Natalie - McNair
We headed to Huddersfield, the heart of the UK's woollen textile industry to meet Natalie Stapleton at McNair, who along with the talented team and their traditional and principled approach to manufacturing in Britain are busy producing the best mountain shirt in the world.
Up a few flights of solid stone stairs we entered into the space that McNair occupy on the third floor of this traditional Yorkshire Mill. The whole floor is open plan, light floods in from the large windows which occupy all four walls and bounces off the varnished original wooden floorboards below our feet. The white washed brick walls are broken up with a half height blue paint and various styles and colours of of shirts hang dotted around the space. As Natalie showed us around, the team were busy in production, cutting, stitching, ironing and carefully piece by piece assembling the world's best merino mountain shirt. Natalie told us “excluding any of the buttons there are over forty five separate pieces in each shirt” Every little detail has been considered and is carefully constructed by hand, then when finished is signed and numbered, this attention to detail is so important in everything they produce. Natalie said “When we set out to make the shirt we didn’t start with a price point and work backwards, we set out to make the best shirt we could and then work out how much it would cost”.
She has worked in textiles for over twenty years and has been in Huddersfield for just over ten, becoming more and more fascinated in the wool industry and it’s strong heritage in Huddersfield. Her background is in technical textiles and whilst working for a performance fabric brand she met Richard Hamshire, who along with Neil McNair, a professional snowboarder had started to work on the original McNair shirt. Natalie was hooked from the initial chat and quickly fell in love with the idea of producing an outdoor shirt made from wool, the original technical fabric. She mentioned “Richard’s inspiration for the shirt came from a pair of traditional Dachstein mitts he wore in the mountains.” He already knew Neil McNair so had the perfect person to test and help develop the shirt. They wanted to create something that looked great and performed brilliantly and knew that couldn’t be done quickly. The whole process of designing, prototyping, testing, re-developing and refining was about two years.
The design is a collaboration of garment technologists, tailors, numerous mills and testers combining to produce an enhanced merino shirt which regulates temperature naturally and keeps you more comfortable in variable conditions for longer. The shirt is not only technologically and aesthetically brilliant but as we looked out the third floor windows Natalie pointed out in the direction of a number of other mills that help with the weaving, milling, raising and steaming of shirt which is all completed within ten miles. “Without the support and truly world leading expertise of the local mills we would never have been able to create fabric as soft, strong, comfortable and protective as we have. It’s a product that couldn’t have been made anywhere else.” The raw merino wool does currently come in from Australia or Chile but McNair’s ongoing development and prototyping with British breeds means that in the near future the shirt could be sourced and made right here in the UK.
They have only been selling to the public for just over two years but in that time they have received global acclaim. You only have to try one of the shirts on to instantly feel the quality and know that a purchase is on the cards. The fit, the style, detailing, the craftsmanship of every shirt all combine to make this product truly “the best mountain shirt in the world”.