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Living Linen Interview LL2_R01/77 2 of 2

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Sound Recording on Reel: Crepe Weavers. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: The Mladeks come from Czechoslovakia and were prominent linen manufacturers. The family also owned a spinning mill, but this was abandoned to the Germans when the Sudetenland was annexed. Although the weaving factory was also overrun the family remained in the area for the duration of the war. The Mladeks hopes of regaining control of the factory after the war were dashed when the Communists nationalised industries and threw Mr Mladek Sr into jail. Once Mr Mladek was freed, the family escaped into Germany and then to Brussels, from where they applied for British visas. Mr Mladek's brother was already in NI, living with the Sochor family - Czech textile exiles who had fled during the early years of Nazi power. The visa application was granted on the understanding that the Mladeks would start some form of enterprise - specifically not linen! The Mladeks arrived in Belfast in 1951. The `Tech was reluctant to allow foreign nationals to study, in case they set up their own, potentially rival, businesses overseas. Mr Mladek's brother studied at Manchester University. Things had relaxed a little by the time Milan Mladek applied and he combined a Textile Technology course at the `Tech with a degree in Mech Engineering at QUB. The Sochors were primarily involved in textile printing, but due to the demand for cloth in the post war era, started up a Crepe weaving factory on the site of the Myles aircraft works at N'ards. Mr Mladek's brother was production manager. In the mid-1950s, Mr Mladek Sr (Joseph) bought the factory from Mr Sochor - who wanted to concentrate on printing. The 100 original looms were traditional shuttle Butterworth's with some dobbies for more complicated weaves. Crepe weaving required two wefts (twisted) and hence two shuttles. Most of the crepes were nylon and polyester, although some linen - polyester - terylene mixtures were used. The cloth was largely used for lining and ladies' blouses. Given the yarn rationing that remained in place after WWII, Crepe Weavers wove the lightest fabric possible so as to save yarn. They produced large quantities of voile, which was sold to firms such as Ulster Lace and used for trimming lingerie. As profits mounted, the firm bought additional looms and began to produce taffeta for anoraks and underwear. This was a highly successful part of the business. In the early 1960s Mr Mladek heard about a Czech firm that was producing Water Jet looms. The Mladeks were not allowed to return to Czechoslovakia and had to negotiate at a distance. One of the problems with the cloth produced at Newtownards was that it ended up with a fringe, rather then a selvedge, as the weft was cut. This led to some objections, but the Premier Dyeing Co in Leek discovered that if the cloth was heat trimmed, it produced a sealed edge. M&S were so impressed with the cloth that they adopted it as a standard foundation for their garment range. Courtaulds bought the Premier Dyeing Co and made an attractive offer for the firm. Mr Mladek sold them 5l % of the shares. This gave N'ards great sway with the banks. In the early 1980s Courtaulds decided to close the weaving operation and Mr Mladek bought back a controlling interest in the firm. From 1983 they began to deal with ICI who offered unlimited credit and the firm became very successful. Today the firm is known as C.Tech and produces a wide range of industrial fabrics. Over 35% of the output is exported and the firm has an annual turnover of £7 million. Crepe weavers also hold a large stake in Premier Dyeing.