A memoir to Laura Ashley

It has been a sad year for many many people, but it has been a devastating year for businesses all around the country. Laura Ashley is rated pretty high on my list for companies that I am really sad to see shut down. The company that is Laura Ashley was founded in 1953 by Bernard Ashley and his wife Laura Ashley. Laura designed napkins, tablemats and tea towels in the attic of their Pimlico flat and when searching for victorian print patches of material, she could not find any and realised there was a gap in the market. So she started to make victorian head scarfs.  Audrey Helpburn ignited the trend when she wore a head scarf in her 1953 movie Roman Holiday and the Ashleys scarfs went mad. 

Bernard quit his job in the city to build the printing equipment and expand the company and Laura made the designs.  They kept the name Laura Ashley as Bernard felt a womens name suited the designs better. They moved to Wales in 1960 to Powys, where my home town is. They had the factory in Carno and lived above it. Laura designed her first dress in 1966 for leisure wear. It was just at the time the mini skirt was out and it was all about the maxi skirt. This long silhouette became their trademark. The first store with the Laura Ashley name opened in South Kensington in 1968, shortly followed by Bath and Shrewsbury in 1970.  In 1974 it went international to Paris and San Francisco and it only grew from there. Laura Ashley was very outspoken for a women of her time and she refused an OBE from the queen because her husband wasnt offered one.

By the time of Laura Ashley's death in 1985, the company had over 220 stores around the world and employed over 4,000 people. Two years after her death it became a Plc company and Bernard accepted a knighthood.  The same year they launched a factory called Texplan in Newtown for printing fabrics and wallpapers, and launched the home section.  From 2010 to 2020 was the decrease of Laura Ashley with administration starting in Australia and reports of a breach of fair employment conditions in Ireland.  All shops in Japan shut in 2018 and 40 in the UK.  All sales kept slowly declining,  but it was 2020 that topped it off. COVID was blamed for the final administration being filed and in September 2020 everyone had lost their job and Laura Ashley was gone. 

This story means more to me than it might to others as I had my first job in the Laura Ashley call centre at only the age of 16.  I worked there for 2 years while I was still in school and I pretty much grew up there. I walked in there a child and walked out an adult.  I have lived in at least 2 fully refurbished flats with discounted Laura Ashley furniture. Oh how I will miss that!  Both my sisters also had their time working there and my Mum worked in the shop for 20 years right up until its last open day in September. Hundreds of people from the call centre, the warehouse and Texplan in newtown lost their jobs and of course the shops all around the world. The saving grace has been the news we received only last week that all the skilled machinists that worked in the Texplan factory, have been rehired to work for the new Asos factory opening in Newtown. So good to see the skilled workers re-employed.  The legacy of Laura Ashley will never be forgotten, we see it every time we see a vintage print and we carry it with us. 


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