How long has Smedley been going for, tell us about the history and how the brand has changed over time?
John Smedley’s business dates back to the beginning of the industrial revolution, when cotton spinning began in factories in Derbyshire in the 1770s and ‘80s. The first knitted products would have been hosiery and then woollen underwear that would have been worn pretty much year-round by everyone. John Smedley makes the claim that “Long Johns” were invented here, as the long woollen underwear that men wore to keep warm during the winter. The factory experienced a big period of growth and success during the 50-year period from 1825-1875 when John Smedley 2nd ran the business, developing a lot of new products, expanding into exports, and selling both wool and cotton knitted garments of a very fine quality. John Marsden-Smedley, nephew of John Smedley 2nd, incorporated the company in 1893, purchased the freehold of the factory site from Florence Nightingale in 1894, and went on to run the company as Chairman for some 70 years, which must be a British record! The company has remained family owned since the start, and although our fortunes have fluctuated over time, we continue to employ 320 people in two factories in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, and make 100% of our garments in the UK. John Smedley was contracted by the Government to make underwear for the armed forces during both World Wars, and after WWII there came a big change in the market as sales of Long Johns declined. My Grandfather, Ian Maclean, was the Chairman in the 1960s and oversaw a big move into knitted shirts, pullovers and cardigans – all the products we are familiar with today. This led to a big change in the “visibility” of the brand, as celebrities such as Marylin Monroe, The Beatles and Audrey Hepburn were photographed wearing John Smedley. In the 1980s we began to develop our business in Japan with a family business called Mashimo & Co who had similar values to ourselves. In the 2000s we were able to start trading directly with the Royal Households, eventually gaining the Royal Warrants of Appoint from Her Majesty The Queen (2013) and HRH Prince Charles (2021). Today, the business is very thankful for the loyalty of its retail customers and many valued consumers around the world for helping us to recover from the worldwide downturn during Covid. Our business is beginning to thrive again as we start to write the next chapter of our long history.