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Living Linen Interview LL2_R99/13


Sound Recording on Reel: Export sales - Ewarts. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Billy Adair would have liked to have remained at school and pursued an academic career, but being raised in 'the hungry '30s' his education was truncated by the need to contribute to the family economy. At the age of 16 he wrote to Ewarts, requesting a job, on the advice of a friend - Mr. Fred Martin. Although Fred Martin had earmarked Billy for his own department 'M' , the director of ‘B' department - Hugh P Hamilton secured him instead. Ewarts was divided up into several distinct departments : A was the foreign department, B was North America and Madeira, C was the home trade including southern Ireland, D dealt with bought yarn, E dealt with embroidery, F dealt with dress linens for North America, J was the job department and dealt with all seconds, K was the colonial department, M dealt with dress linens for the home trade. 'B' department was unique in that it had its own finishing department where goods were stitched, hemmed and boxed ready for dispatch. Some firms liked their linen in green boxes. Linen destined for Canada was labeled, `Made in Northern Ireland' , while that destined for the USA was labeled, 'Made in Ireland'. Ewarts also had a permanent New York office which was run by a mixture of Irish and American personnel. The director in Mr. Adair's time was an Irishman - Owen Letcher. The New York office ran a stock service and placed weekly orders with Mr. Adair, while the larger North American companies dealt directly with Ewarts in Bedford Street. Their major retail customers included Macys and Bloomingdales. Ewarts also did a lot of contract work for the hotels, airlines and railways. Ewarts offered their full and extensive range for American export. In damask tablecloths alone they had 8 different qualities, 7 sizes and up to 14 patterns. Little was exported during WWII. Part of Ewarts plant converted to munitions production. 'B' department was involved in drawing up contracts with local farmers to grow flax for the spinning mills. Exports resumed very quickly after the war and Ewarts found it difficult to meet demand. Given their lack of stock they were forced to ration linen, favouring their best pre-war customers over those who had previously ordered little from the company. Ewarts' travellers sent in reports, complete with orders, every two or three days. These were read in the boardroom before being forwarded to the relevant departments for processing and costing. Once the order was accepted, delivery dates would be confirmed, and the customer notified directly. 'B' department had very high standards; all cables were answered on the day they were received. The cloth was inspected at various stages of its manufacture, and again before shipping. Several customers requested that the Belfast, or Manchester, Testing Houses examine the cloth. The testers selected cloth from the consignment at random and confirmed that it met with the specification in every way, taking samples away for more detailed analysis. Although the testing houses were strict, Ewarts were stricter still and had no problems with cloth being turned down. Ewarts sold on quality rather than on price, and had customers who would never even have inquired with rival manufacturers. Mr. Adair worked in 'B' department for 49 years, from 1937 to 1986. Ewarts' American trade became more contract orientated over this period as Irish linen was challenged, in the retail market, by overseas linen manufacturers and by the cotton industry.