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BEHIND THE SCENES 13 to foreign competition and a failure to modernise. By the end of the century, all the cotton mills had closed. Andy believes Manchester’s heritage, as the global centre of cotton production, is still a big selling point abroad. “You can’t get away from Manchester and cotton,” he says. “With the exception of the computer, cotton is the single most important thing to come out of Manchester. There are textile cities across the world that are still known as the Manchester of a particular country. So there is still that idea of Manchester as a centre of the cotton trade.” He believes the decline of the UK’s textile industry wasn’t simply due to cheaper foreign competition, but the way British manufacturers responded to it. “In this country, manufacturers tended to merge to create large companies that weren’t flexible enough to change,” he explains. “Whereas in Italy, textile manufacturers tended to be smaller, family-run businesses, which were able to adapt and survive.” Tower Mill, built in 1885, is a visible reminder of Greater Manchester’s industrial heyday, but the cottonspinning machines it houses today are a world away from the noisy, labourintensive machines of the past. The atmosphere inside the mill is more like that of a laboratory, than the traditional image of a cotton mill. High-tech machines quietly hum away, processing the raw cotton and spinning it into yarn, watched over by a small team of highlyskilled staff. The whole emphasis of the manufacturing process at Tower Mill is on quality and cleanliness, so that the cotton yarns will be the best in the world. Customers will also know exactly where their cotton has come from, as it can be traced right back to the time and field it was picked in. Andy sees this traceability as another big selling point for the cotton among customers who want to know how and where their clothes are made. “You can buy a shirt very cheaply, but the question is how can it be made so cheaply?” he asks. “The people buying products made with our cotton will be looking for something high quality, that has been ethically produced and will last.” English Fine Cottons was only able to purchase and equip Tower Mill thanks to the support of Tameside Council, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Textile Growth Fund. “We had the skills to go into cottonspinning, but none of this would have been possible without their support,” Andy says. “I can’t praise them enough for the help they’ve given us to get this project off the ground.” In October, English Fine Cottons presented Princess Anne with a commemorative handkerchief and headscarf made from its first production of cotton at Tower Mill. During 2017, the general public will also be able to sample products made using cotton from the mill. “Our cotton will be used in some products available from well-known High Street names, but it will be at the higher end of the clothes they sell,” Andy says. “The type of thing our cotton will be used for will be a high-quality shirt that you buy for a special occasion, such as a wedding, and then treasure.” As well as shirts, English Fine Cottons is also looking to supply cotton for other products such as bed linen and towels. Although Tower Mill will be supplying only a tiny fraction of the cotton used by British textile companies, Andy believes it will prove that cotton-spinning is still a viable industry in the UK. www.englishfinecottons.co.uk You can’t get away from Manchester and cotton. With the exception of the computer, cotton is the single most important thing to come out of Manchester Loading the spinning frames


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