A PICTURE of every reigning monarch since the founding of Moxon Huddersfield hangs on the wall of Firas Chamsi-Pasha’s library. There are 20 in all, from Queen Mary in 1556 to Queen Elizabeth II.
The historic textiles firm is one of Yorkshire’s oldest businesses. It specialises in finest worsted and woollen cloth, which retail for thousands of pounds a metre.
Sipping coffee in the expansive library upstairs at Moxon’s base at Yew Tree Mills in Holmbridge, Mr Chamsi-Pasha, a 53-year-old businessman of Syrian origin, told the Yorkshire Post the story of his family’s involvement with Moxon and revealed how he is capitalising on the global market for luxury goods.
Three decades ago, his merchant father rode to the rescue of a supplier, Hield Brothers of Bradford, which was under threat of hostile takeover.
The family business, a textiles and real estate group, bought the shares of Hield and took the business private.
At its peak, Hield owned seven mills, including one in Canada. The family took over some more mills, including Moxon, in 1993.
“The prize was Moxon,” said Mr Chamsi-Pasha, “because you cannot buy history.”
He was asked in 1996 to look after the business, which had also added the Butterworth and Roberts mill. His first order was to “cut down production and kick out customers and completely change direction”.
He reasoned that the high-tax environment in the UK did not lend itself to cheap manufacturing nor competitiveness. He visited Japan and Italy on trade missions and was impressed by the investment in their textiles industries. He realised that the UK could not compete on price.
“So I decided to move up into a different stratosphere. Today, Moxon talks to God and Hield talks to Moxon. There’s no-one at our level.”
Chaker Chamsi-Pasha, his brother, runs Hield, which has shops in London’s Savile Row, Japan, USA and the Middle East.
Back in the 1990s, it was a tough time and Mr Chamsi-Pasha doubts whether Moxon could have survived as it went through its transition from volume business to luxury brand without the support of the wider group.
He said: “We went after true luxury. We instructed our agents in charge of buying wool and cashmere to go out and buy absolutely the best.”
The wool comes from Australia and New Zealand while the Altai cashmere is from Mongolia. The company uses old-fashioned machines and processes, which might be uneconomic by current standards, but are more flexible and can take diverse raw materials, he said.
“I don’t like competition by nature,” said Mr Chamsi-Pasha. “The only way to make the company immune is buying for things that no-one else will touch because they can’t afford them and to make products that are difficult to make.”
He said some big, well-known brands have gone for mass luxury, a market they support with large marketing budgets.
“We are not at that level. Our money does not go on advertising or imagery. It’s more about intrinsic value, which is appreciated in the Far East.”
He contrasted the different production processes.
“In a modern mill, it takes seven hours to finish a cloth. It takes us 14 days to complete the same process. You are dealing with a live product. Wool comes from a live animal and you have to give it time to relax.”
When he first came into Moxon, prices were £15 a running metre. It was supplying to trade, tailors, clothiers, merchants, some royal households and celebrities. Prices for a running metre now range from £300 to £11,000.
The company has used many rare fibres for its cloths, including ermine, mink, beaver and pearl sliver cottons.
“It’s all about added value. We have proved the inverted pyramid theory. At the bottom of the scale you have the mass.
“As you go up the price quantities get less and less and less until you reach a point where that’s it.
“If you persevere through that point you invert the pyramid. It’s not quantities that increase your turnover, it’s your price levels.”
Sales fell when he initially took over, but turnover has since grown to around £6m.
He exports most of the cloth to private clients, who are mainly collectors or royal households. He also sells to top-quality tailors, clothiers and designers.
In total, 95 per cent of goods are exported.
“I have started a policy of making customers wait for a year before we sell to them. Sense of anticipation breaks down price barriers.
“What that doesn’t take care of, coming into this would,” he said, gesturing around the library and its treasure trove of colour cards, sample swatches, historic memorabilia and keepsakes from an international life.
There is a photograph of Mr Chamsi-Pasha with Bijan, the late Iranian-American designer whose Beverley Hills store was described as the most expensive on earth.
“He took quality to a different level and paved the way for us,” said Mr Chamsi-Pasha.
Bijan, who died in April, dressed US presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush and Ronald Reagan.
Another photograph shows former president Jimmy Carter in a Moxon suit. There is also a copy of a golden pinstriped suit designed for Frank Sinatra.
Moxon takes its wares on the road several times a year to take part in shows in Bejing and Shanghai, capitalising on demand in the Far East for luxury goods.
Mr Chamsi-Pasha said: “In Japan, they appreciate intrinsic value and they are willing to pay for it.
“In China, they simply want the best. The customer is not as sophisticated yet but we are seeing signs. It takes time.
“The middle class is growing and the rich are becoming rich and their kids are being sent abroad and their aspirations change. We have seen the same in Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.”
Moxon recently exhibited in Brazil, a growing market for quality goods, said Mr Chamsi-Pasha.
In the future, he plans to have a series of Moxon clubs around the world.
He explained: “I wouldn’t call them shops because they would be private. I see us moving towards producing other items such as shoes and other garments. There is room.”
Socks for sale – at £400 a pair
Moxon Huddersfield has 52 members of staff producing 150 metres a day. That’s nearly a suit-length each.
According to Firas Chamsi-Pasha, a suit is made of three components.
“First and foremost the cloth, which you live in. Then, how it’s made, whether it’s stitched well or not, and of course the fit. In a day when it’s all about software and packaging, that’s how we package ourselves.
“Successful people want it to be known that they are successful.”
Alongside finest worsted and woollen cloth, Moxon also makes socks which retail at £400 a pair and can be worn 12 times.
The company sells around 140 pairs a year, mainly to overseas buyers.