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Good Yarn as West Yorks becomes home for new British wool

11th March 2013

A new British yarn, entirely conceived, spun and marketed in West Yorkshire, has been launched in a partnership by two textile companies.

The new yarn, Blue Faced Leicester by Debbie Bliss, has been created by two textile companies supported by Yorkshire Bank.

Blue Faced Leicester by Debbie Bliss was devised by Designer Yarns, Keighley, using well-known British knitting designer, Debbie Bliss, and spun by Laxtons Specialist Yarns, Guiseley, using Blue Faced Leicester wool. The knitting yarn was launched last autumn and is already selling worldwide.

Both companies are at the forefront of a resurgence in the Yorkshire textile industry triggered by the increasing popularity of knitting as a hobby and a growing recognition that rising transport costs are making it less economic to ship wools from one country for manufacture and sale elsewhere.

The success of the new yarn has led to knitting yarns distributor, Designer Yarns Ltd, 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.

Laxtons Specialist Yarns gained financial support in 2012 from Yorkshire Bank to acquire new specialist yarn production machinery after setting up the first new commercial wool manufacturing factory in Yorkshire for 25 years in 2010.

Designer Yarns managing director, David 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.

“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.”

Designer Yarns Ltd, which distributes high-quality hand-knitting yarns, was founded in 2001 by chairman, John Cashell, and has 20 staff in the UK and a £6m turnover.  Around 60 per cent of the company’s products are manufactured under license 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 12 staff.

David 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. The additional warehouse facility backed by Yorkshire Bank, which has been brilliant, is to support extra stockholding and dispatch efficiency.”

Phil Shearstone, business development manager for Yorkshire Bank in West Yorkshire, said: “It is very rewarding to be supporting two West Yorkshire textile businesses which are at the forefront of knitting yarn innovation and to play a role in supporting a new British product which is being exported worldwide.”

Yorkshire Bank’s Growing Business campaign, launched last autumn, is a package of initiatives including fee-free loans and overdrafts, a £1billion Business Expansion Fund and 24 months free banking for start-ups.

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