Timelessness and heritage have been become the buzzwords of the FashionBeans community, with particular celebration of all things British.
Our behind the brand series has so far covered some of the largest British exports, ranging from the fashion royalty that is Burberry to the institution that is Barbour and we’ve also championed Fred Perry, to name but a few.
With a rich 225-year Derbyshire history, John Smedley fits the bill perfectly for another entry into the series; one that shan’t be overshadowed by its aforementioned illustrious company.
The company was co-founded in Derbyshire, in 1784 by Peter Nightingale (an ancestor of Florence) and the first John Smedley; a total of four John Smedleys have run the company.
The company originally specialised in producing muslin and spinning cotton. However, by the end of the 18th century the company began to expand into knitting and hosiery.
The second John Smedley to take up the reigns was the eponymous John Smedley’s son. Born in 1803, Smedley Jnr began work as an apprentice in 1819 and eventually took over the running of the operation in 1825. Shortly after taking charge, Smedley began expansion work that resulted in an unrivalled production line producing finished garments rather than just the manufactured cloth.
Smedley Jnr’s legacy is still felt around the company today as he laid the foundations for the reputation for quality that John Smedley embodies.
Upon Smedley’s death in 1875, with no heir the company was passed on to his cousin, the third John Smedley. He died not long after in 1877 and the company was then entrusted to his son, a fourth Smedley.
The fourth and final John Smedley spent a remarkable 70 years at the helm. During his tenure he oversaw the business as it became a limited company in 1893 and developed the production line further – it was now capable of manufacturing finished fine-gauge outerwear and underwear.
1932 saw the introduction of three iconic John Smedley garments, the Isis, Leander and Pembroke. All three were made from luxury Sea Island Cotton and still remain prominent figures in their spring/summer collections.
The 50s saw a shift in focus for the John Smedley brand as their attention moved from underwear to outerwear; the introduction of central heating meant insulated underwear became more or less unnecessary.
The 1960s heralded an era of exportation for the Smedley name. Their knitwear became a staple abroad as well as at home in Britain. The 80s also saw a growth in the brand as they knitted collections for the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith, Comme des Garcon and Nicole Farhi.
Quality is what has been the foundation of the brand’s success throughout its 200+ years. The introduction of Sea Island cotton in 1922 allowed the company to continue to build on its reputation for quality knitwear.
1995 was a similar cornerstone for the company as they introduced specially selected, extra-fine New Zealand Merino wool. Both Sea Island Cotton and New Zealand Merino wool are still used in the production of John Smedley knitwear today as they continue to exude the quality on which the brand has been built.
Twenty Truths is a John Smedley collection that epitomises the brand’s ethos and history.
“John Smedley unveils its best-kept secrets with Twenty Truths – a classic collection of knits that boast an enviable menu of unique attributes. John Smedley re-release two iconic menswear styles with a limited edition garment label, unveiling the brand’s Twenty Truths. The truths read as a tantalising menu of luxurious qualities including washed in local spring waters and hand finished in Britain, both unique to the John Smedley mills in Derbyshire. Men’s knits include the ‘Bobby’ v-neck and the ‘Hunter’ crew-neck styles.”
In 2007, Smedley expanded its famed production line and began to produce a full range of knitted accessories, which all met the same standard of quality of its revered outerwear.
From the rumoured origin of Long Johns to one of Britain’s biggest knitwear brands. Both at home and abroad, John Smedley has had a fantastic 220-year+ history and is showing no signs of slowing down.
John Smedley continues to innovate in its pursuit of perfect knitwear. It is the sole user of five machines that help create the collars on their Isis and Dorset models. Technique stooped in history is just one of the reasons no other brand has been able to imitate the quality that comes with the Smedley name.
Esteemed editor of British GQ, Dylan Jones, once declared that a man could never own too many Smedley Roll Necks, I would certainly be inclined to agree with him.
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