Laura Ashley (1925-1985)

Textile & Fashion Pioneer

Laura Ashley (1925-1985)

Laura Mountney was born at the family home at 31 Station Terrace, Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil  on the 7th September 1925. She went to school in Merthyr, but as her father was in the Civil Service she then went to school at Elmswood, Croydon and then evacuated back to Merthyr during the second World War. She left school at 16 and joined the Royal Naval Service.

Laura met Bernard at a youth club in 1942 he was an engineer. After the War Bernard was posted to India with the Gurkhas and they corresponded by letter and later married in 1949.

In 1953, Laura had visited a craft exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London that inspired the idea to produce and print small prints for head scarves and she recalled that Welsh traditional quilts and small prints which were not easily accessible.

From large order enquiries, Laura said to Bernard that this was an opportunity to relocate to Wales and after taking the M4, ended up on the road to Mid Wales. Laura and her children at the time had camped and carried out a search for a home with room for a shop and in 1961 the family home and shop was bought in Machynlleth, Montgomeryshire, Powys.

During the early set up of their joint venture they named the Business ‘Ashley Mountney’ it was later in their days at Carno they christened the business Laura Ashley as Laura had been focusing on manufacturing garments.

Bernard at this stage had a small print workshop in Kent and he then started to look for a small factory and they were offered by Cllr Francis Thomas, “Tybrith” community centre in Carno. It was in February 1967 that Carno Railway Station came on the market and they bought this with a couple of acres of land to expand their factory operation and Laura’s design studio.

As the business went on from printing textiles and manufacturing clothes and opening clothes shops they expanded into furnishing products. Then in 1976, Laura Ashley by Post began by some advertising and selling some hand drawn sketches of their famous Victorian Blouses and Nightdresses in National Newspapers such as The Times, Guardian and Daily Mail.

Then in 1980 they expanded into Made to Measure Curtains and then Blinds which led to producing their first Home Furnishings Catalogues.

As the business expanded in the 80s there was international demand for the printed textiles and wallpaper and the Development Board for Rural Wales supported this expansion into Newtown by developing the Vastre Industrial Estate where the Warehouse and Distribution operation relocated. Laura Ashley By Post had relocated with the first location on the Vastre in a small unit and then a bigger move on the Mochdre Enterprise Park for the call centre and mail order distribution but then a larger move took place in the 90s as the mail order was expanding very quickly.

One of the largest developments the Development Board for Rural Wales committed to in 1984 was building Laura Ashley Texplan Factory to house their textile printing machines and wallpaper printing units and paint making under one roof, which became the largest print factory in the UK on the Mochdre Enterprise Park. Texplan was a 130,000 square foot unit which could house three full size football pitches. Also a special power line was built for this factory.

The first Laura Ashley shop in Wales was at Llanidloes in 1976 and when Bear Lanes Shopping Centre was opened in the 80s this became a tourist attraction with a staff shop outlet as well.

Sadly in September 1985 when Laura was celebrating her 60th Birthday she fell in a tragic accident and passed away days later on the 17th September, as well as being shock the whole company was in mourning.

Bernard Ashley was knighted in 1987 and he opened Laura Ashley 8 Million pound “Texplan” in May 1987. By 1987 there were 292 Laura Ashley shops worldwide.

In 1888 Princess Diana requested to visit Newtown Laura Ashley Texplan. Along with Sir Bernard Ashley over 200 staff were present to welcome the Princess who had for a long time been an avid customer of Laura Ashley.

During the 1990’s sales had reached over 300 million, but by 2004 the Carno factory was closed with some job losses but most were relocated to Newtown with their accounts offices moving to St Davids House. The curtain and blinds factory moved to a unit on the Mochdre Enterprise Park and later into the Texplan Factory.

The Ashley’s Mail Order operations, Warehouse & Distribution, Texplan manufacturing and some other small offices in Newtown amounted to being the largest employer. With over 14 Factories became one of the largest businesses in Wales by the turn of the twentieth century.

The sale of the company to a Malaysian Group meant a change of operations, production and manufacturing overseas and greater importation. This was a complete turn around from the original business philosophy, when Laura Ashley Ltd won the 1977 Queen’s Export Award.

During 2005 – 2018 the company operators ran into a number of issues across its global infrastructure. The Australian operations in 2016 were placed into voluntary liquidation but continued to trade for a further two years.

The company’s Japanese partners Aeon which ran its stores in Japan was terminated and 120 stores were closed, plus all Australian operations and stores also closed in 2018. Then around 40 shops were closed across the UK.

In 2019 the Chairman announced a bounce back in business expansion with online sales and the Laura Ashley textile print designs collaboration with the Urban Outfitter clothing brand. But sadly the Laura Ashley iconic business as we knew it in Wales and across the globe closed and liquidated all operations during the World Pandemic in the summer of 2020.

The Laura Ashley Brand & Archives and intellectual property were sold to the Gordon Brothers Group in 2020. They then formed a partnership agreement with Next Plc in 2021 to operate the Laura Ashley Brand UK as well as a new Ecommerce Operation with franchise textile design partnerships in the United Kingdom.