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English town weaves a unique silk heritage and new designs

Xinhua | Updated: 2022-08-22 08:22

A staff member works at a silk factory in Macclesfield on Aug 11. The town in northwest England has a deep-rooted silk tradition.[Photo by Li Ying/Xinhua]

The town of Macclesfield in northwest England was dubbed the "silk capital of England" in the 18th century, and now local entrepreneurs and artists are trying to keep this heritage alive.

A glimpse at the names of Macclesfield's many buildings, streets and restaurants, such as "Silk Retail Park", "Silk Road", "Silk House", and "Silktown Fryer", reveals the significant role silk has played in the town's history and identity.

According to Macclesfield's historical records, the town started to boom in the 18th and 19th centuries thanks to its lucrative silk-manufacturing industry. It is said to have been the world's largest producer of finished silks. The town's location at the western end of the ancient Silk Road, a network of trade routes connecting Europe and China, also contributed to its silk trade boom.

Jeff Coghlan, a local artist who runs a creative company, says Macclesfield's heritage is "built on the pillars of silk", and his company is trying to "use some of that heritage to create new things".

Coghlan's company aims to lend modern touches to Macclesfield's silk-making tradition, such as designing Christmas cards based on old silk patterns. The company also wants to tap into the potential for cooperation between the British and Chinese silk industries. China has a strong production capacity, he says, while British strength lies in high-end silk products.

"A lot of Chinese tourists are coming to discover the silk heritage that we've got as an old English town. We need to build those bridges between our nations and celebrate those things," he says. Such cooperation goes back to the days when many silk factories in Macclesfield imported large quantities of silk fabrics from China.

Coghlan is not alone in striving to keep Macclesfield's silk-making heritage alive. Although the town now has a relatively small silk industry, a number of local enterprises are keen on injecting it with new vitality.

Adamley Textiles, one of Britain's leading silk printers, has been working to combine traditional screen printing and modern digital printing techniques to produce luxury fabrics.

Tro Manoukian, Adamley's chief executive officer, says that it is important to carry on Macclesfield's heritage. His company has "exceptionally strong" business ties with China, he emphasizes, adding that Adamley imports most of its silk fabrics from East China's Zhejiang province.

"They manufacture the best quality silk in the world … (It's a) fantastic partnership," he says.

He expects the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative to benefit both Britain and China as well as all other countries along the route.

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