McNAIR CLOTHING / AUTUMN/WINTER 2016 / ISSUE FIVE / NOTES MAGAZINE
If you are thinking of hitting the slopes this winter, you may be interested in the garments provided by a company combining traditional skills with some very forward thinking
All photos courtesy ©McNair Shirts
McNair Shirts are a fine example of how to bring new life to a venerable industry by producing something people actually want, that will do a fine job for them and that will remain a friend long into the future.Over the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest in natural fibres for sports and high performance clothing. Essentially, the technical development that for so long went into man-made fibres and cloths has recently been applied to fibres such as good old wool, producing materials that far outperform earlier manifestations.
Of course the general revival of interest in traditional cloths such as tweed, corduroy and eye wateringly expensive selvedge denim has only helped. No handlebar-moustachioed hipster wants to wear a petroleum by-product if an alternative made of something hairy that used to run around a field is available. The great thing is, you now need sacrifice nothing in performance for the privilege.
The BBC series ‘Trust Me, I’m a Doctor’ earlier this year conducted an interesting experiment, comparing the pong potential of well used synthetic and man-made gym clothing. They concluded that, should you be foolish enough to leave your sweat-soaked kit in the laundry basket for a day or so before washing, the synthetics became more rank than the naturals.
Which brings me neatly to McNair Shirts. McNair Shirts, the company, is that highly desirable combination of tradition, obsession, innovation, sustainability (I swore never to use that word) and design that lasts longer than a boiled sweet – or the end of the season, whichever comes first. McNair Mountain Shirts are designed to handle severe environments (the clue is in the word Mountain); they perform, look good and go on doing so for years and years.
McNair, founded by creative brain Richard Hamshire, Neil McNair (a professional snowboarder) and textile veteran Natalie Stapleton, is based in Slaithwaite in the Colne Valley just outside Huddersfield. And what does Huddersfield mean? It means the finest woollen cloth ever produced. The blood, sweat and tears of centuries of cloth manufacture have leached into the rugged West Yorkshire landscape and, despite what you might read, the industry remains alive and throbbing in the area albeit on a rather smaller scale than it once was.
So when you want to create the world’s finest high-performance mountain shirt in natural fabrics you base yourself in a textile mill beside the canal in Slaithwaite (pronounced Slawit) where the man or woman walking their dog past your front door probably knows as much about some aspect of woollen cloth production as you ever hope to learn.
This abundance of local expertise has been crucial to McNair’s success. Unhappy with any existing fabrics, McNair set about producing a new high-performance woollen fabric from scratch. Each stage of the process, from spinning (they use both the woollen and worsted processes) to weaving, to milling and raising the fabric happens at a different local company before the finished material comes back to their third floor design and manufacturing facility. I will not go into the details of the processes just mentioned, largely because I’m likely to get it wrong and frankly if you really want to know more, there are people far better qualified than I to fill you in. The only slight irony is that, despite the number of fluffy lambs running around the Yorkshire hills, the raw material – finest merino wool – is imported from Australia. But that is a story for another day.
If Levi's jeans were designed as serious work clothes for gold miners, who says you can’t wear a McNair shirt to get the milk in on a chill winter’s morning?With a fabric that handles all the basics such as insulation, breathability and wicking, McNair then turned its attention to designing a shirt that performed brilliantly when worked hard in harsh environments. Having achieved that (there is a strong family resemblance across the range, reflecting the performance based approach) they then ensured it was constructed and tailored to last, by hand, in Slaithwaite. As with so many other examples of top notch workwear (OK rugged sports/leisurewear) the result is so attractive it has appealed to people who admire craftsmanship and authenticity but who would only find themselves in a snowstorm up the side of a mountain if their hen or stag night had gone spectacularly wrong.
If Levi's jeans were designed as serious work clothes for gold miners, who says you can’t wear a McNair shirt to get the milk in on a chill winter’s morning?
Having mastered wool McNair have since turned their attention to corduroy and moleskin, two other staples of the fabric back catalogue. They have found a way to make these two heritage fabrics as weatherproof as you could wish, opening up whole new sections of their offering. Take a look at their website mcnairshirts.com and see for yourself.
Walking along the canal towpath in Slawit (you get used to it after twenty years or so) you could be forgiven for thinking that the town’s heyday has gone and that the area is struggling somewhat. Far from it. A snowball’s throw from McNair is the wonderful Handmade Bakery Ltd that we featured in a previous issue, whilst nearby, tucked down an alleyway is Steel Dreams, a family engineering company producing stunning work that we may feature in a future issue. There is enterprise, expertise and simple enjoyment bubbling away behind the old mill facades. McNair Shirts are a fine example of how to bring new life to a venerable industry by producing something people actually want, that will do a fine job for them and that will remain a friend long into the future.