TWOMAX: A History of a Glasgow Knitwear Factory

Written by Isabella Wagner

Twomax garment label for illustration of blog by Isabella Wagner. Photo of label taken by Isabella Wagner and used with her permission.
Twomax garment label (Dress in private collection, photograph by author)

Twomax was a Scottish knitwear company based in Glasgow for some 60 years. At its premises on Rutherglen Road in the heart of the Gorbals, Twomax produced fashionable knitted garments until the company folded in the 1980s, a victim of global competition. As a recognised brand and an important local employer Twomax should be better known; yet, along with countless other small knitwear manufacturers in Scotland its story has been overshadowed by the pre-eminence of internationally renowned companies located in the Borders such as Pringle, Lyle and Scott, and Braemar.

Twomax was founded in the 1920s in Glasgow by Hugh McClure, who began producing knitwear with a staff of three in a disused pub in Bridgeton in the East End of the city. McClure co-owned the business with his brother-in-law, Donald McIntosh, and together they eventually moved into the large, old mill at 187 Rutherglen Road that was to become the Twomax factory.

Why Twomax? The clue is in the names of the founders – McClure and McIntosh, the ‘two Macs’ (max).

Textile Production in the Gorbals

Long before Twomax occupied the building at 187 Rutherglen Road the site had been connected to the textile industry. The Twomax factory had originally been a cotton spinning mill, built in around 1820, and it was used for this purpose until Stewart and McDonald, drapers and warehousemen, moved in sometime in the late-nineteenth century and used it as a clothing factory. At this time, the surrounding buildings were also used for the purposes of processing raw materials for the textile trade, some of them cotton and cotton waste factories. Stewart and MacDonald eventually faced substantial financial losses in the 1920s forcing them to amalgamate with another company. Fortunately for Twomax, this meant the mill became vacant and free for their use.

Stewart and McDonald factory detail from Insurance Plan of Glasgow, Vol.II, Sheet 231, 1889. Used with permission of NLS. Illustration for blog about Twomax factory by Isabella Wagner
Stewart and McDonald factory. Detail from Charles Goad Fire Insurance Plans of Scottish Towns,1880s-1940s, Insurance Plan of Glasgow – Vol. II, Sheet 231. 1889. Sheet ca. 64 x 54 cm. NLS, https://maps.nls.uk/view/216810288.

Employment for Local Women

Twomax was a ‘cut and sew’ knitwear business. This meant that it largely produced reams of knitted fabric on automated machines which was then cut and sewn into garments. ‘Cut-and-sew’ knitwear manufacturers predominantly employed women. Twomax largely employed women workers from the Gorbals and Glasgow. Indeed, many knitwear firms selected locations for factories based on the availability of women workers in the area. The work in the Glasgow rag trade generally was typically gendered – men were mechanics and involved in cutting, warehouse work and driving while women were machinists and operated presses. It is likely that the same held true for Twomax. What is known is that women workers were in the majority: in 1954, the factory employed at least five hundred ‘girl’ workers (1).

Workers leaving the Twomax factory, July 1956. (Image C3129 used with permission of Glasgow City Archives)
Workers leaving the Twomax factory, July 1956. (Image C3129 used with permission of Glasgow City Archives)

Situated in the Gorbals, Twomax was continuing a long tradition of textile manufacture in the area, much of the work undertaken by Jewish, Italian and Irish migrants who made their home in this part of Glasgow (2). So, a confluence of factors meant that 187 Rutherglen Road was an ideal location for the factory: it was in an area with an abundance of women workers as a result of high male employment, it had a history of textile manufacture and of the processing of raw materials for use in the textile trade.

Quality, Success, and Failure

Twomax produced knitwear in the middle-upper end of the market and their garments from the 1960s in particular, are fashionable and attractive (at least to modern eyes!). They did not have their own outlets but sold stock in department stores such as Selfridges, Harrods, and House of Fraser amongst others. They also earned a significant amount of revenue from export sales, particularly in the 1970s, indicating that they must have enjoyed some popularity abroad. However, this came to an end in the early 1980s. Twomax suffered financial losses during what was a difficult time for the textile industries in Glasgow and failed to secure funding to continue trading. Although attempts were made in 1984 to revive the business these ultimately failed. Imports were competitive and eventually it became cheaper for businesses to manufacture abroad.

Heritage

The Twomax building still stands today, as a vestige of the textile industry in Glasgow and a symbol of the city’s cultural and industrial heritage. It was recently saved from demolition and there are now plans to convert it into housing. However, few who pass it will know its history or will have heard of Twomax, but we hope to tap the memories of former workers to piece together the story of a once important but overlooked knitwear company.

Twomax factory photographed in July 2021 by Isabella Wagner. Image used to illustrate blog about Twomax written by Isabella Wagner. Image used with permission of Isabella Wagner.
The Twomax building today. (Photograph by author).

Did You Work For Twomax?

We are very keen to talk to anyone who worked for Twomax. If you did, and would like to talk to us, please contact us by email: arts-fleecetofashion@glasgow.ac.uk

Learn More

And look out for a follow-up blog from Isabella discussing garments made by Twomax.

 

[1] ‘500 Girls Quit on Fire Alarm,’ Aberdeen Evening Press, 4 February, 1954, p.16.

[2] Linda Fleming, ‘Jewish Women in Glasgow c.1880-1950: Gender, Ethnicity and the Immigrant Experience,’ (PhD Thesis, University of Glasgow, 2005), p.212.