Essex’s Booming Sewing Industry
Family Firm Still A Favourite With Sewers, 60 Years After It First Opened
Sewing as a hobby continues to grow in popularity and both hobbyists and professionals in Essex are well-served by family firm Franklins.
Over the past five years, sewing as a hobby has soared in popularity. And nowhere is this more apparent than in Essex, where sewing and needlework retailer Franklins has been meeting people’s sewing needs for more than sixty years.
Franklins has grown from humble beginnings. The shop was opened in Colchester in 1956 by Anthony Franklin, who started out in the industry working for the famous Singer sewing machine brand. When it first opened, Franklins (or AJ Franklins as it was then known) was housed in a loft on Essex Street and it had just seven second-hand sewing machines and £100 in the till.
Since these early days, Franklins has gone from strength to strength to become one of the largest sewing machine dealers in the UK, and Europe’s largest specialist needlecraft store.
In recent years the company has seen a growing appetite for all things sewing-related, something they attribute in part to the credit crunch and the associated attitude of ‘make-do and mend’. As a result, Franklins has expanded its remit and, alongside its range of sewing machines, now sells an array of sewing equipment and accessories such as haberdashery, fabric and craft materials, to both hobbyists and sewing professionals.
Unsurprisingly, Franklins long ago outgrew the loft and now inhabits much larger premises on St Botolph’s Street, as well as operating a number of additional stores around the county.
One of the special things about Franklins is that it truly is a family business. Laurence, 57, followed his father into the business aged 16 and has worked there ever since, and his brother Trevor has worked at Franklins for 42 years. Both brothers were keen to pass on their enthusiasm for the business to the next generation, and their sons Jason and Nathan both have important roles within the company.
When asked about the family dynamics, Jason said “We’re all invested in the company and have the same aims because we’re from the same generation – it’s great.”
Over the years, Franklins has become a trusted and well-respected brand within the sewing industry. As well as a strong commitment to customer service, a large part of Franklin’s growth can be chalked up to the company’s willingness to innovate and move with the times.
In 1997, the company built a partnership with a firm in the US to develop a home embroidery system which, for the first time, allowed people to resize and rebrand their patterns, and embroider on any machine. This move positioned the company at the forefront of embroidery software for the UK and European market.
Knitting machines followed shortly afterwards, although these were soon rendered obsolete by the introduction of fleece.
However this hasn’t put the family off innovating and experimenting with technology, and the brothers credit the brand’s staying power to their willingness and ability to embrace change.
As Jason put it, “A lot of people don’t respond [to change] and suffer because of it. Recognising what’s coming ahead really helps you to be on your game.”
The Future of Franklins
So what does the future hold for Franklins? The family sees no sign of the current popularity of sewing abating any time soon, and the company will continue to provide a one-stop-shop for amateurs and professionals alike.
And that desire to innovate and adapt is still alive and well. A number of the stores have undergone a large scale rebrand and modernisation, and the plan is to continue rolling this out to all the remaining properties. There are also plans to get the company’s loyal customer base involved in the rebrand of Franklins marketing.
There are exciting times ahead for the company, and with its commitment to customer service, family ethos and willingness and desire to innovate, it seems very likely that the company will continue to meet Essex’s sewing needs for the next 60 years.