Made in Lancashire - Standfast & Barracks, Fabric Printing Company

PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 April 2015 | UPDATED: 15:42 21 October 2015

Beautiful fabrics from the Lancaster works

Beautiful fabrics from the Lancaster works

Archant

When a customer brought in a barbecue and asked them to create a fabric design based on the burnt remains it didn’t faze Emma Douglas. After all, as head of design at the UK’s biggest home furnishing printers she’s used to unusual requests.

One of the companys striking patternsOne of the companys striking patterns

But even she concedes the barbecue is at the extreme end of what they do, ‘By the colour, it had been well and truly used!’ she says. Standfast & Barracks is one of Lancashire’s success stories – it’s a multi-million pound business yet few people have heard of it, although everyone will have seen the exquisite fabrics they produce.

The Lancaster company prints 3,000,000 metres of material a year and clients include the world’s leading designers, including Ralph Lauren and Liberty.

The firm has always prided itself on being a British manufacturer with top quality design. In the 1950s it printed many of the designs for Horrockses when colour and print was in vogue. Although they’ve thrived over the years, the sort of fabrics they are capable of designing and printing are suddenly fashionable again.

‘With home furnishings, we have had years of chenille beige cushions and neutral walls. During that time we kept investing in the business and the designers and now people want more prints, more colour and we can do that,’ says Emma. Last year alone the design team worked on more than 700 different pieces.

A trend board in the design studioA trend board in the design studio

They have invested more than £1.5million in digital printers in the past three years. ‘Digital does not have constraints so we can do larger designs with more colour, do shorter runs and use things like photographic images,’ added Emma.

The bulk of their business is creating and printing home furnishings for brands including Sanderson, Morris & Co and Zoffany. As well as being a ‘Made in Britain’ brand they are also a Lancashire business - velvet comes from Burnley and linens and wool from Haslingden. Ironically, all the cotton comes from the Far East these days.

Last year they decided to take the company in a slightly different direction and instead of designing for other people they put together an apparel collection for a major UK retailer. ‘We developed all the designs in house, lots of florals and quirky, novelty materials - our first non-furnishing designs,’ said Emma. They were so successful they are now working on a second collection for a department store.

‘We are trying to encourage British fashion houses to use British fabrics,’ said Standfast managing director Stephen Thomas. ‘It’s all top end, it is people who want their products to be printed in the UK and support the British manufacturing industry.’

Most people in Lancaster only know Standfast & Barracks for its long stone wall which stretches a fifth of a mile along Caton Road and its factory shop selling discontinued lines and Liberty, Designers’ Guild, Sanderson and other seconds. It does a roaring trade all year round and coach trips frequently visit.

This spring it expands to include wallpapers created by their sister company Anstey, both now owned by luxury interiors furnishings group Walker Greenbank.

Yet over the wall lies so much more as the business had a turnover of £14 million in 2013 (closer to £16 million last year), employs nearly 200 people and prints fabrics for brands around the world. ‘The last 12 months have seen significant growth, particularly in the UK market,’ said Stephen.

It’s partly down to the fact they have such a wide range of printing techniques, from the new digital printers to rotary and flat beds which Stephen sees as another growth market. ‘You get such fine details with flat bed printing and can print on silks and velvets. Everything is set manually and each screen for up to 24 different layers of design and colour is created here so it’s a very skilled job.’

They often use their archive (they currently have a graduate scanning all 10,000 archive items) for inspiration. In the US in particular, a lot of the most popular designs are created from their archive but updated using colour.

The company exhibits once a year on the banks of Lake Como in Italy and are frequently in Europe and America to discuss their products. Emma is always on hunt for items to improve their archive and when she was in France she found some 1930s designs which are now being ‘recreated’ for the show in Italy.

‘I am going to do a whole set of designs, think Downton Abbey, Barbour, wellies but completely modern,’ she said. ‘Then I went to a friend’s 50th in Yorkshire, saw an antiques fair and I found two pattern books from 1830-40 showing the silk designs used for ladies’ skirts.’

She is now taking some of those designs, re-colouring them and using foil to completely modernise the fabric for the Italian market. Just another thing they’ve got on the go at this company which is quietly and colourfully continuing Lancashire’s grand history of manufacturing.

Beyond the wall

A new heritage and arts charity is planning a major programme of events in 2015 to celebrate the fascinating history of the nine-acre Standfast & Barracks site.

The Mirador charity was inspired by the site, built in 1865, as a carriage and wagon works, then used as an internment camp (writer Robert Graves was stationed there) and, for the past 90 years, home to one of the country’s leading fabric printers. Yet the area is hidden ‘Behind the Wall’ on the busy thoroughfare from the M6 into Lancaster and few people know what goes on behind it.

This year the 150th anniversary of the site will be celebrated by a series of contemporary artworks; ideas range from a giant tapestry to light displays and child-friendly activities by some of the country’s top textile artists. Workshops, talks and a touring exhibition to engage the whole community are also being planned. Initial research for the Behind the Wall project has been funded by the Arts Council.

The Mirador founders are creative producers George Harris and Carolyn Primett, freelance writer Sue Riley and press officer Louise Bryning who have a wealth of experience in the arts, heritage and public relations. They formed a Charitable Incorporated Organisation last year together with trustees, Lancaster solicitor Gary Rycroft, Lancashire Museums’ Collections Manager Sue Ashworth and marketing expert Philip Garside from Preston.

To keep updated follow them on Twitter @Miradorarts or via Facebook.

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