Two brothers are celebrating a successful first six months in charge of one of Cumbria’s most iconic businesses.
Last July Ross and Duncan Walker took over Linton Tweeds, the legendary Carlisle firm whose fabrics have been worn by Princess Diana, Michelle Obama and the Queen.
They have overseen investment in new technology, improved sustainability and growing foreign sales.
From its Shaddongate base in the shadow of Dixon’s Chimney, Linton Tweeds now has a thriving trade with China, which has increased by 65 per cent since 2019, bucking the UK trend which has seen a dramatic rise in imports.
“China is really booming,” says Duncan.
“It is now about 50 per cent of what we do. The fact we are over 100 years old, and the history of the company, is important there.”
Ross, 30, and Duncan, 28, had been managers and directors for four years when they took over as joint managing directors from their father Keith who has become chairman.
Their grandfather Leslie bought the firm in 1969 and revolutionised the business by pioneering the use of the exotic yarns for which Linton is now famous.
It has 65 staff and makes and sells 140,000 metres of fabric a year.
“You realise when you are MD there is no one above you,” said Ross.
“The advantage is that if we have ideas for how to make the company better it’s just down to us to implement them.
“We had already been doing the job. We just needed to show that everything was the same. We haven’t changed too much but we have done a lot of investment.”.
That investment includes installing a state-of-the-art boiler, which is more energy efficient, and eight high-tech Dornier weaving looms which cost £200,000.
Linton has also recently gained its Global Organic Textile Standard accreditation and has implemented measures to improve sustainability.
The brothers are keen to use new yarns which are sustainably created.
Ross joined the business after studying Business and Economics at university and lives off London Road in Carlisle with his wife Natalie.
Duncan came to Linton straight from Trinity School in Carlisle, and lives in Stanwix with fiancé Becky and their children Jude, two, and baby Killian.
Between them they have weathered the twin upheavals of Brexit and Covid.
“Brexit didn’t affect us as much as we thought,” said Ross.
“Instead of being a company that sells just to Europe, we are more worldwide.
The customers we have in Europe were always going to find a way to deal with us.
“I would say the pandemic has affected us more, especially in recent months.
“Our yarn suppliers are struggling to give us deliveries, they need to get components and they can’t get them so it’s a supply chain issue.”
Among their more recent customers in Europe are Dolce & Gabbana and the Paris fashion house Balmain who join a list of clients including Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Tory Burch, Burberry, Victoria Beckham, Marc Jacobs, Karen Millen, Alexa Chung, Prada and Karl Lagerfeld.
Garments made from Linton’s fabrics are on the Vogue website illustrating key spring/summer trends for 2022.
“In the film she wore the red Diana jacket,” said Duncan.
“We were asked to make that, for her to wear in the film. We made the original.”
He added: “We keep in mind what makes us different. We look out for the most creative, eye-catching and interesting yarns. Our aim is to always be innovative.”
Actor Kristen Stewart wore a black hot-pants suit at the Venice Film Festival last year, made from Linton fabric, in tribute to Princess Diana who she played in the film Spencer.
With such illustrious and famous clients the future is looking bright for this Cumbrian business.