Obituary: James Sugden, adopted Borderer and textile firm boss

James Sugden.
James Sugden.

Former textile firm boss James Sugden, born in Huddersfield in West Yorkshire in September 1946, has died at the age of 71. Throughout his life, he was committed to maintaining traditional skills in the textile industry.

After gaining a degree in economics from Downing College at Cambridge in 1968, he took an evening textile course at Huddersfield College of Technology, paving the way for a career destined to win him royal acclaim.

It was in 1987 that he moved north to Moray to join Johnstons of Elgin as sales director, becoming managing director the year after.

There his enthusiasm, drive and business sense were instrumental in expanding Johnstons 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.

The company developed from scratch a new knitwear facility in Hawick, and Johnstons’ annual turnover rose in the period of his tenure from £5m to more than £60m, and its products are now exported to 30-plus countries.

James travelled widely to meet suppliers on their territory and to source cashmere from China and Mongolia.

He extended the cashmere visitor centre in Hawick and later supervised an extension at the firm’s Elgin premises for a furnishing department opened by Prince Charles in 1994. Also in 1994, the company gained the Queen’s Award for Expor.

In 2013, the year he retired, he gained a royal warrant for Johnstons from the Prince of Wales, and only this year, as chairman of Campbell’s of Beauly, he secured a warrant from the Queen.

It was in 2005 that he moved to Hawick to develop the knitwear business there, overseeing new products, suppliers and customers.

He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2011 for his services to the textile industry, having become a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Weavers in 2006 and joining its court also in 2011, later becoming chairman of its textile committee.

He was also chairman of the Scottish Textiles Manufacturing Association and was an early member of the Manchester-based Alliance project, set up by Lord David Alliance to examine the potential for repatriating textile manufacturing to the UK.

After retiring, he maintained his enthusiasm for textiles, accepting a role as non-executive director for Brora Cashmere as well as helping his son John with Campbell’s of Beauly.

He particularly enjoyed his other non-executive position on the board of Baxter’s Food Group in Fochabers, his late friend Gordon Baxter’s firm.

He was, say those closest to him, honest, respectful, understated, insightful, humble, able and dependable.

Above all, he loved his family, his dogs and the garden of his home at Lilliesleaf, and he supported his children when they all chose their own textile ventures, which gave him huge pleasure, especially when his son acquired Campbell’s of Beauly and carried on the family textile tradition.

James 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, in Slitrig Crescent, Hawick on Thursday, January 11, at 11am, followed by a private cremation.

No flowers are requested, but donations will be shared between Christ Church at Ugthorpe, North Yorkshire, and Holy Trinity Church in Huddersfield.