Home / Entrepreneurs / Bringing trousers back to Trouser Town: the small businesses reviving heritage industries

Bringing trousers back to Trouser Town: the small businesses reviving heritage industries

Meet the entrepreneurs resurrecting long-lost local products in regions round the country, from denim manufacturing in Cardigan to soap making in Portsmouth






Brant Richards and Ed Oxley, founders of HebTroCo.
Photograph: HebTroCo

Drinking a pint of Trouser Town beer in the pub, Brant Richards and Ed Oxley found themselves debating the origins of the name. Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire made up to 1m pairs of trousers a year in its heyday, until production was moved offshore in the 1970s and 1980s. But that heritage sparked an idea.

Despite having never worked in the clothing industry before, Richards and Oxley started a Kickstarter campaign two years ago to sell 176 pairs of trousers – a week’s production for a local factory. After raising £17,000 in five hours, they realised they might be on to something and HebTroCo was born.

“It was just a nod towards helping British manufacturers keep going,” says Richards. “None of this was meant to happen.”

After the success of the trousers, the pair found someone who could make belts with a handmade buckle. Then they expanded into footwear, working with the last heavy boot manufacturer in Britain, William Lennon in Derbyshire, to design a range of boots.

“Then we thought, let’s do a jacket with some wool from Hainsworth in Leeds, which is one of the oldest mills in the country,” says Richards.

Since launching in January 2016, the pair now turn over more than £500,000 a year. Their next product will be a pocket knife, made by one of the last remaining knife makers in Sheffield.

“Lots of men say ‘I’ve never been this excited about a jacket or a pair of trousers.’ You have to be a bit brave, but that’s what business is about,” says Richards.

Soap company remakes history in Portsmouth

Hobbies have inspired many an entrepreneur and when Samantha Worsey discovered a love of making soap, it wasn’t long before friends and family suggested she turn it into a business. What Worsey didn’t know at the time was she was reviving an industry that dates back to the 17th century in her home city of Portsmouth.

“I was astonished,” she says. “I’ve lived in Portsmouth all my life but even local knowledge about the soap industry had died out. Armed with that knowledge, I thought I’ve got to do this. It almost didn’t feel like I had a choice.”

Samantha Worsey, founder of Southsea Bathing Hut



Samantha Worsey, founder of Southsea Bathing Hut

She founded Southsea Bathing Hut in 2015, starting from her kitchen table. The symmetry did not escape her – the city’s soap industry was started by families making soap at home for household cleaning and to sell to Portsmouth’s large naval base.

Worsey has also remained true to the traditional cold-process method used to make soap. The bars are then cured for 10 weeks, before being hand bevelled, and stamped. Doing it this way has a cost, but it’s one she thinks is worth it.

“My mentor regularly says to me: ‘Sam you’re stirring a pot when you could be developing a strategic growth plan’. But I really believe the two can co-exist. That’s where our strength lies.”

‘We had an epiphany when we realised Cardigan used to make jeans’

Cardigan in west Wales was home to Britain’s largest jeans factory for three decades, until 2002 when it closed. One in 10 people in the town lost their jobs. When Clare Hieatt and her husband David had moved to the area from London after selling their first business, their thoughts turned to what they might do next.

David & Clare Hieatt, founders of Hiutt Denim



David and Clare Hieatt, founders of Hiut Denim. Photograph: Dan Rubin

“We thought of the product first – we’d bought an old farm [to renovate] and we thought we could make a clothing product that was really strong and durable,” says Clare. “Then we had an epiphany when we realised Cardigan used to make jeans.

“That really made sense to us. We had been thinking about using a factory in China we’d used [before] but were questioning whether we wanted to go down that route again. As soon as we thought about getting the town making jeans it really inspired us and gave us a sense of purpose. There was a reason to do it.”

The pair launched Hiut Denim in 2011. Despite living in a town teeming with people who knew how to make jeans, recruitment hasn’t been easy. Many of the factory employees had moved on to other jobs. But a piece in the local newspaper at the time led to one of the factory’s managers, Ellen Evans, getting in touch and bringing some of the old team back together. Hiut now employs 16 people – many of whom are dubbed “Grand Masters”.

“They’ve put the hours into making jeans,” Clare says. “Some of them have been doing it for 40 years [and they’re] training up the new generation of makers in Cardigan. We’ve got one apprentice, and we’re looking to take on more. There’s a real sense of community backing,” she adds.

The Knights Templar’s favourite tipple is restored to Deeside

Aberdeenshire’s Deeside Water Company is steeped in history. The earliest mention of the source of the region’s mineral water dates back to 1245 and the Knights Templar. Queen Victoria, Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron are all known to have visited the spring to drink the water.

“From 1760 onwards, there’s a lot in the local press about how people flocked to the area,” says Martin Simpson, co-founder of Deeside. “A local woman had been cured of a disease by drinking and bathing in the water. [After that] there were doctors on site to prescribe it for different conditions.”

Simpson started the company with his father George in 1996, after visiting the area and noticing the spring water was flowing into the river Dee. Bottled water was becoming more popular at the time, although the market was dominated by larger corporations. But that did not prove to be an insurmountable challenge for this family business: Deeside sold almost 3.5m bottles in 2017.

“The history made us think there was something special in this water,” says Simpson. “We bought the rights to the springs and the extraction rights … and undertook clinical research at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, which proved the water reduced the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis. The challenge was getting the message across that not all waters are the same.”

One day, Simpson would like to see the spring returned to its former glory. “It’s not possible at the moment, but it would be nice to have a place where people can come [and visit]. It’s a very peaceful place.”

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