Spinning successful yarn from textile heartland

A NEWLY launched yarn, entirely conceived, spun and marketed in West Yorkshire, is proving popular with the global knitting market.

The new yarn, Blue Faced Leicester by Debbie Bliss, was devised by Designer Yarns, Keighley, using British knitting designer, Debbie Bliss, and spun by Laxtons Specialist Yarns, Guiseley, with Blue Faced Leicester wool.

David Watt, managing director of Designer Yarns, said: “Sales so far have outstripped even our most optimistic expectations so it is likely to become the first in a new family of Blue Faced Leicester yarns in our range. While other British wools are manufactured around the world, the unique element of this is that this is entirely a West Yorkshire initiative.”

Launched last autumn, the yarn is aimed at the high-end knitting market. Mr Watt added: “At this stage of the season, and the autumn/winter season won’t end until the end of March, we have sold double our budget amount. We budgeted to sell 8,000 packs of yarn, which is 80,000 50-gram balls, and so far we have done 17,000 instead of 8,000.” The success of the new yarn has led to knitting yarns distributor, Designer Yarns, gaining backing from Yorkshire Bank through its £1bn Business Expansion Fund to take on an additional 10,000 sq ft of warehousing space in Keighley, creating a total of 25,000 sq ft.

Commenting on the launch of the new yarn, Mr Watt, said: “We realised that, while on one hand the business world is becoming more global, there is a growing interest in goods which are local and part of a tradition whether it be foods, furniture or textiles. We talked to Laxtons and decided to develop a yarn using the wool from this iconic British breed of sheep and manufacture and sell it from West Yorkshire, a traditional heart of the UK textile industry.

“This, combined with the fact that it is marketed under the Debbie Bliss brand, probably the best-known English knitting designer label, has given us a unique yarn which has been embraced by knitters all over the world.”

Designer Yarns, which distributes high-quality hand-knitting yarns, was founded in 2001 by chairman, John Cashell, and has 22 staff in the UK, including 17 in Yorkshire, and a £6m turnover, with £7m expected for its current financial year.

Around 60 per cent of the company’s products are manufactured under licence in Italy with others sourced from continental Europe, Japan and South America. The company distributes through 700 independent UK sources, mostly knitting yarns shops as well as major store groups such as John Lewis.

The company also serves continental Europe through a wholly-owned subsidiary, Designer Yarns Deutschland, which it launched in 2009, and now has 10 staff.

Mr Watt added: “We’ve grown our UK business from ten per cent of turnover to 50 per cent in the last six years. I’ve been in the textile industry for 40 years and the changes we have seen in the last decade are remarkable with a huge worldwide resurgence in knitting as a hobby.

“Our plan is to increase overall turnover by up to 30 per cent in the next three years by seeking out, or sourcing, more yarns which fit our profile and enable our customers to be profitable.”

Designer Yarns, whose main shareholder is non-executive director John Cashell, is entering new markets all the time.

“We are doing some excellent business in places like Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and also those further afield. We have a new distributor in Korea who is doing great business. Whilst we’ve exported since day one, it is really starting to be a very significant part of the business.” Mr Watt said profitability is “very solid”.

James Laxton, owner and managing director of Laxtons Specialist Yarns, which has been manufacturing bespoke yarns since 1907, said: “We are with the support of the likes of Designer Yarns seeing a steady growth.”

Laxtons Specialist Yarns, which employs around 20 people, a figure which fluctuates depending on the time of year, set up the first new commercial wool manufacturing factory in Yorkshire for 30 years in 2010.

This marked the return of the firm’s manufacturing to the UK from Europe, where it carried it out from 2001 to 2010. It invested in new machinery for the factory last year, also with backing from Yorkshire Bank.