Far East competition forces Islington proprietor to close fabric shop

PUBLISHED: 10:17 26 March 2013 | UPDATED: 11:29 26 March 2013

John Holland at his shop Sew Fantastic!

John Holland at his shop Sew Fantastic!


Islington was once at the heart of the rag trade, with seamstresses and machinists in almost every street.

Now one of the last remnants of its clothes-making past is set to go as Sew Fantastic! prepares to bid a final farewell to customers.

John Holland, 74, proprietor of the business in Essex Road, is preparing to hang up his measuring tape and scissors – more than 70 years after his father Jack Holland first entered the borough’s fabric industry with a remnants factory.

Mr Holland said: “At the time, we had a big industry in this country making fabrics.

“I joined when I was 19. I had always assumed that I would go into the family business. It was a vigorous business at the time.

“The whole Islington area was taken up with little sweatshops, all making garments. You would walk down the street and there would be half a dozen machinists all making clothes for the home market.

“Machinists were in prime demand. In Cross Street alone, there were probably a dozen workshops. The last one went about a year ago.”

JD Holland Ltd opened as a remnants factory in Goswell Road, Finsbury, in 1939 before expanding in the 1960s with the addition of The City Remnant Shop, which sold off-cuts to the general public. During this time, Mr Holland Senior developed a way of identifying the composition of fabrics by setting light to them.

The factory was sold in 1972 and the shop moved first to Upper Street and then in 1979 to Essex Road, where it became Sew Fantastic! – selling fashionable fabrics to people making their own clothes.

Customers are mainly students studying garment technology, artists working on projects and photographers needing backdrops.

“We don’t sell so much now to people making their own clothes,” said Mr Holland, whose father died in 1999 aged 87, “although we still have a few hardened enthusiasts who make their own.”

Mr Holland is in the process of finalising the sale so that he can retire – and he is preparing to give his loyal customers some fantastic farewell bargains.

But the shop is unlikely to remain a fabric boutique.

He said: “There is nothing we can do about the decline of the fabric industry. It’s all down to price. We just can’t compete with the Far East.

“Pure wool retails at about £10 to £12 a metre. Thirty years ago, it would have been a third of that.

“But things go in circles. You never know if fabric will become popular again.”

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