The company was founded in 1940 by Mr Isaac Donner and Mr Frank Myers to make and sell men’s shirts. However, throughout the war years there was a severe shortage of cotton, and only viscose rayon material was available. The company’s founders considered this fabric too delicate for men’s shirts, but suitable for ladies’ shirts/blouses. Also, they reasoned that while the men were away fighting the war, the women of Britain would be doing the men’s jobs in factories and on farms and would require a more masculine style of shirt/blouse. Therefore this is what they produced and sold during those years. A small room for a factory was found on the fourth floor of a building in Kirkgate, Wakefield, and over a period of a very few years the partners gradually bought up the whole of the building and developed it into a large shirt-blouse factory.
In 1946, when the war was over and the men returned to working in Britain’s factories and farms, a big market developed in men’s shirts, which was the original speciality of Mr Donner and Mr Myers. They therefore switched the bulk of production to collar-attached shirts. They quickly found, however, that there was a resistance to purchasing these because British men had been used to wearing loose-collar shirts with stiff collars so that the whole shirt did not need replacing when the collar wore out. They decided to bring into play a patent, which Mr Donner’s family had developed prior to the war, for making and attaching a soft but smart collar to shirts in such a way it could be easily removed by pulling a tab sewn into the collar-attaching seam, and the free spare collar supplied with the shirt could easily be sewn in to the resulting groove. This overcame both the problem of worn out collars and the problem that men no longer wished to wear stiff collars once they had seen the softer more comfortable collars worn by American soldiers during the war.
The new product was an instant success and production grew yet further on the back of a strong national advertising campaign. As the shirt had two collars, and even at one time two pairs of cuffs, it was called Double TWO. In the early 1950s, the partners were approached by Dr Rex Winfield, who was then working for ICI and had during the war invented polyester fibre under the brand name of Terylene. Together they developed a warp knitted construction for this new man-made fibre and launched the first ever man-made fibre shirt. This shirt had the tremendous advantage of not needing ironing ever and dried very quickly after washing. It was also immensely strong and lasted a long time. With these two products both selling well, and ladies’ shirts once more back in the range, Double TWO needed to expand its production further, and in 1952 the company acquired a large wool textile mill on an eight acre site to the south of Wakefield.
Gradually over the next five years they moved production from the centre of Wakefield to the new site and built a modern, single storey, factory and warehouse around the old mill. Up until then clothing factories had always been in multi storey buildings with cutting on the top floor and cut parts and part-made garments flowing down to the warehouse on the ground floor, through a series of chutes to each manufacturing level.
The new, big, open area, single-floor factory enabled the company to bring consultants from America to install the latest production system, the most modern machinery and piecework systems which enabled the workers to earn more than double their previous earnings by producing more garments. A quality control system was also installed to ensure that more rapid production did not mean lower quality. By the company was employing over 500 people and making 800,000 shirts per annum. Other inventions and developments were coming thick and fast with the availability of nylon, another man-made fibre. In the late 1950s, Double TWO introduced the first ever blends of natural and man-made fibres, adding strength, shrinkage resistance and pilling resistance to their cotton/wool blend Frend. In those days there was little central heating and warm shirts were a very large part of the market.
In 1963 Isaac Donner’s son, Richard, joined the business, and in 1965 Double TWO launched a new product called White Light. It was an all cotton shirt, with a percentage of polyester blended into the fabric for the collars and cuffs to give them extra strength. The fabric was treated with a special resin to give it superb non-iron properties. A special national television advertising campaign was prepared for White Light and in six months the product became brand leader
. As the years moved on fashions changed and the public demanded more colourful and more interesting patterned shirts. It was not possible to obtain a perfect match in colours and patterns because of the two fabrics used to make the White Light shirts, so Double TWO developed whole shirts made of a blend of polyester and cotton, the extra hard wearing properties enable Double TWO to finally retire the spare collar.
The 1970s brought the launch of That Shirt by Double TWO, a young fashion product with a slim fitted body and two removable darts in the back. Wild prints, jacquards and even lace became fashionable. Once again television was brought into play to support the new product.
