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Living Linen Interview LL2_R01/17


Sound Recording on Reel: W D Hazeltons, RSD, Spence Bryson. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Mr Mullan joined Richardsons Sons & Owden (RSO) in 1950. In 1953 he joined W D Hazelton & Co as a traveller. Hazeltons was attached to Springfield factory, which had 600 looms The firm was run by Mr Ruddell. The sales team consisted of Billy Doherty and Mr Mullan. Jim McBride looked after the Home trade. As his `patch' was S America Mr Mullan learnt Spanish. At the age of 22 he travelled lst class aboard the Queen Elizabeth to New York before flying to Havana. Hazelton's sold a lot of aero linen to Cuba and retained an agent there. These aero linens, which had been designed for covering wings and fuselages, were used to manufacture of Guayabera, a pleated shirt peculiar to Cuba. After his first trip Mr Mullan worked out his own costings and was able to negotiate on price without referring back to Belfast. Within a year of Fidel Castro coming to power the Cuban market closed. Many years later, while staying in Reid's Hotel in Madeira, Mr Mullan met ex-president Batiste who was occupying the adjoining suite. The linen industry gave Mr Mullan the opportunity to travel the world and to meet famous people. Mr Mullan won $20 from Mrs Phil Silvers at a poker match onboard ship and strolled on the promenade deck with Liberace. March and April was the buying season. Mr Mullan spent 14 weeks a year in Central and S America. The loss of Cuba and the S American trade hit Hazelton's particularly badly. The firm closed in the early 1960s on the death of Mr Ruddell. In 1961 Mr Mullan returned to RSO as Export Sales Manager. RSO 's major trade was in high-class suitings to Italy. This cloth was sanforised and crease-resistant. Mr Mullan quickly picked up a working knowledge of Italian and took over the travelling duties himself. Italian customers routinely complained about the cloth so as to secure a reduction in price. When Mr Mullan wised up to this practice he incorporated a 10% margin that he could deduct after delivery and keep everyone happy. RSO had a strong position in the market place and their reputation was excellent. The sales division was split into a Home and a Foreign dept. RSO ran into difficulties in the early-mid 1960s, not least of all due to the way in which the company was being run. Mr Mullan wasn't happy to remain with the firm and he left in 1966. RSO went out of business in c1970. Mr Mullan joined Spence Bryson's Handkerchief Division and succeeded Wilson Hanna as Director in 1991. The major market for handkerchiefs at this time was London and Scandinavia. Spence Bryson supplied all of the principal retail stores in London. As handkerchiefs depended upon the gift and tourist trades, design and presentation were important. A range of children's and character handkerchiefs proved very popular. When using character merchandise, Spence Bryson met the licensing fee and passed the cost on to their customers. Mr Mullan was also involved in handkerchief design and packaging. The popularity of paper tissues and a more casual male dress sense affected handkerchief sales. As price became increasingly important the cheaper cotton handkerchiefs all but squeezed the linen variety out of the market altogether. Spence Bryson was taken over by Richards PLC who allowed handkerchiefs to run under their existing management. They retained this division when they sold the linen section to Ulster Weavers. The Spence Bryson handkerchief division has shown a profit every year Mr Hanna and/or Mr Mullan were with the company. Mr Mullan retired in 1996.