Laura and Bernard Ashley started printing fabric on their kitchen table in London in 1953, following a Women’s Institute exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum on traditional handicrafts. Laura was inspired to make her own patchwork quilts, but couldn’t find any suitable fabrics in the shops, so the young enterprising couple decided to try producing their own. A £10 investment in wood for a screen, dyes and some linen, along with many trips to libraries to learn everything about fabric printing, kick started their fledgling attempts. At first they produced small squares with geometric patterns, which reflected the limited space in their tiny flat. Around this time the film Roman Holiday was released,
1960 saw a significant and long lasting event for the company, when the family moved again, this time to Wales where Laura was born, and from where she had many happy childhood memories. They first opened a shop in Macchynlleth which they lived above, and from where they sold locally produced honey, walking sticks as well as their own products. Here Laura worked with a seamstress to introduce their first forays into fashion, producing smock like shirts and gardening smocks. Next they set up in the vacant social club in Carno, Montgomeryshire, but moved in 1967 to the local railway station, which had been closed two years earlier. Here, the company set its long term foundations and grewwith the development of Bernard Ashley’s first flat bed printing machine which could produce 5,000 metres of fabric per week.
Today the Laura Ashley website www.lauraashley.com went live in October 2001, bringing a while new shopping experience to Laura Ashley customers. The company received the European Mail Order Days Award in 2003 in recognition of sales growth and quality of catalogues. In 2005 the company moved its production operations on to one site in Newtown, Powys, where it currently produces paint, wallpaper and made to measure curtains. The company has growing franchise operations all over the world, including the Far East, Australia, Scandinavia and South America, as well as increasing numbers of licensing projects for products including carpets, eyewear, towels and tiles.
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