To wrap up this year’s heritage celebration, we sat down with Lynn Temple, Chairman of Magee 1866 and fourth-generation family member. Growing up with the business since the 1950’s, we asked Lynn to share some of his favourite memories from childhood and the intervening years, as well as his thoughts on the future of the brand.
“In the 1950’s, the company was powered by three generators of different sizes. There was always one big one running at any time, driving what looked like a Victorian mill with a huge central drive from the ceiling and belts running off it, which then drove the sewing machines. My great delight as a little boy was to start and stop the generators. I would run in and switch on a generator that wasn’t running, and switch it off again. One day, I got confused and switched off the main generator. The whole factory ground to a halt. I was in serious trouble. The production manager ate me – it was horrendous. They lost about an hour and a half production before they got the whole thing working again!
In those days, with direct current, fire was always a risk. At Magee in Donegal, we always had our own petrol-driven fire engine. We used to go to the River Eske beside the factory, where the suction pump at the end of the fire engine was put into the river. The hose was at the other end and we used to practice every week. That practice always attracted a whole lot of the town’s teenagers who used to sit at the wall on the other side of the river, and shout to see if we could hit them with the spray of the hose. We had great fun decoying them at the end of the wall with the engine at half-power, and then when they were all lined up, we’d open the throttle and we could knock them off the wall like skittles. As a ten year old I thought it was absolutely the best part of Magee!
Just William type memories aside (!), Magee in the 1950s was a very traditional place and focused principally on hand-weaving and hand-knitting. As continental competition grew in the 70’s and 80’s, we very much upped our game to further develop tailoring around the ‘business suit’. The Weaving Mill shifted gears in the late 60’s and 70’s as it became a more fashion orientated business. Magee’s Donegal Tweed was picked up by designers such as Sybil Connolly and Irene Gilbert, which brought some serious panache and established global exports of our luxury fabric.
Now, we see the market changing again to incorporate far more lifestyle and casual fit garments. Beautiful tailoring will always have a place in the market but ‘Casual Fridays’ in the workplace are certainly here to stay! For us it is always important to never lose sight of our roots but crucial to also keep looking forward. This means that we continue to focus on using our own fabric throughout our collections while also making sure we don’t ever get stuck in the past with old 70’s suits! The other huge shift that I see, is the growing awareness of sustainability which we are firm believers in. It wasn’t a common topic in the 1950’s (!) but it is good to see this emphasis on ‘slow fashion’, which fits the bill for us.
Looking to the future, one of the points that gives me huge encouragement as a 68-year-old, even as the European market goes through huge uncertainty with Brexit, is the team we have here at Magee 1866. We are fortunate to have three of our own family: Charlotte as Design Director, Patrick as CEO of Magee Weaving, and Rosy on Sales Management, combined with an energetic and young team based here in Donegal. Alongside this youth, there are of course people who have worked here for over 40 years and with family connections stretching back multiple generations. We are very fortunate to have such a critical mass of knowledge, skill and enthusiasm here in Donegal. This gives me great heart and that we will certainly be around for the next 150 years and more! ‘’