All these innovations increased sales dramatically and in 1968 Double TWO acquired Wm Sugden & Sons Limited, a large, local garment manufacturer with a shirt factory in Barnsley, which enable Double TWO to increase production yet again. Wm Sugdens also made and sold workwear and jeans, and this took Double TWO into two new product fields. The polyester/cotton fabric, so successful in shirts, was developed into the workwear range and proved an instant success. The jeans were made of blue denim and were sold under the brand name Jet. Advertising was once again brought into play to develop the Jet brand. The workwear side of the business also expanded successfully and another company, L J & M Refson in Sunderland, was added to the group to bring in ladies’ workwear to sell with the Wm Sugden’s men’s workwear.
The Wakefield Shirt Company became a holding company, owning Double TWO Ltd, Wm Sugden & Sons Ltd, and L J & M Refson Ltd. Other smaller companies were added to the Group over time, and production and sales increased. By the end of the 1980s, the Group was employing over 1,000 people in six factories, selling over 3,000,000 garments a year in over 40 countries of the world.
The Double TWO company now produces men’s day shirts, leisure shirts, evening shirts and fashion shirts; ladies’ shirts and blouses, skirts, dresses and soft suits; and jeans and casual trousers. Wm Sugdens produces workwear and careerwear for people working from the factory floor to head office, and from warehouse to front of store retail.
Not only have Double TWO continued to invest in the very latest production technology, but also in design and design technology and in computer systems. The Group now has a 110,000 square foot, highly automated warehouse in Wakefield; its own IBM AS400 computer, complete with Intranet so that over 100 people working on PCs throughout the Group can access and work with data on the main computer. Designed and marker making CAD systems are the very latest that Gerber produces, as is the PDM system for developing garment specifications and transmitting them worldwide. The team’s Concept Designers work on the Tex Data CAD system, which can produce yarn designs, woven fabric designs, printed designs, garment designs and knitwear, and can produce impressive storyboards to show to customers.
In more recent years, production in the UK has become extremely expensive and the Group has gradually moved its production offshore and now manufactures throughout the Far East, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe. Only repairs and alterations are now done at Wakefield, although some garments also have embroidered logos added there. Each factory abroad is chosen for its quality and timely deliveries, and also for its proximity to the weaving mills which produce Double TWO’s specially designed fabrics. Garment technicians and quality controllers travel the world from their Wakefield base on a regular basis and locally based buying agents and quality controllers work with them. Central purchasing and production planning have become highly sophisticated, as has distribution and warehousing. The Group offers its customers a 24 hour delivery service to most parts of the British Isles. Advertising continues to be a major part of Double TWO’s success, as do design, quality and service. The Group is accredited to BS EN ISO 9001:2000, and whilst over 90% of the Group’s production carries the Double TWO name, 10% is manufactured with the customer’s own label and to the customer’s special requirements. In 1993 it became clear that the independent clothing shop and even the smaller department store groups, which formed the bulk of Double TWO’s customer base, had started to decline under the onslaught of own label chains such as Next, The Arcadia Group and BHS. The Donners decided, therefore, they must start their own retail chain. Earlier experiments on the High Street had proved unprofitable, but a new highly successful retail development was just starting up in the UK.
Sean Collidge brought the Freeport “brands for less” concept over from the USA. He acquired his first site at Hornsea and soon built five more sites. Double TWO joined him and opened shops on all his sites. By bringing in carefully selected compatible brands of trousers, knitwear and ladies co-ordinates, the company attracted a wide audience to its shops. Soon other outlet centres opened all over Britain and Double TWO grew its chain to the present 23 shops.
In 1994 the Donners were also approached by David Gummery and Chris Lockwood with the idea of developing mini clothing department stores, on an outlet basis but not necessarily on outlet sites. Garden centres and entertainment parks proved to be good locations. Leading Labels Ltd was formed as a joint venture, and is now a very successful chain.
Double TWO continues to sell to independent retailers and department stores, particularly in market towns well away from its own shops near bigger cities where the independents can no longer afford the high rents.
In 1995 Richard Donner’s son, John, joined the company. Isaac Donner died in 2000. Richard and John now run Double TWO. In this rapidly changing world Double TWO is one of the very few family owned branded clothing companies which has adjusted rapidly and continues to prosper.