The Slenderella Story
The name ‘Brettles’ is well-known nationwide for socks, stockings, knitted goods and textiles but nowhere more than in its home town of Belper in the Derwent Valley of Derbyshire, where the business has grown and matured for over 200 years. From tiny beginnings in the early nineteenth century, it survived more than its fair share of difficulties to become a major employer and manufacturer. From Belper, its products went far and wide. The Brettles brand is still very much in evidence in Belper and many employees past and present can trace family connections and roles with the company back over several generations.
The Slenderella Story
From humble home-spun beginnings in the East End of London in the 1920’s, Slenderella went on to acquire its own factory which was unfortunately destroyed by bombs in 1942 resulting in a move to Middlesex. Two years later, as the demands of the 2nd World War increased, the factory was requisitioned by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The decision was then made to move to a larger production unit in South Shields, from where Slenderella became a recognised national brand.
As with Brettles, there are fascinating connections to the Royal Family and other renowned celebrities. Hollywood legends Elizabeth Taylor and Hedy Lamarr were known to have worn Slenderella’s products. Slenderella were delighted when Miss Taylor and the cast of the acclaimed film Little Women publicised their garments. Further international acclaim followed when the company helped create the wardrobe for Miss Lamarr’s screen classic Samson and Delilah.
In 1997 the Slenderella brand became available for acquisition and this was acquired and incorporated in November of the same year as Slenderella Wholesale Ltd. The first wholesale premises were a small room at the ear of the Belper retail shop on Chapel Street.
The first retail customer to place an order from the new firm was Edna Dale of Leek, and the first multiple order was placed by the Beatties group of Wolverhampton. In the first year of trading the company received the Lingerie Buyer magazine award for the UK’s best classic nightwear collection, sponsored by Dupont. For the next two years the brand achieved the runners-up trophy but again won the coveted crystal pyramid in 2001. The company has also received industry and Chamber of Commerce awards.
Due to the rapid growth of the company, Slenderella moved from Chapel Street to the old Co-Op bulding on King Street, Belper, allowing for warehouse space for 12,000 items of stock. However, a further move was made to the former premises of another historic Belper business, Flanders Ltd. Unfortunately the move meant the closure of the retail shop for a time, leaving many long standing customers disappointed.
The company at first just leased and occupied the warehouse building in Queen Street creating some office space. However the whole of the site was later purchased allowing for much needed further expansion. By 2003 Slenderella was supplying over 700 customers in the UK.
2003 was the recognised 200 year anniversary of the establishment of Brettles in Belper and a major celebration was held. Over 300 friends, guests and former employees attended the event with many historic artefacts and historic memorabilia being displayed at various venues in town. Local girl Frankie Corbett won the “Miss Slenderella” competition and a booklet containing the condensed history of Brettles was created for the event.
The warehouse, along with adjacent office block was finally purchased I 2007. Staff and contractors joined together to get the building into shape as renovations and redecoration were needed. The next big step was in May 2008 when, by popular demand, the new Brettles Retail Shop was opened in Days Lane.
To this day, Brettles product groups are still growing. Export growth is continuing. The quality and value offered will ensure that the Slenderella and Brettles brands trade successfully into the 21st century.
Carr & Westley have sold Brettles products since the 1960s and have a growing range of Slenderella products. We are now also experiencing a new demand for Slenderella bed jackets and nightwear on the internet, taking the brand into the future.