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Keeping it in the family: James Crawford-Smith meets the innovators behind four of Britain’s fabulous family-run fashion houses.

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Fashion is not an easy business. Ask anyone working in the £62 billion industry and they will tell you just how hard it is. From multinational conglomerates to bijou boutique businesses, large and small the British fashion industry is booming. Somewhere between behemoth and bijou are the unsung heroes of the industry, the family-run businesses owned and operated by generations of spouses, siblings, and extended relations, each contributing to the rich fabric of British fashion. I was introduced four such leaders covering the expanse of British fashion from heritage shoemakers to urban streetwear finding out just what it means to each of them to oversee one of Britain’s best family-run fashion brands.

Cornelia James – Genevieve James, Design Director

Glovemakers extraordinaire, Cornelia James has been the go-to place for fashionable gloves since 1946. The East Sussex based business is now run by the founder’s daughter, Genevieve together with her husband and their son.

"My mum was Jewish and just before the war in 1939 she lived in Vienna where the whole family had to get out very quickly. She managed to escape to England and apparently, she didn’t even take any clothes.

"All she brought with her was a suitcase full of leather because she was just so passionate about making gloves and that’s what she valued – her materials. She started to make a lovely and unusual collection of coloured leather gloves.

"People loved the gloves in those early days because they couldn’t necessarily afford new clothes because of the rationing so you could buy gloves and completely transform an outfit. She became very well-known and Vogue magazine called her The Colour Queen of England. She caught the eye of Norman Hartnell and he basically took her under his wing. He taught her a lot of things and she became quite well known. When he was commissioned to make the wedding wardrobe for Princess Elizabeth in 1947 before she became Queen, he asked her to make not just one pair of gloves but all of the gloves for the honeymoon trousseau.

"My father was a banker and was a chartered accountant and they thought that they would go into business together with him doing all the business side and she the designing. They started a factory down in Brighton producing loads and loads of leather gloves.

"It was not always intended to be a family business. It wasn’t until my mother died that I thought – you know what I want to make this work and get in there. When my mother died just before the millennium and my husband and I took over we made a big decision that changed everything in the business which was to take everything online and slim down our product line to just focus on our gloves. We were a very early example of a brand that transitioned completely online and it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.

"My son has joined my husband and I in the last couple of years to help with our online offering. He has a background in very high-end project management, and he’s really now come to grow our website into what it is today and he handles all the logistics and that side.

"I’m very proud of the business and that we’ve managed to maintain our royal warrant. The business was granted its royal warrant in 1979 under my mother’s management and you don’t get it for life you have to maintain your standards and relationship with the royal household so that it can be renewed every five years. So I’m very proud that under our management we’ve maintained that. Moving into the future I would like us to potentially move into men’s gloves which is very exciting. I’d also like to expand our export following and do more with Japan – that would be interesting."

corneliajames.com

 

Sisters & Seekers – Alice and Maisie Jones, Directors

Founded in 2017 from a garden shed at their Welsh home, sisters Alice and Maisie Jones began Sisters & Seekers, the hugely successful streetwear brand which is fast becoming an favourite label at home and abroad.

"We are each other’s support system and rely heavily on each other to make decisions. We honestly don’t know how we would function without being able to work closely together, especially when we completely understand each other’s position. It helps as sisters that we are also very much alike, our creative vision and business ideas are typically very aligned which we feel is how the brand has grown a strong identity that customers recognise.

"Our roots began in selling vintage clothes on eBay and Depop as we have a personal love of vintage British style, so in terms of our creative direction and designs, this is definitely a bloodline through Sisters & Seekers. Our campaign influence has definitely been ingrained with British elements in 2021 especially, and this seems to have been really well received by our customer base. We are born and bred in Wales – though are not sure if we are prepared to do a Daffodil or Dragon inspired collection to showcase this! We aim to be a deep-rooted and longstanding brand that is versatile and fluid, shaping around how the market/trends look ten years from now."

sistersandseekers.com/

 

Rayne – Nicholas Rayne, Owner

Rayne shoes has provided the footwear for some of the biggest names in British history for over seventy years including Her Majesty The Queen. Nicholas Rayne now owns the business which has a cult following and maintains its reputation for style and quality.

"Rayne was founded by my great grandparents Henry and Mary Rayne in London in 1885. From 1920 onwards when the New Bond St shop was opened, Rayne started to sell their shoes to society ladies. This proved to be a sensational success. I am the fourth generation of the Rayne family to own and operate the Rayne brand. And I am third generation of the Rayne family to hold a Royal Warrant.

"The Rayne family connexion with the business is of paramount importance. This keeps the Rayne brand's character true to its origins. This is quite a responsibility for each generation trying to maintain the company’s connection to its past whilst steering it forward to the future. We drill down to the essence of Britishness to create a contemporary Rayne luxury look utilising the best craftsmen internationally to make the footwear itself. This objective is achieved by combination of quality of materials, mastery of skills, timeless classics, and with a modern twist and style. Moving into the future I would like us to reopen a London flagship store in the heart of the city."

rayneshoes.co.uk/

 

WALSH – Jon and Dennis Cropmton, Directors

Bolton-based luxury sporting footwear and accessories brand, Norman Walsh was founded in 1961 and is now run by the Crompton brothers.

"As brothers we feel very proud that we can continue with the same ideals that Norman Walsh instilled in the business when he set up the company in 1961. The Crompton family had been customers since the early 1980s and met with Norman on a number of occasions when visiting the factory to purchase sporting footwear. We had discussed with Norman the possibility of buying the business and on one of those visits he liked the idea that the company would continue as a family business. We feel very privileged that Norman let us continue with the business he had established and as fans of WALSH footwear from being around 16/17 years old, to be at the helm is a great privilege to make sure the company continues for many more years to come.

"We have continued to develop the brand along the lines of what we both like. We do have differences of opinion and try to work within our defined work roles and skills. Sometimes we totally disagree but personally when work has finished you have to leave those differences behind until the next day but make sure that they get resolved at work. It is a very proud feeling when you see WALSH product in retail stores even more so when you see members of the public wearing WALSH branded footwear. You get a great sense of satisfaction seeing the product that has been made in your factory, by staff who have worked and trained to be able to manufacture the product, to the vision that was first introduced by Norman Walsh."

normanwalshuk.com/



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