Robb Reader: Oliver Platts, CEO of Joshua Ellis

The man helming the luxury scarf manufacturer on why today’s garment makers need to be cut from a better cloth.

How do your designers go about coming up with, for example, a new tartan pattern?
We’re fortunate that we have a design archive going back many decades. I think at the last count we had around 30,000 archived fabrics to use as inspiration, so this is always a good place to start when thinking about a new collection or a design project for a branded customer.

In addition to this, in Yorkshire we’re surrounded by an amazing array of interesting landscapes to spark an idea or a design concept: from the industrial Victorian mills through to rolling hills and rock formations, there are plenty of inspirational locations within a 20 mile radius and I encourage our designers to take the time to visit these places and draw on them in their new designs.

From that initial concept board, we produce CADs [computer aided designs] and from there, our weaving technicians turn that inspiration into a reality with a sample length for show at the main trade shows or direct to ateliers in Paris, Tokyo, London, Milan and New York.

In terms of construction and materials, what’s the difference between a garment purchased for a season and a garment purchased for life?
In our eyes, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. We’re proud to tell our customers that if you look after our garments they will last a lifetime and in order to do this we buy the best natural fibres and work with the finest dyers and spinners in the local area – Huddersfield being the original home of fine cloth.

Every product we make goes through 21 different processes and our craftspeople have skills passed down through generations of fine textile manufacture in this area. However, despite this obsession with quality and longevity, our designers are tasked with continual innovation in order to keep collections looking fresh and appealing, season after season.

Tell us about the Sustainable Fibre Alliance?
It’s a non-profit international organisation working with the extended cashmere supply chain, from herders to retailers. Their main aim is  to promote a global sustainability standard for cashmere, in order to preserve and restore grasslands, ensure animal welfare and secure herder livelihoods. We’ve been part of it since 2017.

Precisely what are its methods and actions?
The SFA has three key goals which are to reduce the environmental impact of cashmere; ensure high welfare of cashmere goats; and increase herder resilience to livelihood risks. Their approach is both market led in that they provide a voice for the cashmere industry and also grassroots in that they understand the rangeland systems and the challenges facing livestock herders.

As well as working with the herders to promote best practice in grassland management and animal husbandry they also work with manufacturers, brands and retailers to raise awareness of sustainability and ethical standards.

Why is it important for the company to align itself with such goals?
As a premium manufacturer specialising in cashmere and woollen scarves and fabrics, we’re working towards a fully sustainable and ethical supply chain. Joshua Ellis has traded for over 250 years and it is our goal, as custodians of this business, to ensure that it is fit for another 250 years – but without a truly sustainable supply chain this is impossible. In addition to this, the luxury market is moving at a rapid pace and our wholesale customers – the brands we manufacture for – are looking to their supply base to ensure sustainability across the products that they supply.

Do you think the customer cares about provenance and animal welfare?
Absolutely. The end consumer is becoming ever more aware of the impact of the fashion industry and we’re seeing much greater interest in the provenance of the clothes they wear. This is now coupled with understandably heightened concerns over the environment and the treatment of workers and animals – the textile manufacturing industry has to understand this and adapt accordingly.

Tell us a little about your AW20 collection and your plans for the future?
Our AW20 scarf collection has been designed and manufactured with classic British fabric designs such as  Prince of Wales checks, windowpanes, tartans and chalk stripes at its core. We have then updated these designs with bold and bright colours to accentuate any outfit, from formal to casual and back again.

While we’re all nervous about the next few months, our latest fabric collection has been well received and our new scarf collection for 2021 launches wholesale in January so despite everything we’re trying to keep it as ‘business as usual’ as best as we can. The pandemic and Brexit are change accelerators that are drastically and rapidly evolving our business model as we adapt to the new normal. We have to now keep up with the demands of a consumer who sees transparency, sustainability, value for money, heritage and integrity as the pillars of luxury, and as a business manufacturing in the UK for over 250 years we’re hopefully in a good place to capitalise on that shift.