After successfully producing sustainably sourced uniforms for Bill’s Restaurants (see case study), we were asked if we could source and develop blankets. Blankets were a new challenge for our design team so we embarked on sourcing possible suppliers, starting in the UK and eventually branching out to scour the global textiles sources that would fit Bill’s Restaurants’ quality requirements and price range.
However, we needed to hit the right price point of a £15-20 budget per piece and produce a blanket that was luxurious and durable enough to sustain industrial washing and mass consumer use. Balancing aesthetic, quality and value is our speciality! We work with mills and manufacturing directly to deliver a well designed ‘fit for purpose’ product.
We have to ask ourselves: “Is this what the client/consumer really wants and will love?” This is the most important point that good designers have to deliver on.
We eventually found a niche area in the depths of North China that specialised in blankets and ticked all of our boxes. Part of our methodology is to, trial, test, and vet our sources fully and if they match our seal of approval then we can proudly confirm with the client that we can meet their requests.
As part of Bespoke Textiles’ rigorous vetting of factories, our founder, Katie Young Gerald, was thrilled to find they were packing Fortnum & Mason blankets. This reassured us that our clients (now including The Ivy Collection) would be proud to have their blankets made by the same ethical, high end sources.
As Katie has 25 years experience working with China’s manufacturing and clothing industry, she was keen to develop a relationship with this factory.
Some preliminary research and enquiries showed that this was a company we could work with and create high-end quality blankets for Bill’s Restaurants. This particular factory also supplies 80% of the Australian blanket market and almost all the army blankets for most of the world.
The steps for making a blanket
We’d like to show you the steps we discovered when visiting the factory in January. Seeing them making the blankets from ‘Fibre to finishing’ was fascinating. Bespoke Textiles think you may find it fascinating too!
- Turning the yarn – Katie was treated to a tour of the factory where she saw the entire blanket making process from start to end. It began when she met Emily and was taken to the weaving workshop where she saw reams of fabric as far as the eye could see.
- Twisting – She could see the first and second stages of the blanket making process, which is to turn the yarn then twist it into a thread.
- Spooling – The thread is then spooled.
- Weaving – The threads are then woven together on large frames to form the pattern. A lot of thread is used at this stage and is hung from very high on the ceiling to make sure there is no confusion to the design or tangling.
- Brushing – Once a blanket is woven it has a texture almost like canvas! To counter this effect it is brushed by a machine that is coated in a very fine metal mesh to remove any stray fibres and make the blanket extremely soft.
- Washing – The blanket is then washed to further reduce the possibility of stray fibres and ensure it is hygienic.
- Dying – The blanket is then dyed.
- Quality control – Rigorous quality control checks are then performed to make sure the product is 100% up to the specification.
- Packing – Once the blanket has passed all of the quality control checks it is packaged hygienically ready for storage and export.
After a very informative trip to China to see this factory’s blanket making process, we were off! We were able to develop a bespoke collection of blankets for Bill’s Restaurants which was followed by a highly successful launch and even a further commission to produce another line of bespoke blankets for our client’s sister brand, The Ivy Collection.
It really was an eye-opening experience that exposed the level of work and technology that goes into a product that is only £18, which makes you think about the craftsmanship and skill that goes into the blanket making process.
Not only is China very capable of producing high quality materials and products, they also work hard create a pleasant working environment. The Chinese factories we found completely debunked the myths of poor working standards that we know of from 20 years ago.
The average worker stayed working for this particular company for 15 years and the workforce tend to live locally, as opposed to forming part of a migrating community just for factory work.
They have worked hard to ensure that there is skilled, interesting work, healthy salaries, good working conditions, family-like friendly environment with regular long breaks and the added bonus of being able to live with family locally for a balanced wholesome lifestyle.
Katie Young Gerald commented, “The common thread I find with all our factory partners is they are family businesses who have worked hard to build something strong and stable with the 1st generation of founders still working daily in the business. There are plenty of ethical and sustainable textile uniform and accessory solutions in China and I am dedicated to making them work for UK brands!”
She added, “I would like to thank everyone who was so accommodating and informative at the blanket factory in China, particularly experiencing their delicious hot-pot cuisine. Especially as it was -4 degrees outside at the time.”
If you would like to know more about how Bespoke Textiles can cut out the middle man, streamline your sourcing issues and help you produce a bespoke collection of uniforms or other textile products please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org