Dugdale Bros. & Co
Dugdale have been making premium English cloth for over a century.
If you’ve had a made-to-measure suit from us, there’s a good chance that if you open up the jacket you’ll see the name Dugdale Bros. & Co inside. Dugdale have been making premium English cloth for over a century and are now the last remaining independent merchant in Huddersfield, generally considered the home of British textiles. Robert Charnock, Dugdale’s charismatic owner, tells us his story.
Dugdale Bros. & Co has always been a family-run business. Established in 1896 by brothers Henry, Percy and Frederick Dugdale, the firm was purchased by my father in 1962, who brought with him a wealth of experience. My father began his professional life as an apprentice at John Fosters, a firm famed for making the iconic Dormeiul ‘Tonik’ cloth, and his father before him had worked at luxury cloth mill Kaye & Stewart, one of the first firms to produce wool/silk and wool/silk/mohair blends.
As a young boy I used to come in and work weekends with my father at Dugdale, helping to inspect and pack pieces for onward distribution throughout the world. In 2000 I bought the business from my father, who at 80-years old still calls twice a week. I am the fourth generation of cloth worker in my family, and as a result I have close personal relationships with all our main processors, having grown up with most of the now owners.
Being a family run firm is one of our greatest advantages. Most of our tailoring customers are family businesses so there is a common bond, and I know I can walk into any of our customer’s shops and I will be greeted warmly (and usually offered a cup of tea). Even big groups like LVMH like our independence because when senior buyers talk to me they know they are talking to the heartbeat of the company and what they get is the truth.
We are also the last remaining independently owned cloth merchants based in the centre of Huddersfield - the town that gave the world luxury cloth. When the industrial revolution came to England in the 19th Century, Huddersfield became the centre of fine cloth production due to the fact that its water contains few impurities, allowing the wool to retain its soft, lustrous handle post-washing. For Dugdale Bros. & Co this means we can take advantage of centuries of cloth knowledge in the artisans who design and create our cloths.
People wearing Dugdale cloth have the knowledge that the cloth has been born from centuries of evolution and that our partners in production are all benchmark companies with global reputations, capable of keeping us abreast with all the latest advances in cloth production.
It all starts with the wool. Our brokers are instructed to buy the finest qualities of merino wool from established farms in New South Wales, such as Hillcreston. When the wool is brought into the UK we select the finest wool processors such as Globe Worsteds in Huddersfield, to convert the raw material into the highest quality weaving yarns. These yarns are then transported a few miles down the road to Pennine Weavers who, in terms of machinery, are regarded as the most modern mill in Europe. The final element of magic is washed into our cloth at our chosen finishers either WT Johnson or H. Roberts, both highly regarded for their ability to finish such a wide variety of cloths. In total our yarns and cloths are processed within a twenty mile radius of the warehouse which means we have relative control over all stages of production and, should we encounter any issues, we are right on top of our supply chain.
"We are also the last remaining independently owned cloth merchants based in the centre of Huddersfield - the town that gave the world luxury cloth."
Whilst we at Dugdale prefer to think of ourselves as purveyors of style rather than victims of fashion, hence the classic nature of many of our collections, we are aware of emerging trends and because our processors are so experienced we can experiment with different yarns, weave constructions and finishes. In our latest English mohair collection we changed the blend of one of our mohair yarns to contain a very high-grade Super 120s yarn from which we made a warp and crossed it with a 100% summer kid mohair yarn. The result was an open weave cloth, perfect for making unstructured jackets that you simply cannot crease.
The wonderful thing about our trade is its characters and I have been lucky enough to have met some of the most talented and truly colourful personalities both in our world of cloth making and tailoring. Some of the largest characters are on Savile Row. I remember on one occasion about 20 years ago when I was summoned into one of the most iconic tailoring houses, who at the time had one of the most famous head cutters, known for being a bit of a tyrant. I entered the shop rather sheepishly and it was like high noon. All the cutters put down their shears and I was ushered around to the head cutters board.
I stood for 10 minutes with my knees knocking before said gentleman came to his board from the fitting room. He saw me at his board and, in very Anglo-Saxon language, tore into me about the inferior nature of our cloth and how he had noticed our standards slipping.
He kept pointing at the cloth on his table and eventually I plucked up the courage to respond. I enquired, “You do know I am from Dugdale?” Well his language became more graphic and I could feel the eyes of all the other cutters bearing down on me. When his tirade finished I explained “you see this cloth is not one of ours” and turned back the selvedge it revealed the name of another mill. Another tirade of abuse followed as I was asked to leave the shop. Said gentleman retired several years later. We remain on good terms and that house is now one of our biggest Savile Row customers.
"The wonderful thing about our trade is its characters and I have been lucky enough to have met some of the most talented and truly colourful personalities both in our world of cloth making and tailoring."
Over the past two decades I have noticed a return to high-quality tailoring. Dress down Friday has ironically helped in this process. British men made a mess of it, as casual dressing has never been a natural habit for the British male and there was something of a retrenchment back into suits where there was safety. The “dress down” format has become more tailored. Sports jackets and blazers are again a major part of a gentleman’s wardrobe. Blogs and forums have been in instrumental in this new dawn of tailoring, as they create an informed community. Men can now research online anything they want to know about clothing and I think this has brought with it a renewed confidence.
I have recently been on a round-world business trip and I am now also noticing a renewed vigour towards English cloth. My customers tell me that their customers are coming into their stores with a preconceived idea about the garments they would like, made specifically in Dugdale cloth. Even with our finer cloths we tend to build more sett into the construction, bringing with it an inherent strength and resilience that gives the suits a sharpness and longevity. As my grandfather used to say “cloth is to bloody well wear not look at!” and it is wonderful that this brave new world again recognises the beauty of the cloths that we have always been made here in Huddersfield.
We have been guided by our founding motto “With Pride, With Passion, With Integrity” since 1896 and we are lucky in that our partners share these principles. We increasingly realise that our very varied global customers, and their customers, share the vision that our past, which is as rich in style as it is in heritage, is an invaluable inspiration for the future.