Growing up with the business since the 1950’s, we sat down with Lynn Temple, Chairman of Magee 1866 and fourth generation family member and asked him 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 1950s, 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!
A little boy’s magical 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 70s and 80s, we very much upped our game to further develop tailoring around the ‘business suit’. The Weaving Mill shifted gears in the late 60s and 70s 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 garments. We believe beautiful tailoring will always have a place in the market (and is still a core element for our business) but the world has become a more casual place. For us it is 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. Weaving in Donegal, on the North-West coast of Ireland certainly has its challenges and not least with the current situation surrounding COVID-19 and the uncertainties that we face on a global stage. However as a family, designing and weaving our own cloth is an integral part of who we are and what we stand for. 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. We are developing more casual, relaxed garments with an empathise on natural fabrics. Each piece we design and make has longevity in mind.
It has been an incredibly challenging few months for us with the unprecedented situation surrounding COVID-19 and not to mention the uncertainties with Brexit. However we have been here for over 150 years and are looking to a positive future. My three children are all in the business – Charlotte as Design Director, Patrick as CEO of Magee Weaving, and Rosy as CEO of Magee Clothing & Retail and they are joined by a loyal, energetic and skilled team in Donegal. Despite the uncharted waters we are currently navigating this gives me great heart for our future as an Irish lifestyle brand with a unique slant in that we have our own weaving mill and these luxurious fabrics are incorporated into our clothing and accessory collections. “