top of page

A bleeding good shirt…

Photography by Alex Natt. Modelled Tim and Jacob. Illustrations and moodboard by Josh Fox. Bleeding Madras logo by Kate Costigan

Written by Josh Fox and Jake Wigham

To celebrate the restock of our Bleeding Madras fabric, it felt right to highlight a small slice of the history of this special cloth: Madras. With a journey as rich as its colours, this story travels from the Scottish highlands to an Indian fishing village to Caribbean tourists, up to the American East Coast universities, and back to a little pub in London for a photoshoot.


The last of its kind' this fabric is sourced from dead stock by Leith. This fabric was hand-loomed for Leith by a small family-owned producer in Chennai (previously Madras), India.

These producers are the foremost experts on traditional Indian vegetable dyeing techniques, refined over many decades. The yarn is woven on a Victorian Selvedge loom to produce a light, strong fabric with a soft hand.

image source: Original Madras Trading Company

This wonderful textile is not easy to make:

Vegetable dyeing is slow - some stages can take over a month. It is over 30 times longer to produce than industrial machinery, but it produces a complexity and depth of colour that is unobtainable with synthetic dyes.

But this has its environmental advantages:

Hand-powered and natural ingredients. As the dyes are natural, use vegetables for colour, rice gruel for adhesive and boiling spring water to set. This form of production, although long, creates no harmful byproducts and pollutants associated with regular industrial manufacturing.

As modern industrial processes have become more cost-effective, we have lost most of the world's craftsmen able to make this special textile. This specific weave holds so much heritage and rarity that it earned its place in the Harris Museum collection - Textiles Manufacturers of India."


From West to East and back again

One of the more perplexing precursors to the Indian Madras is the Scottish highlands, around 300 AD. The criss-cross weaving of colours woven into wools could be considered one of the pioneering forms of pre-industrial camouflage design. The body outline is broken up by covering the body with the chequered fabric. This helps the wearer blend into the natural environment. This gave such an advantage when hunting or scouting in battle, that it, in turn, helped the rise of the multi-domain tribes that laid the foundation of our association of tartans and clans.

image 1: tartan camo in action, source: Fandabi Sozi (Youtube). image 2: Scottish mercenaries - Georg Coler. image 3: King George IV by David Wilkie.

As the battlefield modernised and textile dying was advancing, more colourful and vibrant colours of tartan became synonymous with regency and nobility. During his 1822 visit to Scotland, King George the 4th was so inspired by the tartans, he incorporated it into his personal style and the rest of Europe followed suit.

During the 17th Century, Dutch and British traders had seen the potential in a fishing village with a small calico cloth trade. Seeking to expand their textile industries and capitalise on the local textile production skills, companies incentivised weavers across the region to come to the area. This economic development tied with the new international trade routes had expanded this small village into the textile hub City of Madras.

Madras cloth reached America in 1718 when the appointed Mayor of Madras was Elihu Yale, one of Britain's most controversial offerings, was reached out to by a failing Connecticut college for financial aid. Elihu sent a considerable care package of money and bolts of the Madras fabric that had made him so wealthy. In return the college would be named after the donor: Yale. By 1897 the first Madras shirt for sale to the American consumer was offered in Sears catalogue.


With the rise of more accessible plane travel after WW2, university students were now travelling to Caribbean countries and purchasing the Indian-sourced Madras fabrics to stay cool. They brought back well-received pops of colour that complemented the spring/autumn landscape of the New England environment.

An Ivy School trend again, over 50 years since its introduction to the Sears catalogue in 1897. Brooks Brothers (BB) sought to capitalise on this trend by ordering 10,000 metres of the cloth, but in their excitement, they had confused care instructions from the producer, describing that the cloth would run unless washed with cold water. With such high demands, the company rushed to distribute the fabric shirts and was horrified by the flurry of complaints about the garments' running dyes.

Mr Nair, the director of the family-owned textile producer was summoned to America to receive a scolding, yet by the time the producer had arrived in the States, the cloth was making waves in publications like Esquire and Seventeen Magazine regarding the wondrous cloth that was "marvellously muted" and "dustily well-bred". With their back against the wall, BB hired Madison Avenue marketing Exec David Ogilvy and coined "guaranteed to bleed", turning the flaw into a feature, a motif of some of the greatest marketing campaigns in modern history. BB had accidentally stumbled onto a beloved process that would bleed everywhere an era of revolutionary causality that defined the Ivy style.

Shop the Bleeding Madras collection now:

69 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page