My intention after leaving school and finishing my 2 years of compulsory military service in South Africa was to study towards becoming a teacher. My father suggested that whilst waiting to begin my studies that I should get a temporary job at the textile company he worked in. That was 31 years ago – temporary became permanent before I knew it. Da Gama Textiles, still famous for its copper roller indigo discharge printed fabric “Shweshwe” (derived its Xhosa name from the swishing sound it makes when worn) had been owned by a succession of well-known UK based textile conglomerates such as Courtaulds, Tootals and Coats Viyella. I was lucky enough to be a sponsored student and attained my Textile and Production management qualifications whilst working for them. I joined the South African Dyers and Finishers Association (SADFA) an affiliate of the SDC as a student.
Once qualified, the real training began and again I was fortunate enough to be trained through every process at the plant, from dry processes beginning with the receipt of bales of raw cotton, through carding, spinning and weaving and then on to wet processing – bleaching, dyeing, printing and finishing. I specialised in printing and have been working with applying and fixing colour to textiles in various ways ever since.
My wife and I decided to move to the UK in 2002 (Hilary, is Colchester born and raised) and so we found ourselves in good old Blighty. I spent 14 happy years in sunny Lancaster at a leading dyer and printer working alongside my experienced and talented colleagues as Production Director, to establish a world leading digital printing transformation within the business. I recently completed my MSc at Lancaster University, having enjoyed another intense period of learning whilst working full-time. I have also recently moved to an exciting new opportunity working as Managing Director at Stead McAlpin, a wonderful textile printer, dyer and finisher in the Caldew Valley that has been producing textiles in Carlisle, Cumbria since 1835. The company is 183 years old, can you believe it – what a heritage. I find myself in a surreal environment surrounded by wonderful historical artifacts and archives, hundreds of years old, which trace the history of textile dyeing and printing back to very close to their beginnings as mechanised processes but also in an environment akin to our modern age where our digital printing facilities and modern colouration techniques are growing and evolving every day.
I have held various positions on several committees over the years and have always enjoyed being part of organisations and governance outside of my paid job. These include professional bodies such as the South African Dyers and Finishers Association as well as extramural bodies including school, Sport Club and church governance. I look forward to being a Trustee of the SDC and hope to apply my experiences from being in business (as a trainee, a worker, a manager and a director), being a post school learner (on 3 separate occasions) and from my varied extramural interests, to good use in service to the SDC and its members in the coming years.