What is the first name you think of when you think “wax jacket”? Yup, that one and many more are looked after by Halley Stevensons (H&S).
They’ve been trading since 1864 and yet 52% of their staff are under the age of 25. A great testament to a forward thinking, innovative business that has learned to evolve with the needs of the market, whilst also having the ability and foresight to create, test and sample in their laboratory, potential new products.
The research and development of the Social Tailor Project is taking me on quite a wide and varied journey, from Parliament to City Chambers to University to Factory floor. On this visit, both Jimmy and Dot took the time to meet me and answer some of my questions about the business.
1. As the producer of the worlds leading waxed cottons what market or brands would you like to work with and why?
Our customer base is vast and very varied and its is important for us to keep it that way. There are a handful of “Wax heritage” brands that we work with every season, every year and others who use waxed cotton on a more sporadic basis. We gain a lot from the customers we work closely with. Large and leading fashion brands are at the forefront of the industry, setting trends and pushing the boundaries of innovation which we aim to accommodate every step of the way. With our smaller customers we have great relationships which are just as valuable. There’s an understanding with our clients that we help them in anyway we can and they are part of our research and development with the feedback they give us in return . It’s an added bonus for us to watch brands develop with our product.
2. H&S develop manufacturing methods to increase productivity for new cloth, what process do you go through to achieve the end result?
We are always looking to challenge ourselves to develop new finishes or modify existing products with improvements in mind. Having said that, we are working with some wax formulations and fabric bases that have withstood the test of time over generations as our core product. We do not change these for obvious reasons! Our new developments tend to use the same base fabrics as we know they work in respect to water resistance. These dense weaves are already water resistant before we add wax as a secondary barrier. We blend wax formulations in house to give differing aesthetics or performance properties.
3. What techniques do you employ to keep on evolving to the needs of the market – or through your own R&D do you introduce new cloth to test the market?
As mentioned, our relationships with our customers are a vital part of our R&D process. We exhibit our new and existing products at trade shows throughout the year and this drives our timelines for development. The initial “concept” meetings are followed up with regular reviews, looking at lab/bulk sampling, test results and time permitting, user trials in mock up garments. This process takes around 6 months.
At trade shows and by listening to our customers, we get feedback as to what is current and wanted in the market place. Wax is not always in fashion believe it or not! Therefore we need an alternative finishes for when wax is not necessarily on trend. Our superdry and hybrid aero finishes offer this. We also have a responsibility as manufacturers and with ever increasing concern regarding the environment and have put in place switching formulas for our non wax fluorocarbon finish from a c8 to c6 formula to comply with customers standards. We are actively working on a fluorocarbon free finish that we hope to launch over the next 6 months. Organic cotton options are becoming more available and WE are looking at recycled fabrics with a view to future fabric developments.
4. As long as there are sail boats and harsh weather there will be a need for H&S, have you worked with or considered alternative source materials in order to reduce the route to market?
We are always looking at new combinations of materials to work with. In our collection we have nettle cotton, cotton/linen and most recently nylon cotton. Having said that, as previously mentioned, densely woven cotton gives the best water repellent performance in conjunction with wax finishing.
Cotton absorbs wax effectively through processing and holds onto it well in use. It can also be woven densely, is strong and we can create good performance fabrics from as low as 4oz base fabrics. Some fibre types just don’t suit this type of finishing, especially man made fabrics. Out nettle/cotton product is a replica of the Swiss Army rucksack/bag fabric as used in the second world war. We think it’s a bit special and took over a year to get it just right.
Nettle yarns are very long staple and hard wearing and the melange coloured effect is created by using a combination of 3 fold and 4 fold dyed/undyed yarns.
Huge thanks to both Dot and Jimmy (the best people) for taking the time to talk to me about the work they do and who for (especially considering they’re still fulfilling requests after the most successful time ever at Premier Vision).
Halley Stevensons website: http://www.waxedcotton.com/