Today’s Leigh Fibers was established in 1922 but its storied past goes back to at least 1866 when cotton waste merchant, John Leigh Sr. of Manchester England purchased the cotton spinning operations of Platt and Wilcox, also located in Manchester.
With the help of his sons, George and John Jr., Leigh continued to grow his cotton waste and reprocessing business which operated under the name John Leigh LTD. When Leigh Sr. died in 1916 ownership passed to John Jr., who was later to become 1st Baronet Sir John Leigh and a member of British Parliament.
The Seeds of Leigh Fibers
By 1918, John Leigh LTD had established a North American office in Boston, MA and had hired 31-year old Hans Lehner of Fischach, Germany to run it. After World War I, the textile industry faced new challenges. The influenza epidemic of 1918 resulted in huge loss of life, including many mill workers. Cotton farmers were devastated by the boll weevil. New shorter skirt lengths required less fabric and, in turn, fewer workers. Even though new hosiery mills were hiring, the larger factories, faced with wartime surpluses of fabric, had too many employees.
By 1922, John Leigh LTD, like most other textile companies, found itself in tough financial straits. Hans Lehner, with a loan from the First National Bank of Boston, decided to purchase the company and immediately began to stabilize its future.
20th Century Growth
The 1920s and 30s saw significant growth — not just in cotton waste reprocessing, but in importing and exporting. Overseas offices soon followed, notably Leigh Textile, Ltd. in Montreal in 1948… still one of Canada’s top sources of textile wastes and fiber by-products.
In 1945, Lehner’s eldest son, Phillip, joined the business after serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII. In 1961, with the U.S. textile industry moving south, Leigh relocated production from its two New England plants to a state-of-the-art reprocessing plant near Spartanburg, South Carolina.
When Hans Lehner died in 1965, Phillip assumed leadership of what had grown to be one of the largest textile reprocessing companies in the U.S. Today Leigh Fibers, Inc. is the largest textile waste and by-product re-processor in North America.
Positioned for the Future
The last fifty years has seen a surge in innovation and expansion at Leigh Fibers. New fiber applications, the rise in synthetic and specialty fibers and more effective production techniques have created a wide range of new opportunities, in North America and around the world.
Leigh Fibers currently has import and export agreements with companies in 25 countries and nearly every continent. We’ve diversified from John Leigh’s early focus on cotton waste to include carpets and plastics, specialty fibers and shoddy, uniform destruction, and more.
At the same time, the growing use of recycled materials as a way to reduce production costs, has placed Leigh Fibers in the spotlight. And we’re ready and positioned to help our customers reap the benefits of recycled fiber—as Leigh Fibers and our predecessor companies have for nearly 150 years.