HISTORY OF LINTON TWEEDS
In 1912, Scotsman William Linton established Linton Mill in the Caldewgate area of Carlisle, a small city situated near the Scottish border and in close proximity to the famous Lake District.
Initially, Linton employed two salesmen who used ponies and traps to travel around the Lake District, buying wool and selling woollen suit lengths. During this time, William Linton developed a close friendship with Captain Molyneux, a Parisian couturier. In the 1920s, Captain Molyneux introduced William Linton to a dynamic young lady named Coco Chanel, initiating a relationship that would flourish over the years. As a result of this association, Chanel became Linton’s biggest and most prestigious customer.
Over the years, the name Linton became synonymous with high-quality fabrics, and their exquisitely designed cloths were frequently featured on the Paris catwalks. This reputation led to significant business growth in America, as Americans were eager to replicate the outfits showcased in Paris couture houses using authentic Linton fabrics.
During the late 1930s and throughout the 1950s, Miss Agnes Linton, the daughter of William Linton, travelled to the USA first class by ship, carrying cabin trunks filled with fabric samples. Except for the war years, business in America was so robust that the Linton Collection was exclusively shown to a select group of ten to twelve privileged customers each season.
In the mid-1950s, Miss Linton was succeeded by her nephew, George, who, with assistance from director Des Matthews, successfully continued the legacy of Linton. However, by the time Leslie Walker assumed the role of manager and designer at Linton in 1963, several factors were converging to threaten the company’s business:
- Linton, like many other firms in Scotland and Yorkshire, was still exclusively producing 100% woollen cloth. The competition was fierce, particularly from larger firms capable of producing cheaper goods.
- Despite our success in America, a staggering 85% of our production was being exported to the U.S., essentially putting all our eggs in one basket. This vulnerability became evident in 1967 when labour union difficulties along 7th Avenue led to the closure of most of Linton’s American customers.
- The market in Paris, managed by Robert Burg, an agent and friend appointed in 1954, was prestigious but not financially lucrative. Couture houses like Chanel would place orders for a series of 6-yard lengths but only utilized a small portion.
As circumstances unfolded, George Linton retired, and Des Matthews faced personal tragedies that led to his departure, leaving Leslie Walker as the sole working director and designer. Despite a dedicated and hard-working labour force, the prospect of closure loomed large, jeopardizing over 100 jobs.
In 1969, the Linton Family appointed Leslie Walker as the Managing Director, marking the dawn of a new era for the company.
Leslie initiated a series of transformative changes, starting with the product itself:
- Introduction of exotic yarns crafted from man-made fibres to elevate the designs.
- Investment in machinery for in-house fancy yarn production.
- Introduction of new yarn dyeing techniques and the expansion of colour options.
- Redesign and reduce the weight of traditional piece-dye fabrics.
The next step was to rejuvenate the marketing strategies:
- A pioneering journey to Japan revealed a strong interest in fabrics used by Chanel.
- Extensive visits to America and Canada were undertaken to seek new customers, replacing those who were no longer in business.
- The longstanding association with the previously unprofitable couture business in Paris began to yield results as fashion houses started introducing ready-to-wear collections, providing an opportune moment to introduce Linton’s new style collection.
- Strategic appointments were made, including Taka Uchinuma in Japan and Russell Farley in London, to act as Linton’s agents.
These changes swiftly opened new markets, and the innovative collection was warmly received, maintaining Linton’s reputation for high-quality fabrics. Over the next few years, Linton’s customer base expanded rapidly, culminating in the prestigious Queens Award for Export Achievement in 1991.
In 1976, Leslie’s wife, Carole, who had been appointed as a director, saw her longstanding dream of establishing a retail outlet and coffee shop become a reality. A purpose-built fabric showroom and the “Bobbin” coffee shop were constructed adjacent to the mill in Shaddongate, officially inaugurated by Jean Muir on April 5th, 1993.
In 1994, Leslie Walker transitioned into semi-retirement, entrusting the role of Managing Director to his eldest son, Keith, while Rob Irvine led the team of designers, who have consistently excelled in catering to the demands of today’s couturiers and fashion houses.
As the company continued to evolve, our product range expanded, resulting in the offering of two distinct collections.
In 2010, we introduced Linton Direct to complement our high-end Linton collection. Linton Direct is exclusively marketed through the internet on a retail basis, affording everyone the opportunity to acquire the exquisite fabrics we meticulously produce.
Both collections feature exclusive yarns sourced from across the globe, woven into an array of limitless patterns, and perfected using a wide range of techniques. These exceptional products are crafted by our dedicated and skilled staff, a source of immense pride for us.
Our international standing has consistently grown, thanks to our participation in trade exhibitions at Premiere Vision in Paris and attendance at shows in Tokyo, Milan, Munich, New York, and Seoul. Our enduring relationships, especially with agents Taka Uchinuma in Tokyo, along with K.D Corporation in Korea, Run Unison in China, and Giorgio Olivero in Milan, ensure that the world’s most esteemed fashion houses have continued access to our exceptional fabrics.
In 2012, we joyously celebrated our centenary, a remarkable achievement, especially within the ever-evolving textile and fashion industry, marking a century of our enduring history.
THE NEXT GENERATION
In 2021, Ross and Duncan Walker assumed leadership roles, taking over from their father, who transitioned into retirement after over three decades at the helm.
During their relatively brief tenure as managing directors, Ross and Duncan have already implemented significant changes within the mill. They have prioritized the use of environmentally friendly yarns in our fabric production and invested in state-of-the-art, energy-efficient machinery, including advanced looms. Additionally, they’ve taken sustainability to new heights by installing solar panels on the mill’s roof.
Irene Steel, with nearly 30 years of experience shadowing Rob Irvine, has taken the reins as the head designer, bringing fresh perspectives and creativity to our designs.
Linton Direct, our online retail arm, continues its remarkable expansion, consistently selling tens of thousands of meters each year to a global audience of sewers, ateliers, and designers. This expansion has allowed Linton Tweeds to forge connections with new customers, ranging from small businesses to major players worldwide.
The Asian market continues to burgeon, with designers and brands seeking to replicate the luxurious couture designs of the UK and Europe. Our enduring and close relationships with major fashion houses persist, and season after season, as they return to utilize our innovative and cutting-edge tweed designs.
In the face of a challenging economic climate and the myriad ups and downs we’ve encountered over the past century, our business not only perseveres but thrives. We remain committed to ongoing investment in our mill and, above all, in our exceptional and dedicated staff. This story is just beginning, and our legacy continues to evolve and flourish!