Operating on shear tradition, Briggs & Little for 165 years

Posted on March 18, 2022 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments

The unique texture of Briggs & Little’s natural, Atlantic Canadian-made yarn is easily recognized in shops across the world. Dating back 165 years, the family-owned business has long-established processes based on tradition. Now owned by a fourth-generation Little, business continues as usual in N.B.


Briggs & Little in 1910 (left) and 1970 (right), located in York Mills, N.B. (photo credit: Briggs & Little)


Casting on

The Briggs & Little mill was built by George Lister in 1857 in York Mills, N.B. Originally known as York Woolen Mills, it became Little’s Woolen Mill in the 1890s, and Briggs & Little Woolen Mills, Ltd. in 1916, when purchased by Mathew Briggs and Howard Little. Mathew’s son Russell eventually sold his shares to a long-time Little employee and today the business is owned by Mike Little and his wife Leah.


A carding machine inside the Briggs & Little mill (photo credit: Briggs & Little)


Knitting strong

Briggs & Little yarn is made from 100 per cent Canadian wool. Known as Canada’s oldest woolen mill, fully-integrated production happens onsite using vintage mechanical machines. The process starts with acquiring wool from Canadian farmers, processing it, packing it and fulfilling wholesale orders. With their newest machine being from the 1950s, not much has changed in terms of process over the past century.

However, the business has changed with the times. In the 1940s, the first coloured yarns were introduced to their product line. The mill has also been rebuilt four times over the years after being lost to fire, most recently in 1994. The newest building was made of concrete and moved across the river, so offices and the mill are under one roof. Water from the nearby Magaguadavic River is still used to wash wool, however, it no longer powers equipment as it did before the final reconstruction.

The most modern change at Briggs & Little is their digital marketing efforts. Social media and other online tactics are managed in-house, maintaining a genuine customer connection.


Fourth and fifth-generation Littles, Mike Little (center) with his youngest son Carl (far left) and oldest son John-Michael (far right) at the family business (photo credit: Briggs & Little)


Family patterns

Two of Mike and Leah’s three sons have joined the family business. Carl (the youngest) works with Mike at the mill, and John-Michael (the oldest) handles shipping in the office with Leah. Working alongside the Littles is a team of 20 employees, who are considered an extended part of their family (some of which are, in fact, family).

Speaking of the importance of their team, Leah noted: “Their knowledge and skillset is invaluable. Without our team, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”


Briggs & Little’s current building (left) and store (right), still located in York Mills, N.B. (photo credit: Briggs & Little)


Still spooling

Today, Briggs & Little yarn is sold in shops across Canada, the U.S., Japan and Australia. Now with 96 coloured varieties of yarn, over 147,000 pounds were produced in 2021. After a surge in demand since the pandemic, the company still maintains traditional operations and quality service.

Leah comments: “We’re an ‘old school’ family business, operating antiquated machinery, creating a natural product that can be used by anyone, at any age. We’re thankful for our loyal customers and pleased to see continued interest in our yarns, especially by the younger generations.” When asked about the future of the business, she says the hope is for her sons John-Michael and Carl to take over once Leah and Mike are ready to retire.

Still spooling, after 165 years.

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