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John Foster: two centuries of export strength

200 years in business

Two centuries since textile tycoon John Foster launched his eponymous mill, this Bradford-based mohair and merino wool specialist is still going strong.

A willingness to differentiate and experiment helped John Foster survive when other British mills were forced to close as retailers shifted production offshore, managing director of John Foster David Gallimore tells Drapers.

“We’ve been around since the early days of the British textile industry. As a business, we have a longevity and momentum in international markets and that’s the difference between John Foster and some of the other British mills,” he explains. “From World War II onwards, we’ve been exporting to Europe, the Far East and the US, whereas many textile companies that ended up closing in the 1980s were very focused on home trade. Around 95% of what we make now is exported.”

John Foster menswear

John Foster menswear

Gallimore, who joined in 1988, adds that although it has not always been an easy path – the business went into administration in 2001 – sustained investment in the mill has helped it to weather the ups and downs.

“When I first joined, the business was shrinking each year. That was reversed when we came under new ownership and were bought by SIL Holdings in 2009. The new ownership, which brought with it investment, support and expertise, made a huge difference. That investment has continued and every year we’re investing in new machinery.”

Founder John Foster

Founder John Foster

He concludes: “If you’d asked John Foster what the future looked like 200 years ago, he’d never have been able to foresee where we are now. What I do know is that flexibility and being able to adapt are absolutely critical.”

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