Tough stuff: The story of Grenfell

Gary Burnand, commercial director for the British outerwear specialist, on history, heritage and the importance of looking ahead


The story of Grenfell dates back to 1923. It was created - inadvertently - by Sir Wilfred Grenfell, a doctor working in a London hospital in the fairly squalid Victorian days. He was a pioneer of medical missions and ended up working with 2,000 fisherman based on the Labrador coast of Newfoundland, Canada, also setting up cooperatives, schools and orphanages.

He conducted lecture tours around North America and the UK and in 1922, ended up in Burnley Town Hall. It was here he met local mill owner Thomas Haythornthwaite, who, on hearing Grenfell bemoaning the kit he needed to do his job, took up the challenge of creating a new cloth fit for purpose. The result was so impressive Wilfred said he'd lend his name to it - and that's how Grenfell cloth came into being.

It's very lightweight, tightly woven and impervious to water and became the "supercloth" of its day, much like Gore-Tex is now. Pioneers and explorers of all types, from Sir Malcolm Campbell in his motor pursuits to Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison in aviation, used it – it was an incredible performance cloth from the outset. It was also the choice of many outfitters of the time and we have archive pieces made by Abercrombie & Fitch, as well as shooting jackets by Purdey.

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From an early stage, the brand itself started making garments. A great example is the Golfer, the first all-weather jacket created for the sport in 1931. It was worn by Sir Henry Cotton, the star golfer of the day, as well as by the UK and US Ryder Cup teams and remains one of the key pieces we've reinterpreted for our modern-day collections. We've also re-established our connection with the Campbell family through our Bluebird line of cotton raincoats.

As of September last year, we've been based in Leyton, London, and make everything in our 36,000sq-ft factory there. We've focused on viewing classic elements through a contemporary lens – they remain true to the heritage of the pieces, but with an interesting future dimension to them.

Gary Burnand is the commercial director for British outerwear specialists Grenfell, which relaunched in the UK last year;

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