Emma Willis Gloucester factory
Don’t worry, although the urge is great, I’m continuing to ignore the temptation to write one of those, used to live in the city, now I live in the country, posts.
For a variety of reasons: from my being in central London; as much as when I lived in deepest N16; through to, who cares.
Yes, there is civilisation beyond zones 1 & 2. Often it’s really rather nice, the coffee is consistently better, food less slavishly trend obsessed and although the beer seems to be weirdly the same price, people are on the whole reasonably happy.
I will say this though, the change in daily transport from walking and tube; to car, walking, train & tube has played with my perception of the UK a little bit.
It’s pushed the desire to explore more. Long gone is the tendency that I won’t go and visit place X because it’s over half an hour away on public transport.
Now pretty much everything is measured in half hourly increments. Even those things “yeah, it’s just down the road” are half an hour away.
‘That’ London is three half hours away. Emma Willis’ factory in Gloucester is two (and a bit) half hours away.
So in this spirit of adventure, rather than walking down Jermyn Street to pick up a new shirt, I drove to the factory first thing Monday morning. Usual route north: Bradford on Avon; outskirts of Bath; A46; M’s 4 & 5. A route that gives you a fairly decent sense of how this country hasn’t, yet is constantly changing.
Emma’s 18th century townhouse factory is bang in the middle of a Gloucester that seems to be undergoing a huge transformation. New infrastructure spending and private investment are plain to see.
In some respects this echoes the shirting. Of course there is due reference and respect paid to the traditions of British shirt making, but each shirt feels modern.
Speaking of British shirt making, we are blessed at present to be in the midst of a renaissance, one which sees a core group of British houses making not only some of the world’s best shirts but managing to do so with distinct points of difference from each other.
As for Emma’s temple, there was a sense of calm, a quiet confidence as I walked round and chatted with each of the makers. They know how good their work is. How carefully considered the cut and make is. How fine the finishing, from the shimmering bowl of mother of pearl buttons through to the centimetre by millimetre check of each piece’s quality.
I’m a firm believer that you can learn more about a particular product and brand from being in a factory and speaking with everyone, than you can in pretty much any other scenario and this is a great factory.
The pride shone through. From the choice of fabric and each pattern being cut, through to shirts being stitched, monograms being hand sewn and the finished product folded.
The newest in my collection is sky houndstooth in Italian linen. Bought in anticipation of a summer soon to come and once I’ve worn it in, I’ll talk about it properly here.
Briefly though, alongside the make, it’s that collar that got me. The curve, there’s almost nothing to it, but it’s filled with intention. These are not just graduated from university and need something for my first job shirts. This is the chemise of a man who knows that a shirt is more than simply a coverer of sins.
Emma Willis is a personal referrals brand, a “where’s that shirt from?” company. In many respects a worn twice before being stolen and French tucked by your partner shirtmaker.
And that’s the point, each shirt is the advert. There are cheaper, flashier competitors, but few come close in terms of style and finish.
I drove home filled with that buzz, the one you get when you’ve seen something great.
On my way back, as the A46 approaches Bath, the road curves off slightly to the left, exposing the valley below. It’s a postcard view which is seen only for a split second as you drive past, but it’s what people expect when they envisage the English countryside, a patchwork of agricultural holdings and the farm buildings built for small scale production.
To some that is the past, but in a world that becomes ever more aware of the environmental challenges we face with regards production of food, clothing and other goods, one that might be a symbol of the future. That idea that we as a society make what we need and charge a fair price for it. A price which enables a business to grow and prosper, furthering its ambitions, whilst protecting and enriching the lives of those involved with it.
Emma Willis is all of those. A company that we ought to cherish, from the commitment to making in the UK with a diverse, highly skilled and exacting workforce, through to Emma’s personal work running Style for Soldiers, a charity which is committed to helping those who have helped us.
But that deserves a platform and piece of it’s own, in the meantime, let’s be thankful, Emma Willis makes bloody good shirts.