Take a look around you. What can you see that is 50 years-old?
How about 100 years-old? OK, 200 years-old? Now imagine what the part of the world where you’re reading this looked like 233 years ago.
Anyone who works at knitwear brand John Smedley can look around and see the same premises, located in the same valley on the edge of the Peak District that echoed to the first splutterings of the Industrial Revolution 233 years ago.
Their forebears started spinning fabric in a mill at the site at Lea Mills – just down the road from Cromford Mill, the pioneering water powered mill that set the wheels in motion for the whole global upheaval – less than 12 months after the creation of the United States.
In fact John Smedley believe they have the longest continuously running factory in the world.
Although times and machines have changed since the first generation Smedleys (they’re now on generation number seven) strolled the corridors and aisles, the threads of that industrial heritage remain woven into everything they do.
“During the 1930s we had a collection of sports shirts, tennis shirts and shorts and since then have continued to have the traditional polo shirts within our collections,” says Jackie Turner, design manager on a collaboration merino wool polo shirt between John Smedley and Rouleur.
“The influences for the Rouleur polo were based on introducing newer techniques – integrally knitted pockets, twisted seam detail, rib structures and hanger loops – into our iconic polo shirt.”
The company has historically been less concerned with cycling and more concerned with underwear: “long johns, combinations, vests and so on, in all different guises, from a very heavy wool to a very fine silk.”
However the modern day fabrication mirrors the traditions of bicycle manufacture. The days when riders would know the owner of the gnarled and calloused hands that welded tubes together; whose movements, muscle memory and dexterity was passed down from master to apprentice.
“We have generations of families who have worked for John Smedley; the skills are passed down,” adds Turner.
“Those skills of making our iconic polo shirts are continually called upon to create this beautiful product.”