Exactly 211 miles from her Dalston studio, Sadie Williams is walking between a jet scouring machine and a conveyor drier, her signature sparkly lurex dresses tucked away back in London, away from the industrial smells of dyes and softeners. We’re in Huddersfield, a market town in West Yorkshire, historically established for its wool manufacturing. The contrast between the factory setting and her high-waisted red-white-and-blue skirt makes for quite surreal scenery. But how did we get here?
Sadie Williams's MA collection from 2013.
As the global patron of wool, The Woolmark Company started the research day-trip initiative Loom to London back in 2013, with the goal of putting up-and-coming UK-based designers in touch with the core of the textile industry that’s actually on their doorstep – the best of manufacturing facilities. With past participants being Craig Green, Matthew Miller, Katie Eary, Agi & Sam and Lou Dalton, the focus of the programme is on fashion designers who are defined by their use of fabrics. Cue Sadie Williams, a NEWGEN name whose playful, sparkly, kaleidoscope-like designs rely on their eclectic fabrications.
On our way to Huddersfield...
On our train to Yorkshire, we talk about the upcoming autumn/winter 2017 collection. “I am going back to working with print and textiles, without really having a theme. Instead, I want to enjoy those things that I like doing and play with textile, print, colour and texture,” Sadie tells us.
The conveyor drier at W.T.Johnson & Sons, Sadie and our guide Alan Dolley.
She’s come to the right place at W.T.Johnson & Sons, a fabric finisher situated in Huddersfield with a heritage of over 100 years in business. The factory looks like a playground of possibilities with nine processes including scouring, pressing and dyeing adapted to the bespoke needs of each customer. The company’s technical manager Alan Dolley talks us through each machine in the factory, and discusses the change of currents in the niche industry of fabric finishing and production: “Decades ago, we were doing fewer customers with larger orders of the same fabric, but nowadays we deal with a massive number of people, each one producing a wide range of products on a smaller scale.” Their collaboration with Marks & Spencer has been going for decades, but even they are now skipping large orders in place of smaller, individual fabric finishing solutions, which puts potential smaller customers like Williams in a good position.
The fabrics are ready to go at W.T.Johnson & Sons.
Next stop is the vertical mill of AW Hainsworth, a company famous for the wool they call “the fabric of a nation”, more commonly used for military, police and fire department uniforms. Their current focus is changing to apparel, costume and fashion. For her autumn/winter 2015 collection, Sadie Williams worked with Hainsworth to create a specific mustard-coloured wool, which she later combined with silver metallic overlay and designed into an A-line twinset. With the sales executive Ivana Rosinova, we got to see how that kind of textile is made – all the way from scouring the sheep shearings to final dyings and trimming of the wools.
The weaving machine for travel fabrications at AW Hainsworth.
“It’s great to see the source and the history of the fabrics I use,” Sadie says towards the end of our trip, evidently enthused by the experience of first-hand contact with the giant machines that make the locally sourced ingredients to her deliciously iridescent fashion recipe. And we can’t wait for February to see the next course.
Sadie at AW Hainsworth.
Text by Dino Bonacic