WT Johnson & Sons for British Textile Week
WATCH: WT Johnson MD on helping cloth fulfil its potential
Paul Johnson is the fourth generation of family-run textile finishing firm WT Johnson & Sons, which was founded in 1910 and works with predominantly wool and wool-blend fabrics for apparel, accessories, interiors and furnishings to improve appearance and performance.
In this interview for British Textile Week, Paul explains how finishing has become a crucial part of the fabric manufacturing supply chain and outlines the significant impact finishing can have on a fabric’s performance, drape and handle.
The company is based in Huddersfield, which is important because in order to finish well you need to have a cool and high humidity climate. “You can’t air condition a finishing shed,” says Paul. “You are reliant on the natural conditions so the fact that some people would consider Huddersfield to be cold and miserable is actually quite good for finishing.”
The location also offers a copious supply of good quality water. “When you are finishing wool, the washing process is extremely important – you want to get rid of impurities imparted by previous processes,” he explains. “Washing wool in the right conditions means you can develop a very soft and luxurious handle. The softer the water, the better the lather and the more development you can get. The rainwater over the Pennine hills gives a consistent PH level and purity, which makes the washing process easier to control and more effective.”
Textile finishing is a complex process but one which, if done correctly, can make a big difference.
“Manufacturing in the UK means it is can difficult to match price points with other places in the world but that drives you to producing fabrics which have short runs, are technically very difficult or require a very high level of skill and you can be dealing with very discerning customers,” says Paul. “In these cases, small changes and small variations in handle and drape can be the difference between making a sale or not.
“We often illustrate that you can take a piece of fabric off a loom, bring it to WT Johnson and give it two or three finishes and it becomes a different item. So much so that in a tailor’s bunch you might give it a different quality number because the way the fabric now handles and looks completely different to the original, even though they came off the same loom. We can do that because we have more than 100 years of experience and skill, plus specialist machinery to take that cloth in different directions.
“How do we decide which direction to go? That is part and parcel of the relationship we have with fabric designers.”
Paul explains that WT Johnson has a saying that finishing should get involved at the beginning of the design and production process. “We like to be very clear about what the end use is for a fabric, what performance they are trying to achieve, where is the fabric going to end up and then we can work together to decide on the most appropriate finish for that fabric.
“People who understand what finishing can do and work with us to work on selecting the most appropriate finish, generally can produce a superior item,” he explains. “The earlier you introduce finishing into the design process, the more likely you are to get the most appropriate item at the end.”