Wyedean keeps on marching as times change

Troops parade along the Mall
Troops parade along the Mall
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When more than 1,400 officers and men wowed the crowds at the Queen’s Birthday Parade in London last month, the last thing on most spectators’ minds was a small weaving company in West Yorkshire.

Yet it is Haworth-based Wyedean Weaving that makes Trooping the Colour so dazzling.

The company makes all the tassels, trim, and gold braid, which is two per cent the real thing, on every one of the soldier’s uniforms.

It is by far the company’s biggest shop window says managing director Robin Wright, and if you missed it, there’s always the Edinburgh Military Tattoo later this year.

“We’re basically a narrow fabric weaver. Narrow fabrics have a short, or narrow, weft, and includes webbing, ribbons and sergeant’s stripes. We make it all,” said Mr Wright. “Without our kit, it’s just a suit. We turn it into a uniform.”

The company’s expertise has been captured by Hollywood many times – just dig out a DVD of Master and Commander, Saving Private Ryan or The Last Samurai to take a look.

“They tend to be period dramas that involve uniforms. But we could never make a living from that – it’s too haphazard. The film work only accounts for less than two per cent of turnover, but it adds a bit of interest,” said Mr Wright.

Back in the real world, Wyedean has two hefty Ministry of Defence (MoD) contracts to keep it busy, but a good third of its business comes from exports to many of the former dominions of the British Empire, as well as many of the Gulf States, where gold trimmings are particularly popular.

All those shiny bits may be made by Wyedean, but that doesn’t mean they’re all made in Yorkshire. Since the company started up in Haworth 50 years ago, Britain’s armed forces have shrunk. Personnel numbers have fallen by more than 40 per cent since 1990, and current plans see numbers heading only one way.

And since Wyedean’s military work has always been its mainstay, these cuts have been parallelled at Haworth, where the 150-strong workforce of 1995 has been cut to just 18.

“The operation we run now is more supply-chain management. We do do some manufacturing here, but much of it is outsourced,” said Mr Wright. “It’s very labour-intensive and costly, so we use independently-owned factories in Pakistan, India and China, and we’re looking at production opportunities in Vietnam and Cambodia.”

Britain’s declining military stature may be mirrored in its reduced manufacturing prowess, but a constant feature of its economy has always been innovation, and Wyedean too has had to adapt to survive.

“Every four years, the MoD contract is renewed and if one year we didn’t get it for whatever reason, it would knock a large hole in the business,” said Mr Wright.

“It’s a vulnerability we’ve become aware of and that’s why we’re opening up new areas for the business. So we’re going to promote direct sales more through our website, uniform-accessories.com, which is aimed at collectors, re-enactors and security organisations.”

Another growth area is weddings. Since last August, it has sold ring-cushions, garters and table trims via another web portal, trimmedwithlove.com.