What is a Label?
There are various definitions for a label, for the purposes of Belwoven a label was a bespoke design and weave job lot for customer purchase. Job size could range from 500 labels to half a million. Most labels were for clothing – shirts, jackets, ties, trousers, dresses, underwear. Sometimes a job ventured into different markets. Badges were a case in point; they could be for pop groups, scout associations, motorcycle clubs… artistic design rendered into 80 picks per inch lengthways x 144 ends of warp per inch on the width. Which pop groups did do Belwoven do? Whoever was on tour at the time, remembering that as there were only 4 woven edged businesses on the UK, and as Weaving was a complex, multi-stage process, an order through Belwoven was unlikely to result in cheap counterfeits on the market.
Large designs required considerable design work; these ultimately went through the hands of our Head of Design: Stuart Hartley who would ensure they were successfully plotted onto the plotting paper used by the Jacquard department. Punching these out on jacquard was a time consuming and often thankless task, especially when it was determined that the jacquard set needed adjustment to prevent elements of the badge design from distorting. Fixing the jacquard was invariably carried out while the set was loaded into the loom – twelve to fifteen feet above ground – the loom would be stopped, a jacquard technician would climb up and make an adjustment, climb down and then the loom would be run until the effect was clear. In effect this was fine tuning the design, on the loom. The looms of choice for badges were looms 5 and 6. These were both 18 strip, each strip being 3″ wide (76mm for the metric heads) four shuttle looms. Four shuttles meant three colours for figure work plus the background colour. Once woven, badges would go off-site to be backed and to have the edges sealed.
For the most part however Belwoven labels went on clothes.
What are clothes made of? Where are they made? How do you care for clothes? Not the first questions that might come into your head when you’re out on a shopping trip, but labels have been put to use in order to answer these and more.
Let’s take an example: an old tie (bought many years back from Marks & Spencer).
Note the label figure work (in this case text) is gold on black.
Back in those days one of my mini projects was to analyse how labels were used. Zooming in tells me this label served a number of purposes including forming part of a complex manufacturing – customer information system. The first point is identifying the lable manufacturer. If it came Belwoven, there would be a small discrete insignia in the shape of an ‘L’, generally in the hidden part of the label – the folded in ends. In that way we could determine if a reject label was from Belwoven.
Next in turn it has Brand
Fibre (more fibre content of garments later)
Origin – country of origin (who’s done the work? who gets to be employed?)
Care instructions – these can go beyond simple washing instructions
Item code (the bit that connects into the M&S manufacturing system)
At Belwoven, labels with weaving faults were waste. Waste can also be using more resources to achieve the same objective. Take this more recent tie from ASDA:
Let’s turn the label over.
Plainly it uses more white weft than is needed; the design covers less than 50% of label length. If this George label had been done on a woven edged loom, the circled bits of the label reverse would be the same colour as the label face: black. This George label is from a rapier loom. Rapier loom technology as a rule uses more weft than the woven edge to achieve the same result – but it’s quicker and more technologically advanced.
Waste is all about us. It is what we throw away – whether packaging, food that’s gone off or can’t be bothered to eat, clothes we dump because they’re the wrong size, out of fashion, damaged or simply stuff we can afford to replace. Technology plus fashion have a hand in determining what we throw away. Talk of waste takes us in the direction of pollution.
A label can tell you what makes up a garment. In the examples above the M&S label gives this information, the ASDA label doesn’t. This can inform your decision making. When you buy products with artificial fibres consider the following: Significant amounts of everyday clothing contain artificial fibres. Artificial fibres degrade slowly and there is some public doubt over whether they become fully reabsorbed back into the environment. Were you to ask the question, the short answer (from our resident industrial chemist) is the ever more controversial NO. Artificial fibres are convenient, flexible, endurable, not reliant on agriculture (they are chemical industry by-products) and as such can be imbued with special properties. They are very endurable.¹
There are processes that can reduce polyester to a carbon char. These involve the release of undesirable gases which require a considerable controlled effort to scrub clean (before release back into the environment). The use of these processes is the exception and in the main, discarded clothes degrade down to polyester fibres but no further. This is part of the legacy that current generations will pass on to the future. It will be a great deal easier for future archaeologists (or external visitors) to study our everyday activities than it is for us to study our ancestors. Our lives will not be a great secret.
¹ This health warning also applies to consumer products packaged with difficult to get rid of synthetic materials such as polythene, bubble pack, polystyrene foam (the little plastic beads used to pack IT equipment). Our thoughtless lifestyles will not be thanked.