Wolsey is the oldest British menswear brand built on design and quality for the modern explorer.Established in 1755 by Henry and Ann Wood, Wolsey’s heritage dates back to the emergence of the ‘cottage industry’ where businesses and manufacturing activities were carried out in people's homes. This, in addition to the invention of the stocking knitting frame in 1589 greatly improved the process of manufacturing knitted hosiery in the East Midlands region, enabling Henry and Ann Wood to increase output and sell to a wider public.
On the 15th June 1768, at the age of 61 Henry Wood died, bequeathing all his assets to his widow, Ann, who decided to continue trading, becoming the sole proprietor and manager of the company for 10 years after Henry’s death. The company went on to trade as Ann Wood & Sons, with her youngest joining the business in 1780, prior to her passing in 1813. It was evident that the knowledge, skills and qualities utilised by Ann were rarely applied by women of this era but ensured the success of the business.
Ann Wood & Sons went on to sell the majority of production to the Scottish market due to a relationship with George Walker, a wool merchant and hosier of Glasgow, Scotland.
In 1825, Robert Walker, son of George Walker, arrived in Leicester. Ambitious and talented, Robert spent his time travelling and broadening his hosiery skills. He had valuable experience of the Scottish hosiery trade and in 1840 Ann Wood & Sons had the foresight to employ him.
Roberts enthusiastic blending of two traditional knitwear industries greatly benefited the progress of the company and in 1842 he was appointed a partner. In keeping with his Scottish heritage, Robert adopted the Scottish Thistle as the company's trademark in the early 1850’s. However, his most dramatic innovation was to break with the established cottage industry, and house machines and work people in a factory. In 1859 he addressed the huge demand for the company's products by locating all knitting machines in a steam powered factory.
In 1864 manufacturing was extended to incorporate an extensive range of under and outer garments. By 1883 Ann Wood & Sons had become the largest hosiery manufacturer in the Leicester region, and its products gained the highest award for hosiery at the Chicago Great World Fair. New technology was embraced in order to extend the product range and subsequently furthered the company’s position as market leader through its ability to manufacture “Unshrinkable Woollens”.
To herald this achievement an entirely new name was adopted. On 12th October 1897 the company registered the “WOLSEY” trademark, inspired by a powerful ecclesiastic and statesman, who was buried in Leicester.
The early years of the twentieth century witnessed many Wolsey promotions associated with sports and leisure activities, emphasising Wolsey’s qualities of comfort and elegance. Following this, in 1910 a new factory covering 2.5 acres was built at Abbey Meadows in Leicester, which became the company’s new headquarters.
Significant publicity was gained when the company could advertise, with complete truth, that Wolsey underwear was selected by both Captain Scott and the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and their teams in 1911 for their race to reach the south pole. In 1919 Wolsey underwear was also supplied, in accordance with Sir Ernest Shackleton's specifications, for his Murmansk expedition. This was testament to the quality and reliability of the company's garments.
It was the quality and reliability of Wolsey products that proved to be a vital attribute, specifically during the years of the Great War, 1914-1918, when 75% of production from the company's seven factories was given over to the Government. This equated to supplying over 18 million pieces of underwear, jerseys and scarves to the British and allied troops.
In 1919 the company ceased trade through wholesale merchants and began to supply direct to the retailer. Thus, a public company was formed in 1920 adopting the title of Wolsey Ltd, reflecting the strength of the Wolsey brand name in the knitwear market. In 1927 the Wolsey board of directors welcomed the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) on his first visit to the company. He was presented with a cashmere scarf and a hunting pullover.
During the 1920s outdoor activities such as golf, tennis and swimming became extremely popular. Wolsey became a market leader in the promotion and production of golf wear, tennis sweaters and bathing-suits, selected by numerous sporting organisations and individuals. Golf in particular experienced a spectacular boom in popularity. Recognising this boom Wolsey devoted a special production line for the manufacture of golf hose and socks. The brand became a market leader in the design and manufacture of golf clothes and other sportswear, which was successfully marketed under the name of "Sportsman". This was later extended into and outdoor leisure range.
In 1935 Wolsey was appointed to hold a Royal Warrant as Hosiery Manufacturers to his Majesty King George V. This honour has been held through the reigns of consecutive monarchs and remains with the company to the present day
Wolsey consistently endorsed marketing as a method to ensure the company would stay ahead of its competitors. In 1949 a new Chairman, Leslie Miller, was appointed and he undertook a significant role in the marketing strategy of the business. His leadership saw the company successfully evolve its merchandising and product range over the next two decades.
Wolsey has been privileged to supply products to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II since 1953, and the company was further honoured in 1959 when a Royal Warrant was granted to Wolsey by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.
In 1966 Wolsey became part of the Coutaulds Textiles Group and was later sold to the group, giving access to greater resources and success. The company grew into the European market with the launch of subsidiary companies in Sweden, Germany, Austria and Switzerland Montreal and Canada.
During this time Wolsey’s marketing continued to emphasise outstanding quality and value whilst reflecting changes in fashion and lifestyles, as well as its continued links with sport and leisure activities.
In the 70s Wolsey ranges were selected for numerous sporting organisations and teams, as well as individual sportsmen and women. Tony Jacklin the winner of The Open Championship and the US Open being the most famous. Following this Wolsey continued to be a popular choice of golf wear particularly in Asia, Australia and Canada.
In 1974 Wolsey introduced the ‘Fox’ motif to golf wear. Today, the ‘Fox’ is the recognised international brand logo of Wolsey golf collections around the world. As a response to high demand overseas and in the UK the brand focused on its menswear collection. The following years saw a growth in the brand’s golf wear range across the Far East, particular in China.
Wolsey became the first company in the UK to receive the British Standard (BS) 5750 n 1985 for quality systems in sock manufacturing.
After 94 years at Abbey Meadows, in 2004 the company moved its headquarters to a modern warehouse and administration facility on the north east fringes of Leicester city. Alongside this, 2004 also saw a complete re-branding exercise, with the fox logo and Wolsey name being updated to be seamless across the world.
In 2005 Wolsey celebrated its 250th Anniversary, a truly remarkable achievement for the company.
In 2010 Wolsey was acquired by the Hargreaves family. Following this in 2012 Wolsey opened a store on Brewer Street, London, located in Soho – the heart of central London’s shopping district, which remains the company’s flagship store today.
2014 saw the relaunch of Wolsey golf wear, creating technical aesthetics, contemporary branding and the dawn of a new era.
Wolsey continues to reflect on the ingrained principles of the brand that have been borne over its 260 year history, where authentic elements of the past are evolved in an enduring manner into the future, to create products that are naturally fit-for-purpose, luxury yet robust.
Wolsey sports apparel is still held in high respect within the golfing world with professional golfers Eddie Pepperell, Robert Rock, Chris Hanson and Toby Tree representing Wolsey as brand ambassadors. In October 2018, Eddie Pepperell won the British Masters wearing Wolsey.
The most carefully selected and sourced materials combined with the highest quality led craftsmanship, empowers the Wolsey man to conquer all environments he encounters – be it roaming the city, whilst exploring the outdoors or when relaxing at home.
The shared values of authenticity, innovation, adventure and endurance, ensure that Wolsey will continue to be the brand of choice for the Modern Day Explorer.
The Man Who campaign launched to celebrate the modern explorer and to inspire life beyond style.