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Heritage Month

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This September sees the return of our annual ‘Heritage Month’, a showcase of our rich history and over 150 years’ experience designing, weaving and tailoring luxurious fabrics, clothing and accessories in Donegal. 

Throughout the month we will explore the history and heritage of Magee 1866 through the celebration of ‘Wool’. What are the processes, what makes it so special, and why, after 150 years is it still so relevant for our brand?  

We wouldn’t be where we are without wool. This natural, sustainable, nearly magical fibre was our foundation in 1866 and is at the core of our business today.  

In the 19th century, founder John Magee would visit monthly tweed markets across south-west Donegal, trading directly with the weavers. These coarse fabrics were hand woven in the homes of fishermen and farmers, usually in the winter when agriculture was at its quietest. Farming and weaving have always gone hand in hand, the yarns were usually spun in the same home as they were woven. Sustainability as we know it now was a way of life back then. This hardwearing fabric was used across Ireland to dissipate the damp and cold climate for those working on the land. Wool is a natural ‘wicking’ fabric – i.e., it absorbs moisture and carries it away from the body.  

Now, over 150 years on, wool is still central to our collections. The process from sheep to garment involves many steps, but these fundamentally haven’t changed since John Magee’s days. Sustainable fabric and high-quality, long-lasting products define our DNA. Our weaving mill in Donegal Town, on the banks of the River Eske, is still the beating heart of everything we do at Magee and we are proud to support a tradition of weaving and manufacturing textiles in the northwest of Ireland, bringing a contemporary edge to an age-old craft.  

However, wool fleeces are seen as a bi-product of the Irish farming industry, (sheep are breed for milk and meat), resulting in very poor price for farmers. We are part of a wider movement to develop Irish Wool for use in fine textiles and have been working closely with our yarn supplier, Donegal Yarns, on an exciting journey to reintroduce Irish Wool into our collections. Working closely with farmers across Ireland and Donegal Yarns to source finer wool from Irish sheep to re-ignite positivity around this fantastic and ‘local’ raw material.  

From the origins of the company in the 1800s, based on handwoven tweed originating in Donegal, to our latest initiative, Magee 1866 X Irish Wool, over the course of the month we will explore wool as a material, its applications within our collections and the craft, skill and expertise that goes into creating luxurious products with wool. We will delve into the archives and celebrate wool. 

Follow our journey throughout the month on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and #Magee1866Heritage.

Charlotte, Patrick, Rosy and Lynn Temple, the 4th and 5th generations behind Magee 1866.

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.

Rosy, Patrick, Lynn & Charlotte

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. “

This September we will celebrate our rich history of weaving with ‘Heritage Month’- a showcase of our 150 years’ experience in designing, weaving and tailoring luxurious fabrics and clothing in Donegal. 

Magee was founded on handwoven tweed over 150 years ago when John Magee first established a small drapers shop in Donegal, Ireland. This hardwearing, course fabric was handwoven across Donegal by part-time fishermen and farmers as the perfect fabric for dissipating the damp and cold weather, so often found in North-west Ireland, a far cry from the luxurious cloths being produced today. In 1900, Robert Temple – John Magee’s cousin and apprentice – bought the business and today the third and fourth generations of the Temple family are still at the helm – Lynn, Charlotte, Paddy and Rosy.

Throughout the month, we will delve into our archives, exploring the history and heritage of Magee, from the wool markets of the late 19th century, to the introduction of power looms in the 1970s. A special focus will be placed on handweaving and the craft, skill and expertise that goes into producing Donegal tweed, the foundation of this fifth-generation family business.

Our weaving mill in Donegal Town, on the banks of the River Eske, is still the beating heart of everything we do at Magee. We are proud to support a tradition of weaving and manufacturing textiles in the northwest of Ireland, bringing a contemporary edge to an age-old craft.

Natural fibres like wool, cashmere, flax and alpaca are central to our collections. These natural fibres are renewable and biodegradable, coming from all-natural sources for a rich, soft feeling that can’t be imitated. Our design philosophy has always promoted the concept of ‘slow fashion’ through timeless collections, where pieces are designed to be worn time and time again. Sustainable fabric and high quality, long lasting products define our DNA.

Follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitter and #Magee1866Heritage to follow our journey throughout the month.

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