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James Edward Sugden OBE was committed to maintaining traditional skills in the textile industry throughout his life and by the time he retired was without doubt the leading expert in textiles in the country.

Mr Sugden, who died on December 28, was born in Huddersfield in September 1946.

His early years were spent in Huddersfield at Berry Brow and later Netherton and he was educated at St David’s Preparatory School in Huddersfield and Sedbergh School in Cumbria where he became Head of House. After marrying his wife Linda in 1973 they lived in Wooldale at first followed by Wilshaw.

After A Levels in French and German at school he gained a degree in Economics from Downing College Cambridge in 1968 and joined R Beanland & Co in Scissett while taking an evening textile course at Huddersfield College of Technology where he obtained an Licentiateship of the Textile Institute in textiles.

He had a spell at W&J Whitehead in Laisterdyke before he moved on to MP Stonehouse in Wakefield, his family in law’s business, and after they were taken over by Readicut he accepted an offer in 1987 to move north to Elgin to join Johnston’s of Elgin in Scotland as sales director, quickly becoming managing director in 1988. Here his enthusiasm drive and good business sense was instrumental in expanding Johnston’s business substantially from a small weaving mill into a global brand.

In the subsequent 25 years he developed Johnstons into becoming the leading UK manufacturer of cashmere products, renowned for its fabric and accessories and more recently knitwear where the company developed from scratch a new knitwear facility in the borders town of Hawick.

Johnstons’ turnover rose in the period of his tenure from £5m pounds to over £60m and their products are now exported to more than 30 countries and the company known the world over. No mean feat for a company in a declining industry.

Mr Sugden travelled widely to meet suppliers on their territory and to source cashmere from China and the upper grasslands of Inner Mongolia while at the same time expanding the companies customer base into a who’s who of fashion brands. He revived Johnstons into a British powerhouse in textiles, known the world over.

In 1994 under his leadership the Company gained the Queens Award for Export and continued to prosper. James never forgot his Yorkshire roots and whenever any outwork for a particular process was needed his first port of call would be a Yorkshire firm and he used skills from Yorkshire in many other fields such as carding repairs.

In 2005 he moved to the Borders of Scotland to Hawick in order to develop the knitwear business there. Once again he painstakingly transformed the business, overseeing new products, suppliers and customers to the great benefit of the town, and enhanced the reputation of the company significantly.

By the time he retired in 2013 he was without doubt the leading expert in textiles in the country and his knowledge of the textile industry was unsurpassable.

Mr Sugden’s brother, Robert, said: “James loved his home town of Huddersfield and had a remarkable knowledge of the history and development of the textile industry, the families and the mills. He was well respected by customers, suppliers and not least his employees, He was generous with his time and advice, had boundless energy and a great ability to get on with everybody from all walks of life. Nothing was too much trouble and he was modest at all times. Every morning on arrival at work his first task, schedule permitting, was to walk around the mill greeting the incoming workforce. Such a gesture enabled him a great rapport with all his employees on every level.

“While living in Yorkshire he was church warden at Holy Trinity Church, following in his father’s footsteps, and wherever he went he would support the local church.

He was honest, respectful, understated, insightful, humble, able and dependable. Above all he loved his family, his dogs, and his garden and supported his children when they all chose their own textile ventures which gave him huge pleasure, especially when his son, John, acquired Campbells of Beauly and carried on the family textile tradition.”

Mr Sugden leaves his wife Linda, his three children Emily John and Rosie, and four grandchildren.

A service of Celebration of his life will take place at St Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church Hawick on Thursday, January 11 at 11am.

Source : The Huddersfield Daily - Examinar

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