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Made in Lancashire - Art of the Loom

PUBLISHED: 16:04 15 March 2016 | UPDATED: 17:35 15 March 2016

Fabrics made by Clitheroe-based Art of the Loom

Fabrics made by Clitheroe-based Art of the Loom

not Archant

The Thornbers have kept business in the family for more than 200 years and with rugby playing Sam now involved, the firm is in safe hands

Sam Thornber, the seventh generation of his family to work at Clitheroe-based Art of the LoomSam Thornber, the seventh generation of his family to work at Clitheroe-based Art of the Loom

For most people in their 20s, interest in fabric extends only as far as the latest fashions and trends but it goes a lot deeper than that for Sam Thornber. The textile industry is woven into the 24-year-old’s life and has been for more than 200 years.

Sam is the seventh generation to work for the family firm in Clitheroe, which is now called Art of the Loom. But although he’s now proud to be working alongside his father and grandfather in the business, he wasn’t always too keen on the idea.

‘I wasn’t interested in joining the family business when I was younger,’ he said. ‘I was a teenager who wanted to rebel. I wanted to play rugby but I was never quite good enough to make it, although I was confident I would.

‘I did bits and bats of jobs but as I got older I matured and wanted to be involved. I started in the warehouse, then moved into the office and then into sales and have started to explore other areas as well.’

Art of the Loom - Knightsbridge Velvet in Strawberry CrushArt of the Loom - Knightsbridge Velvet in Strawberry Crush

The business was started by Sam’s great great great great grandfather Benjamin Thornber in 1815. He had done some weaving at his farm in Rimington but made the decision to go full time into textiles and moved the fledgling business to a Burnley mill. A few years later he moved to Clitheroe, where the firm has been based ever since.

The company produced fabric for years under the Benjamin Thornber name but in recent years the business was re-invented as Art of the Loom and they now produce a wide range of materials. Some are sold to small scale makers, others to international manufacturers and some are used to create their own products.

‘Cheap imported fabrics have led to a decline in the textile industry but things are picking up,’ Sam said. ‘People have some expendable income again and they seem to want quality, not something that will only last a coupe of years and will have to be thrown away.

‘We export fabric now and we sell material to big name stores such as John Lewis and to smaller scale makers as well and we are supplying Chanel and Jaeger with fabric for apparel.

EXODUS fabric from Art of the LoomEXODUS fabric from Art of the Loom

‘We have looked at selling our own finished products as well but we don’t want to upset the people we are already working with. We already produce throws and we are looking at cushions too.

‘The aim is to keep growing the business. We don’t want global dominance but we do want to see real growth without spreading ourselves too thinly.’

Away from work, and when he’s not injured – he was nursing a broken hand when he spoke to Ribble Valley Life – Sam plays at number eight for Clitheroe Rugby Club, where his dad Andrew is currently chairman.

‘We get on very well,’ Sam said. ‘We work together, we’re at the rugby club together and until a couple of years ago we lived together too. We have some great laughs and working with your family can be great but we do have some blazing rows as well. My grandad has started to mellow a little but my dad is still very headstrong. I think I’m a healthy mix of them both.

‘I’ve learned a lot working with them. I used to just see a piece of fabric but now I can see the differences between cheap imported textile and the sort of fabrics we produce. My friends think I’m bonkers. They say to me ‘It’s just a piece of fabric,’ but it isn’t, it really isn’t. I know that now.’

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