Kate Middleton steps out in a green suit on a visit to a textile factory on Tuesday, the Princess of Wales stepped out in a green Burberry suit to visit a company with close ties to a former factory owned by her ancestors.
Princess Kate, 41, is widely praised for her influence on the fashion lines and designers she wears, and she spent the day learning more about the heritage and innovation of an industry that plays such a prominent role in Britain.
Kate visited AW Hainsworth, a family-owned heritage textile mill on the outskirts of Leeds. Her paternal ancestors were the owners of local woolen mill and merchant William Lupton and Co., which was sold to AW Hainsworth in 1958.
Kate’s great-grandfather, Noel Middleton, who married Olive Lupton in 1914, was a director of the company. Noel and Olive had three children, including Peter Middleton, Kate’s grandfather and Michael’s father.
“She had a conversation with her parents, and they were filling her in,” Rachel Taylor tells PEOPLE. “They obviously did some research. I talked to a lot of people today. We were able to put a few bells and whistles on it.”
Shortly after arriving at midday, the Princess of Wales toured the factory and met some of the company’s apprentices and their mentors. She was told how they supply fabrics to a wide range of customers, from fashion and homeware brands to the armed forces. AW Hainsworth fabrics, which have won a Royal Warrant, signifying the company as a supplier to the Royal Family, were used during the coronations of both the late Queen Elizabeth in 1953 and King Charles in May .
Princess Kate even met Oliver, a model wearing a guard’s uniform and a traditional bearskin hat.
Kate was fascinated by the making of the bright crimson cloth that was the mainstay of the uniforms of the palace guards.
“She loved it,” Zeina Al-Moussawi, director of operational excellence, tells PEOPLE. It was great to see the scarlet jacket, the famous red fabric that everyone associates with Buckingham Palace and the guards. “It was great how she was trying to feel everything and get the tactile experience as well.”
She adds that the royal “loved the smell, texture and handle of wool.”
“The most interesting thing for her was seeing how it turned into a beautiful red fabric,” adds Amanda McLaren, MD, to PEOPLE. “ We explained the processes it goes through, from carding to spinning, winding and finishing. She was really fascinated by it, and we were able to… We show her some fabric to the guards passing by the dye factory. She can see it being dyed red, and it becomes very real after that.
They also showed her the manufacturing process, where materials are transferred from thread to fabric and how traditional machines and techniques still play vital roles in the industry.
At AW Hainsworth, they’re proud of the many people who have worked there for decades – including eight generations of Hainsworth – but also how they bring in new apprentices and trainees.
“She was really interested in the demographics of the plant,” Al-Moussawi says. “We have tried hard to make succession plans, so we have a great group of young and highly experienced people, which helps us transfer knowledge and keep that knowledge in the business.”
“It was really cool,” she adds. She was interested in everything we showed her. She had a real interest in textiles and heritage. I’ve seen every stage.”
In fact, Princess Kate stayed at the event for at least 30 minutes longer than expected!
Kate even encountered a familiar item of clothing during her visit. While pregnant with her daughter, Princess Charlotte, the princess wore a Madderson London maternity dress that used fabric designed by AW Hainsworth. The original dress is displayed by the company with a tag indicating the special wearer!
“The fabric was made here,” managing director Amanda McLaren tells PEOPLE. “It was really nice to get that out and share it with her. She recognized it immediately. She said, ‘Oh my God, I remember that dress!'” ” For us, it was a nice little touch at the end. But for her, it was about coming here and understanding the integrated mill better and the importance of having socialist skills and experience that we can pass on to the next generation.”
At the company’s state-of-the-art laboratory, which the company uses for cutting-edge innovations and product development, Princess Kate was joined by Professor Stephen Russell, founding director of Future Fashion Factory (FFF), who demonstrated how academic and business expertise can be harnessed to bring about innovations that will be crucial to the future.
It was one of two textile manufacturing companies she visited on Tuesday. After Leeds, Kate headed about 84 miles west to Lancaster to another factory to see another heritage textile company: Standfast & Barracks, a printing company dating back to 1924. Now part of the Sanderson Design Group, it uses traditional and pioneering printing techniques. Digital inkjet technology.
As well as being shown the factory, she met Frieda Gormley and Jaffe M Royle, founders of House of Hackney. The interior design brand works closely with Standfast & Barracks to pioneer regeneratively grown materials, which will improve sustainability. The partnership also supports the next generation of textile professionals by co-creating apprenticeship programs in design and manufacturing.
The outing comes hours after Buckingham Palace announced that King Charles and Queen Camilla will welcome Yoon Suk-yeol, the president of South Korea, and his wife, First Lady Kim Keun-hee, to the United Kingdom for a state visit in November.
An upcoming state visit could mean there’s an exciting fashion moment on the horizon for Princess Kate. She will likely join other royals in wearing the tiara and dress to attend a state banquet during the visit.