GAINSBOROUGH - the silk route of the future
We spoke with Emerson Roberts, Managing Director of Gainsborough - one of the oldest silk producers in England - about the company’s history, weaving & dying methods, and how their impressive archive of designs translates to a business operating in today’s economic landscape.
Known in fashion circles for their work with Paul Smith and more recently for Christopher Kane’s Beauty and the Beast collection (below), Gainsborough was established in 1903 by Reginald Warner, in Sudbury, Suffolk, where the business still remains.
Customers come to Gainsborough for a unique combination of tradition, quality and innovation. This extends to being able to work with Gainsborough’s impressive archive of over 5000 designs, a collection started by Reginald Warner that successive generations of weavers and designers continue to build upon. Using traditional patterns designers create their own colourways adding a modern twist to a heritage design.
Awarded the Royal Warrant in 1980, the company produces fabrics for Royal palaces and state buildings globally, yet remains forward thinking, collaborating with designers and fashionable locations such as Goring Hotel, The Ivy and The Hospital Club. It is this forward thinking that has enabled Gainsborough to survive market changes.
Recognising that the business had become too reliant on traditional customers and with an increase in competition from overseas production from Turkey and Bangladesh, Emerson Roberts is more than aware that the business’ strength lies in it’s exceptional quality and having the same vision as Reginald Warner had in the beginning, that of innovation and design led fabrics. Former sales and marketing director at Brompton Bicycle Ltd, Emerson’s experience in export driven sales is key to growing Gainsborough internationally.
Made up of three Central St Martins' graduates the design team work alongside local generations of mill workers. Gainsborough offers no formal apprenticeships yet support employees as they work their way up through the ranks learning whilst traditional weaving skills. As granddaughter of a mill worker myself passing traditional crafts down to the next generation is something that I’m extremely passionate about. In order to keep textile craftsmanship alive we need to make stories and products appealing and relevant to the next generation, utilising technology and social media to create wider reach.
Using CAD specific for jacquard designs enables archive designs to be documented and utilised. Traditional jacquard cards can be transferred on to modern looms to make production quicker, however a fabric connoisseur will notice the difference between something produced on a modern or traditional loom. This choice is up to the customer.
Silks come via the age old silk route, China via Italy. A variety of non toxic chemicals are used to dye the silk, in contrast to dyes which contained arsenic many years ago. Gainsborough are currently working with a consultancy exploring the complexities of sustainability as a business and fabric producer.
The issue of sustainability within the silk industry including using Peace Silk (also known as Ahimsa Silk, is processed from cocoons without killing the pupae inside) is something which Black Neon Digital is working on a larger feature for release later in the year. Although Gainsborough’s customers have yet to request Peace Silk, I’m sure it’s something that’s now on the radar for Emerson to look into.
Since the company began in 1903 there have been many economic, social and technological changes, which at this point still in time continues to bring uncertainty and opportunity. Gainsborough remain true to their heritage and understand what it takes to adapt and flourish, we wish them great success for the years ahead.
chrisopher kane images via christopherkane.com all other images courtesy of gainsborough