Turnbull & Asser
Turnbull & Asser have been making shirts and ties since 1885. Owning two factories in England they divide the workload where one focuses on the shirting, while the other the ties and bow ties. The two factories are brimming with a skilled workforce that maintains the high standards, possibly making them best shirt makers in the world. Keeping everything handmade, the items go through an engaged process where a number of workers will apply their skills and finesse. Here we speak to a range of people within the business who tell us about their hands-on approach to manufacturing menswear.
Dean Gomilsek-Cole, Creative Director
“We are very lucky to be able to work with our two self-owned factories that are both based in the U.K, after decades of working with Brands that manufacture off-shore. I can be at either of them between 1 and 3 hours. This close proximity means we have a great working relationships with both factory managers and have gotten to know most of the staff through visits – this personal approach helps, so if and when issues arise they can be easily resolved face to face if necessary. I always like to make sure I communicate my appreciation of the staff as without their craftsmanship the collections would not exist.
I think we have a mutual respect, the understanding takes a little longer. I have only been working with them for a relatively short time, less than three years, and I am the first designer the Brand has had in 130 years so I’m sure some of our ideas might sometimes puzzle them! Its great to be able to have a discussion and work through ideas with the factory teams because this is how we start to understand each other. I am trying to stretch them to the limits of their creativity and they are always striving to maintain perfection in their craft, it’s a perfect combination.”
What manufacturing techniques do you employ in the factories during the making of Turnbull & Asser products?
Although manufacturing techniques remain relatively similar, mostly just more efficient machinery or automated non-skill base procedures like folding, there have been more advancements in textiles.
As we also work with our cotton and silk weavers to produce exclusive materials for our shirts and ties I am able to create fabrics that would have not been possible previously. With access to a vast archive of textile designs I am able to look back in time and actually improve upon the designs of the past by refining weaves and adding new fibres for shirts or using more imaginative and contemporary imagery for our ties.
We can sometimes have an aesthetic difference of opinion during the process, which is more about a design nuance rather than a problem with the make or fit of the garment. I am a serial tinkerer and can often change my mind about details once I see them in reality.
Shaun Bird, Gloucester Factory Manager
“Due to the nature of bespoke shirt making we encounter fresh challenges every day. Despite us keeping to the same traditional techniques, in recent years we’ve acquired a few machines that pre-fold certain parts of the shirt before they are sewn such as the gauntlets and gussets to help speed up the process.
We have a pattern maker and several pattern cutters at least half of those have been with us for 20 years or more.”
What’s the most difficult item you produce?
This would be any number of bespoke shirts due the individual’s unique measurements, a Safari Bespoke shirt stands out more difficult than most.
Do items get produced by an individual or by several people along the ‘production line’?
The majority of shirts pass through the production line but we have a small sample section shirts that fall outside the normal specs are made by one individual.
Stuart Hamilton, Kent Tie Factory Manager
“I have been working primarily with the same selection of silk weaving mills for the last 30 years, they are aware of my attention to detail and my need to receive all fabrics free from defects. Over the years I have built up a reputation for quality whereas I will not accept on compromise on the quality of the silks that arrive to me here in Sidcup. I believe that over the years I have built a good strong relationship with our suppliers together we have come across many different problems and been able to resolve them in an amicable way. This only comes from both sides understanding each others processes, strengths and weakness. Our new resident design team are posing new challenges for both the silk fabric mills and ourselves as they seek to move the design concept forward on the product.”
Have you been continuing the manufacturing of garments in the same manner since the brand started, or have there been developments with technology that have improved the manufacturing?
As a hand maker, I have found it important to maintain the same techniques and traditions that have been used for many years, technology does not play a part in my manufacturing process instead the skill and craft is held with the employee on their individual part on the manufacture of the product.
Who does the final sign offs of garments – do you personally do the quality control or do you trust your team at the factory?
I personally QC and approve every product that leaves The Tie Manufacturing Division. I believe that Turnbull & Asser has a luxury trademark for excellence and quality, therefore I like to oversee every product, for me our reputation is extremely important and it is something that I strive to uphold. I like to think of every tie that leaves us on its way to be worn by a customer as “A TIMELESS PIECE OF PERFECTION”. Something the customer can rely upon for both fabric and manufacture.
What’s your relationship like with the factory’s staff?
I have a skilled workforce of craftsman, some have been with 20 years others only a year, but the team I have assembled works together with a joint passion for the products they produce. By training my team to be multi skilled to understand and work in more than one department of the manufacturing process helps the team to problem solve “as a unit” up pulling on all their experience from their own departments with the additional knowledge of other sections. Thy are a very well motivated and happy factory.
As I have worked for the company for nearly 30 years the staff appreciate my experience and knowledge, and my dedication in the pursuit for perfection. They can see the passion I have for the brand and the product and I believe, in turn, rubs off on them. Although I am the General Manager for the division I am also seen as one of the team as I have worked in nearly every department throughout my career with Turnbull & Asser.
Is there a sense of pride making a British brand in UK?
Yes of course, I believe that Turnbull & Asser has built upon its reputation by producing its core products “Shirts & Ties” by its own factories, maintaining an exclusivity and quality that is held in the highest regard by its followers as well as its competitors, with the trade mark “MADE IN ENGLAND”, many brands try to emulate our signature look by producing products off shore for a cheaper price but when compared to like for like, not only is there a visible difference, but there is also a major difference in the overall quality of manufacture. My team and I are proud to manufacture products for all discerning customers that believe in what Made in England stands for. With a customer base that spans heads of industry, celebratory and monarchy what more of an endorsement could one ask for that Made in England alongside Turnbull & Asser still stands for Luxury and Quality.
What’s the name of your pattern cutter?
Monty Nelson is our Master Cutter – he has been working with me for since 1997.
Are your ties ‘hand finished’?
The use of “Hand Finishing” is dirty word to me – it’s a term used for a “machine made” tie that has had the label sewn on by hand or has had the final pressing of the tie done by hand. It is a smoke and mirrors way of diverting the attention away from the fact the tie is machine made and still be able to use the word “HAND” in its description of manufacture.
All of my ties and bow ties are traditionally “HANDMADE”, from start to finish using hand slipping techniques that have not changed over the last 50 years, there is NO industrial or mechanical process used to produce my ties.
What is the most challenging Turnbull & Asser item you produce?
After being in the industry for so many years there is not really a difficult product to produce, rather than it take longer and is more labour intensive to produce some products that are not as the standard. The most labour intensive product currently being the 5/7 & 9 Fold ties we produce with mother of pearl buttons.