Yorkshire Post - Monday 22 June 2015
Textiles firm Alfred Brown seeks China export growth
A textile manufacturer is preparing to showcase its materials in China for the first time as it celebrates its centenary year.
Alfred Brown, which has produced worsted cloth in Bramley since 1915, will exhibit at the Intertextile Show in Shanghai in October.
The £10m-turnover firm has seen increasing interest from the Far East, with sales to Japan doubling in the last four years.
It first started exporting to China 18 months ago and has seen “very pleasing” progress as shoppers look to the quality of English brands.
Joint managing director Ian Brown told The Yorkshire Post: “The Far East is very good for us.
“They believe the very best fabric made in the world is English fabric or Italian fabric. It’s in high demand over there for the growing affluent proportion of their population.
“We see export as a big opportunity.”
Overall production has increased 20 per cent in the last five years, weaving over one million metres of fabric a year. Export now accounts for around 25 per cent of sales.
In the UK, Alfred Brown sells fabric to retailers and designers including Marks & Spencer, Next, Austin Reed, John Lewis, Jaeger, Paul Smith and Charles Tyrwhitt, as well as Savile Row tailors and fabric merchants.
While it has a strong presence on the high street, it sees greater future growth in its developing export markets in the Far East and Middle East, as low-cost foreign manufacturers put pressure on British high street prices.
Consumers outside of Europe view its fabrics with distinction and are willing to pay more for British-made, Mr Brown said.
He said: “Unfortunately it’s just not possible to compete on prices with fabrics coming out of the Far East.
“It is really a question of customers wanting to have a product that is made in England.
“It’s about the quality and the provenance of it. They have to be able to justify a higher retail price for a British product.
“That works for some customers and for other customers, it’s less relevant.”
Many of the companies it supplies in the UK use the mill labels - featuring the Alfred Brown and Empire Mills brands - which is helping to raise the profile of the company’s brands on the high street, Mr Brown said.
It also has a long-standing relationship with Marks & Spencer and England’s Football Association, which will see it produce fabric for the England squad’s official Euro 2016 suits.
It has previously team suits for three international tournaments since the 2010 World Cup and also wove the cloth for Team GB’s formal attire at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Mr Brown said: “We’re very pleased to be associated with the England football team.
“We get involved in a lot of prestigious sports contracts. It helps publicise the company.”
Alfred Brown remains a family-owned and -run company, with Mr Brown and brother Nigel working as joint managing directors.
Joanne Handley, nee Brown, is also on the board, along with sales director Roger McArdle.
Initially founded by Herbert Brown as Brown & Sons, the company produced uniform cloth for the military, police and fire brigades. Herbert’s sons Alfred and Stanley took charge of the business in the 1920s, leading it through the technological revolution in the Leeds textiles industry in the 1930s. The firm was renamed Alfred Brown (Worsted Mills) in 1954. From the 1960s to the 1980s, third-generation family members Alfred, David and Peter expanded the company further. It is now under fourth-generation management, continuing a history of investment in loom technology.
The firm, which employs 85 people, put £1.5m investment into new machinery in 2011.
Alfred Brown will mark the centenary of its July 2nd 1915 with various parties in London, Yorkshire and at the mill.
In September, its new Autumn/Winter ranges for 2016 will be unveiled in Milan.
A new collection of 200 suiting patterns in a range of colours and designs will also be launched to celebrate 100 years of trading.
Despite stiff competition from abroad, West Yorkshire’s textile manufacturers are experiencing a rennaisance.
Firms such as Alfred Brown and Pudsey-based AW Hainsworth have continued the region’s reputation for quality fabrics.
Earlier this year, a report suggestd the industry will boom over the next five year, with the cretion of thousands of new jobs.
The Alliance Report: Repatriation of UK Textiles Manufacture claimed 20,000 new jobs could be created in the sector around the UK, as more companies source their fabrics from the UK. The report identified West Yorkshire as the “densest area of textile fabric and weaving in the UK”.