As Quality Manager Ken McKeown prepares to begin his well-earned retirement, we wanted to take a moment to reflect back on his incredible 51 years service with Disley- it’s a milestone not many of us will reach!
Ken started working at NM Williams on 29th June 1970, aged just 15. His Mum was working in the factory at the time and she helped Ken secure work within the Warehouse. Coming from a family of 8, times were hard and another wage coming into the house helped a great deal. The Textiles industry was a big employer in Belfast at the time, factories were far from the automated operations they are today and Ken’s first job was making the individual shirt boxes that each shirt was packed into.
Ken was soon recognised for his close attention to detail and after just 6 months he was taken on as an apprentice in the Cutting Room. His first job involved learning how to cut interlinings on a machine called the Clicker, a hydraulic press that cut interlining with metal cutting molds. He recalls that the room was on the 3rd floor of the building, many windows were broken and in the winter time is was perishingly cold, everyone wore gloves and a jacket to try to keep warm.
Ken continued to learn about all aspects of the Cutting Room, marking up patterns, constructing & grading patterns, producing lay plans and understanding how to achieve the best rating. Pattern work involved no technology at the time, it was all achieved with a square and knowledge of how the different proportions of the human body are made up.
In 1976 the Cutting Room Manager left the company and Ken was promoted into the position. Aged just 21, he was responsible for 20 staff and a Cutting Room, which was cutting around 12,000 garments per week. In 1980 Ken was put in charge of the Sample Room and became responsible for developing & sampling all the new retail styles that NM Williams produced at the time. By 1983 Ken’s knowledge & skills were recognised by a further promotion into the role of Quality Manager.
During the mid to late 80s the import of shirts began to grow significantly and NM Williams took its first forays into overseas manufacturing, all of which was overseen by Ken. Fast forward to today and Disley has completed over 30 years of successful overseas manufacturing. Ken has been instrumental in working with our factories to achieve the level of quality that we pride ourselves on. He has visited regularly, created Quality Manuals, trained staff and even serviced machinery!
Reflecting on his career Ken recalls his time in the Cutting Room the most fondly, observing & learning the skills of our forefathers brought a level of experience that would be difficult to replicate today.
Sales Director, Tony Hughes paid tribute at a recent celebratory dinner “We are hugely grateful for your unswerving loyalty and commitment Ken. You will be greatly missed and we wish you every health and happiness in your retirement.”