco wool tweed peacoat, I popped along to explore the goings on behind its unassuming door during a festive open day at the mill last weekend.  

Nestled in a quiet residential area, the workshop is a hive of activity and a treasure trove of machinery. Daniel Harris, the one man-mill behind it all, is part weaver, part engineer. This is his passion, his life. He’s restored old equipment, gleaned advice from masters of the loom and has learnt on the job to develops fabrics for designers, tailors and interested individuals alike. "We prefer not to issue extensive swatch books as we tend to work directly with our customers to create bespoke fabrics," Harris excitedly rolls out as his mind imagines the possibilities. Possibilities that are beginning to be realised as a growing band of designers fall for the charms of his unique mill.

The workshop is home to reclaimed machinery dating from as early as 1850, and includes an ever-growing number of power looms and bobbin winders, and even a warping mill. This gives The London Cloth Company, the capability to facilitate the weaving process from start to finish. "There have been traumatic moments," admit Harris before taking a sip of mulled wine and continuing, "When I was searching for the ideal loom initially, I got a call from a man in Scotland who was retiring, 'Right, you can have it but you've got come and get is soon'. How soon I nervously asked. 'Today' came the emphatic response. Off I went, as soon as I possibly could. We left London at 6am, drove 630 odd miles and arrived at 10pm. Bearing in mind that I'd never seen such a loom in person before, I found them all grinning in the car park, pleased with themselves at taking the machine to pieces. I had to look at a few pictures." Little dampens Harris' passion for quality.

The space is home to a trio of Hattersley looms, the likes of which I've only previously seen in the shed of Donald John MacKay as I experienced Harris Tweed two years ago now, a Frankenstein's monster of a loom built from leftover parts (from the 1920s, the wartime era and the 60s or later) and a three and a half ton, semi automatic beast from Herbert Brown that caused another logistical nightmare. "We had to move this one seven hundred miles. Again, I wanted a slightly smaller one but this beauty was the only one available. It was on the third floor of a mill. I had to hire a crane to lift it out of the building, part of the roof had to removed and it then it had to be broken down into smaller parts to get it to the new home." And what a home. I can't imagine a better guardian than Daniel Harris. Allow me to take you on a little tour of his well crafted world...

Exploring Daniel Harris' impressive space and snapshots of the weaving process from a pedal powered single loom to a semi automatic monster. 

Used to travelling for my love of documenting craftsmanship, I never dreamt that I would be able to explore and document a flourishing mill located in the heart of my adopted city. As Daniel Harris' vision and capabilities evolve, I'm sure this will be the first of many visits to the London Clothing Company and the hunt begins to find similar individuals located closer to home. Helping me in this search could well be Daniel Jenkins who has just unveiled Purposeful Activity, a considered label made from British materials and with British makers, including London Clothing Company, that will sit alongside his buy from the likes of Lou Dalton, Tender and Baartmans & Siegel. Considering his pursuit of celebrating British menswear, this is a natural and well thought out evolution.

"Time and time again, I was becoming increasingly depressed by the constant chatter that you couldn’t produce unfussy, garments in this country using British materials without having to charge high prices. I felt this to be nonsense. Therefore I decided to show the fallacy of that notion." Jenkins explains. As the first few pieces go live on his site, the British menswear retailer is certainly proving a worthwhile  point.

"I don't want this to become a seasonal fashion label. If we can source a great cloth or come up with an interesting garment then we will put it into production. When it is ready, it'll go online. That's pretty much what happened with Daniel Harris. I happened upon a French blog post about him and thought I would drop him a line. Half an hour later I was stood in the factory and ten minutes after that I had ordered some fabric with no idea what to do with it. To me that's how the best things in business work. Having too much of a plan is a silly idea. It's nice to have an idea but, the ten year business plan idea doesn't apply to fashion. Ten hour business plan more like it. 

The cloth we are working with is exceptional. Same with the shirting. The best thing about both is that they will improve with age and aren't filled with an artificial story. I live - as you know - five minutes from where our cloth was woven. Our first store was about half an hour's drive from where the shirts were sewn. The factory we use in London for tailoring is great, the guys who run it know everything there is to know. Our garments made along side the biggest names."

Having known Jenkins for a number of years now and seen his unwavering support of British menswear, it is a pleasure to see him take it to the next stage. "This is truly a culmination of what we've done for the past five or so years. A chance to show off a different side of the fashion industry that many don't get to see." A side that we love to see. The fact that he was wearing two of the first items under the Purposeful Activity label, the Byron shirt and Nelson Jacket, as we explored Daniel Harris' workshop couldn't have been more perfect and I, of course, had to document it. Also, it was great to see Harris' delight at the sight of his tweed tailored in such a way...

Daniel Jenkins wearing the Byron shirt in wine Bengal and the Nelson jacket.

Daniel Jenkins has always strived to offer a retail platform for the best of British menswear and the launch of this considered collection of wardrobe staples is a Goodyear welted step forward. This might only be the beginning for Purposeful Activity and I'm keen to see how it evolves as Jenkins uncovers more makers to support and to collaborate with. But more than this, he hopes it will inspire others. I'll leave you with the below war cry.

"I'm amazed by how far British menswear has come but it still has a long way to go. Anything I can do to help I shall. Hopefully this will play a small part in getting the message out that our cloth is great, our factories fantastic and we as a nation are ready and willing to create things which will blow the world away."


James said...

Superb post. Jealous you get to see it in person but I'll make do with these posts.

1972 said...

Amazing venture (and gorgeous photographs!)


Anonymous said...

This Blog is really good thanks for posting it.6 months industrial training in chandigarh

Matthew Spade said...

great to see Daniel getting out there and doing it, for himself. If people like it then it seems like a bonus to him. He must be very proud


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