The John England story starts in 1964 when John approached Harold Calvert, owner of Blackers Mill, Portadown, with a view to setting up a joint venture business. At that time, John was working for the Mallusk Linen and Bleaching Company but had reached a point in his career and life that he wanted to be the master of his own destiny.
So, flying in the face of worried criticism from friends and family, but with Calvert's backing, John set up shop in a terraced house in Charles Street South, Belfast. The initial rent was only £2.15 per week and when he later purchased the property it set him back just £200.
John's reputation as an innovator and creative genius quickly grew, not just in Ireland and Great Britain, but further afield throughout Europe and the rest of the world. A regular at trade shows in France, Italy and America, John's uncanny knack of sourcing and designing unique textures and colours from the natural world around him meant that top fashion and interior design houses quickly favoured JE linens, a legacy that continues to this day.
Significant and continued business success meant that the company relocated from Charles Street South in 1988 to larger premises and then again in 1998 to premises overlooking the historic Titanic dock in Belfast. Since November, 2012 the company has come under new ownership with a well known Irish linen Jacquard weaver and has relocated the 25 miles south of the weaving factory in Banbridge, Co Down.
With significant experience in the Irish linen industry, we are driving the company to even greater heights of innovation and customer care.
The John England legacy continues.
The Irish Linen Story
Much has been written about the long and noble history of Irish Linen. Ireland’s involvement with linen goes back a very long way and it can never really be certain how it first came to the island. In the 19th and early 20th centuries linen was a very great industry, and much of the city of Belfast and its hinterland relied on linen for its development.
Linen is a yarn or fabric made from the cultivated flax plant, named Linum usitissimum. This domesticated species is believed to have been developed during cultivation. It is a cellulosic plant fibre, or bast fibre, and it forms the fibrous bundles in the inner bark of the stems of the plant. The plant is an annual that grows to a height of about a metre and the fibres run the entire length of the stem and help hold it upright.
The fibre strands are normally released from the cellular and woody stem tissue by a process known as retting (controlled rotting). In Ireland this was traditionally done in water, rivers, ponds or retting dams.
In the latter part of the 20th century sales of the more mass produced Irish linen products came under pressure from cheaper to produce cotton, and then the introduction of man-made and synthetic fibres.
In more recent times the pressure was from fabrics and products from low cost countries.
Irish linen fought back, its unique qualities of comfort, drape and its distinctive appearance kept it a niche in the luxury market, and its unique physical properties maintained its use in industrial textiles. These advantages were well backed up by the confirmed quality, and the confidence and equity established in the Irish linen brand.
In the latter part of the 20th century there were increased efforts to promote linen to the apparel trade. At this time there was a growing reaction against the synthetic fibres, as they had been probably over used for apparel in the 1960's. Natural products had been more and more replaced by synthetic substitutes which in spite of their attractive appearance and functionality carried the difficulty of disposal and long term damage to the environment. As well as the comfort issues, not present with natural fabrics. In the 1970's the promotional work started to pay dividends, and by the late 1980's linen was in general use in the top of the range apparel in most countries in the developed world. Linen in apparels was by now far outstripping its traditional household textiles and industrial sectors.
Similarly, in the early 21st century there is a growing reaction against the mass importation of fabrics and products from low cost countries. This seems to be in part due to dissatisfaction with the modern emphasis on mass-production, an increasing need by buyers to know the 'green', as well as ethical credentials of what they are buying, and people tiring of today's cultural globalisation and homogenization. There is a greater appreciation of products which express individual cultures and heritages, and which mean more than simple materialism.
Companies such as John England carved out a niche by creative and innovative design backed up by excellent service, quality, flexibility, and stock holding. It got to know its customers and the market and learned how to give them what they wanted; often before they knew themselves what they needed.
It may be a smaller industry, but Irish linen is not a part of history, it is still woven and finished today in the same traditional areas, and by descendants of those who have worked in the industry, and passed down skills, that have been learned over many hundreds of years.