Over the years, as I’ve become increasingly involved with Mungo, there are several questions that I get asked by members of the public repeatedly. Queries such as: “Are your towels absorbent?” (Yes. Yes they really are) and “Can I get a discount?” (For the last time, mom, the answer is still no.) But the one that has proven the hardest to answer has to do with our old looms.
“Why do you run the antique looms?”
To clarify, this question is often being asked in relation to the oldest in our collection of old looms. The two Lancashire looms, which are into their second century. The Ruti looms, both well past retirement age. And my personal favourite, Hattie – the Hattersley Domestic loom – she’s over one hundred.
The short answer (if indeed there is a short answer): looms that use a shuttle to carry the weft thread, which all of the above are, give a true selvedge/selvage. A true selvage is when the weft threads are looped into the woven fabric creating an edge that doesn’t fray or need sewing. This is a lot harder to recreate or do with modern weaving machines – at best you can imitate it.
But. That’s just not all of it.
For me, there’s something remarkable about these analogue beauties still chugging away in a digital age. Something visceral, something unique. Something that can only be described as a feeling. But that’s not an easy answer to explain. Nor is it necessarily describing a tangible benefit.
So I decided to put the question to a few people around the place and see if perhaps there was something more conclusive to put forward.
The first person I asked was our founder and master weaver, Stuart Holding. He’s bound to know, right? His answer was quick, emphatic, and matter-of-fact; “Because we can.” Thanks, Obama. Johan, our resident electrician and all-round handyman, who was nearby, threw in his take: “Because we want to.” Our operations manager, Caroline, responded with a pragmatic; “Because we do.” Although maybe there’s a touch of philosophy to that last answer.
I moved on to some of the marketing team. Georgina, our wordsmith in residence, gave me a three-minute answer, but I failed to press record and the details have grown a little hazy since that day last week. Forgive me, I’m ancient. But one thing she said stood out above the rest. She reminded me that Mungo began with these old looms. The business was founded on the principles of taking the old; traditions, tools, and techniques, and making them new again. Giving old things new life. She reminded me that we cannot forget our past, as it shapes our future. Heavy!
There followed a moment of introspection as I digested the truth in Georgina’s answer before Lilah, the Marketing Manager, chimed in from across the room; “For me, it’s because I prefer the product that comes off the antiques.”
“Really,” I said.
I have to point out that we’re getting subjective now. For me, the best of our flat-weave towels is the Itawuli. Everyone has their own particular favourite (in fact Georgina wrote a whole blog about how everyone has a favourite). However, Lilah’s view does remind me of the uniqueness of the product that comes off the older looms. It’s not just the selvage. This might not sound like a selling point, but the fabric that comes off the older looms is less… perfect. Oh dear, this is why I don’t work in the sales department. To be more clear, I mean it has small inconsistencies; tiny signs that there’s a process behind making it. There’s a word I’m looking for here and I think it’s ‘character’.
Maybe I’m reacting to a world in which AI can write your entire blog (not this one, you can tell by my poor grammar), but it seems to me this inherent uniqueness is definitely a selling point of the products and maybe the reason we run the old looms?
Or maybe we run them simply because we can. Does everything have to be justified with an economic reason?
Some things, it must be said, are just worth doing.