Now synonymous with luxury fabrics, the family business of James Hare Ltd had a humble start in life. In 1865, James Hare set up a business in a cottage on Clare Street, Leeds, purchasing odd fabric lengths and selling to train drivers or guards who in turn sold them to London tailors. Gradually, the business expanded into a woollen merchants with James’ sons coming on board in 1892. The company went from strength to strength, with more family members coming on board and many innovations in fabric design.
Today, James Hare Ltd is Britain’s leading silk specialist and owns the last surviving textile warehouse in Leeds. It is still owned and run by the Hare family, and produces luxury textiles for both the fashion and the interiors markets. Sara Walker talks to creative director Saffron Hare about what it’s like to be a part of such a heritage.
“When I was younger I didn’t plan to join the family business but you inevitably get drawn in,” says Saffron. “There’s a strong family ethos and now I’m the fifth generation to be part of it. I’ve been with the business for 20 years now, and it’s a huge privilege to be part of it. I had to start at the bottom though, everyone does, including the family, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I have learnt all aspects of the business from every department and that’s invaluable knowledge to have.
“I am very lucky as there is so much variety in my job from day to day. I direct and manage the new fabric collections with our design team, and our aim is always to inspire customers to create amazing interiors. I get to travel all over the world meeting suppliers, overseeing production and selling the collections. The business is unusual because we deal with both fashion and interior fabrics, and I am involved with both aspects. Trends from the catwalk run almost parallel to those in interiors now, so they’re perfect partners especially in terms of colour. It keeps me on my toes, but I really enjoy working across both industries.
“I am at my desk early unless I’m travelling. I don’t always know how the day will unfold – I might have deadlines to meet, and there are lots of meetings but then I might need to turn my attention to something else unexpectedly. That’s what makes a day fun and I really enjoy a sense of achievement especially when a collection is finalised and I can show it to everyone.
“Silk is a luxury fabric, it always has been. It’s an incredible fibre and I would like to dispel the myth that it fades and doesn’t have a long life, it’s actually very strong and light-fast and is just as durable as any other fibre. It’s fabulous as a wall covering – silk on the walls creates another dimension of texture and luxury in an interior, it’s very glamorous. We sell thousands of metres a year and I would say most customers use it for curtains. This season we added a new silk, Kashmiri Silk, which is a basket weave and we made it up as cushions, throws and curtains, it’s very contemporary and very versatile.
“Silk is our most popular line, and we offer over 2,000 in the range of approximately 100 different qualities. Our textured silks have always been our best seller, but faux (artificial) versions of silk are catching up fast, which is a very exciting development.
“Personally, I love the Connaught Silk – a wool/silk mix – it has a subtle sheen, beautiful handle and soft drape, ideal for curtains. I am decorating my sitting room with the new Voyager collection and it looks incredible, I am really pleased at how we have mixed the key accent colour on various qualities and in various scales, as it makes it so easy to decorate with and looks very cohesive without looking too ‘matchy’.
“We design all our fabrics in the UK, and the designs are generally inspired by nature or historical trends and events. For example, our last collection was called Voyager and was based on sketches from journals and diaries of Victorian female travellers. One of them was Isabella Bird who was bought up in the same village at the same time as my great great grandfather, James Hare, who started the business. I really love this collection, it was inspired by intrepid women who travelled the world at a time when it was quite unheard of to travel alone and explore and it certainly wasn’t comfortable or easy most of the time. Especially if you were wearing a corset!
“I think the secret of our success is that we’ve changed with the times and the demands of our market. We have been traders, manufacturers and distributors. Most importantly, though, we have kept the business in the family and that means we all have a vested interest in and love of what we are doing and want to make sure it carries on.”
To find out more about James Hare Ltd or browse the collections, visit James Hare Ltd.
All images (c) James Hare 20190