Daniel Harris and the London Cloth Company are reigniting a centuries-old tradition
n the middle of a party he threw in December 2010, 28-year-old Daniel Harris wove a piece of cloth on an antiquated industrial loom he’d just purchased. The party was to celebrate the loom’s acquisition, and as for weaving experience, Harris had none. Not surprisingly, the resulting piece of fabric—six inches wide and nine feet long—left a lot to be desired. Undaunted, Harris continued to acquire looms and skills, and now he single-handedly runs London Cloth Company, the region’s first working “micro mill.”
When Harris first decided to learn to weave, he had no intention of starting a company. But he soon became captivated with the process and the outcome, not to mention the looms themselves. Industrial textile production was a pillar of Britain’s industrial revolution, and the 19th century was its heyday. The looms of this period are a delight of Victorian engineering: Brass, iron and wooden parts fly to and fro in a raucous concerto of sound and motion as bobbins of yarn are consumed and a sheet of tweed or twill or herringbone emerges from the other end. Harris scoured the UK—once covering more than 1,200 miles in 48 hours—to obtain looms and parts dating from as early as the 1860s, and he dedicated himself to mastering his newfound craft.
Watch Daniel Harris describe the weaving process
When RL Magazine spoke to Harris, he was preparing for a party to be held that night at his Clapton, East London, workshop. He wasn’t planning any impromptu weaving this time, however. Two years after its inception, the London Cloth Company produces entirely bespoke small-run fabrics for a range of clients, including RRL. (But only during business hours.)
Ralph Lauren: What started your interest in weaving?
Daniel Harris: It’s something I’d always been interested in doing, but originally, I thought I’d only do a little bit. All I wanted to do was enough to make, say, one length of fabric every now and then, and make a jacket—just to say I could do it. So this started as a hobby.
And what made you decide to do it on a larger scale?
Weaving is addictive. All the processes are incredibly slow and time-consuming, but once you finish them, it’s sensationally satisfying. Once the loom’s actually going and you can see the fabric building, it’s the nearest thing you can get to magic. And once you start, you don’t stop, because you can always see what the next step is to make the process better. You’re always improving the fabric in some way. Even now, we’ve got three fully functioning looms, but I’m still going around the country ripping bits off other machines to make these ones better. It’s this sort of constant striving to improve what we’re doing.
How hard is it to move a loom from one place to another?
The most recent loom we bought weighs three and a half tons and is 15 feet long. The problem was, where I bought it from, it was on the second floor. Obviously, you can’t take it apart and carry it down the stairs. So what we did was shove it out onto a gantry, take the roof off and lift it out with a crane.
You refer to your company as a micro mill. What exactly does that mean?
What I call a proper mill would have multiple machines all running fully automatic, night and day. We can’t do that. At least not at the moment. We produce a smaller amount of fabric, but it’s all made to order, working directly with designers.
The finished product: A vest made from a London Cloth Company bespoke twill fabric
What’s the goal for London Cloth Company?
The absolute, ultimate long-term goal, in five to eight years, is to open a working museum in London. Monday through Friday, we’d operate a working mill—no public. And then on weekends, people could come in and be educated on the process. People, I think, have lost touch with how fabric is made, where their clothes come from. What we’re doing for the time being is continuing to buy machinery, improve on the process and really bring the fabric up to an exceptional standard.
KIRSTEN ROBINSON is an editor for RalphLauren.com.