The Princess of Wales wore a green Burberry suit on the visit to Leeds in northern England
Kate Middleton visited AW Hainsworth, a family-owned textile mill in Leeds.
The Princess of Wales has a family connection to the company through her paternal ancestors.
The royal recycled a green suit by Burberry for the outing.
Kate Middleton is learning more about her own family history during her latest royal engagement.
On Tuesday, the Princess of Wales stepped out in a green Burberry suit to visit a company that has close links to a former mill owned by her ancestors.
Princess Kate, 41, is widely praised for her impact on fashion lines and designers that she wears, and she spent the day learning more about the heritage and innovation in an industry that plays such a high-profile role in Britain.
Kate visited AW Hainsworth, a family-owned heritage textile mill on the outskirts of Leeds. Her paternal ancestors were owners of a local woolen manufacturer 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 sons including Peter Middleton, Kate’s grandfather and the dad of her father, Michael.
"She had had a chat with her parents, and they had been filling her in,” Rachel Taylor, a member of the Hainsworth family whose father was the sixth generation running the company, tells PEOPLE. "They had obviously done some research. She spoke to a lot of people today. We were able to put a bit of bells and whistles onto that."
Shortly after arriving around midday, the Princess of Wales toured the mill 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. A holder of a Royal Warrant, which signifies that a company is a supplier to the royal family, AW Hainsworth's fabrics were used during the coronations of both the late Queen Elizabeth in 1953 and King Charles in May.
Princess Kate even met Oliver, a mannequin sporting a guardsman uniform and traditional bearskin hat.
Kate was fascinated by the creation of the bright scarlet fabric that’s the mainstay of the ceremonial uniform of the palace guards.
Zena Al Mausawe, operational excellence director, tells PEOPLE, “She loved it. It was great that she saw the scarlet tunic which is the iconic 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 of the wool and the texture of it and the handle of it.”
Amanda McLaren, managing director, adds to PEOPLE, “What was more interesting for her was seeing how it’s turned into beautiful red fabric. We explained the processes it goes through, from carding to spinning and winding and then finishing. She was really fascinated by it, and we were able to show her some fabric for the guardsmen going through the dye house. She could see it being dyed red, and it becomes very real then.”
They also showed her the manufacturing process, taking the material from yarn to fabric and how traditional machinery and techniques still have vital roles to play in the industry.
At AW Hainsworth, they are proud of how they both have many people who’ve worked there for decades — and there are eight generation Hainsworths among them — but also how they bring on new trainees and apprentices.
"She was really interested in the demographic in the mill," Al Mausawe says. "We’ve tried very hard to get succession plans in so we have quite a range of very young people and very experienced people, which helps us pass on knowledge and maintain that knowledge in the business."
“It was really great," she adds. She was interested in everything we showed her. She has a genuine interest in textiles and the heritage. She saw every stage."
In fact, Princess Kate stayed at the event at least 30 minutes longer than expected!
Kate was even reunited with a familiar piece of clothing during her visit. While she was pregnant with her daughter, Princess Charlotte, the royal wore a maternity dress by Madderson London that used fabric by AW Hainsworth. The original dress is displayed by the company with a tag indicating its special wearer!
"The fabric was made here," managing director Amanda McLaren tells PEOPLE. "It was really nice to bring that out and share it with her. She recognized it immediately. She said, 'Oh my goodness, 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 better a fully integrated mill and the importance of having socialist skills and expertise that we can pass on to the next generation."
At the company’s ultra-modern laboratory, which it uses for cutting-edge innovation and product development, Princess Kate was joined by Prof. Stephen Russell, the Founding Director of Future Fashion Factory (FFF), who showed how they harness academic and business expertise to bring innovations that will be crucial for the future.
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It was one of two textile manufacturers that she visited on Tuesday. After Leeds, Kate headed around 84 miles west to Lancaster to another factory to see another heritage textile company: Standfast & Barracks, which is a printworks dating back to 1924. Now part of the Sanderson Design Group, it uses both conventional printing techniques and groundbreaking digital inkjet technology.
As well as being shown the factory, she met Frieda Gormley and Javvy M. Royle, who are the founders of House of Hackney. The interiors brand works closely with Standfast & Barracks to pioneer pilot regeneratively farmed materials, which would improve sustainability. The partnership is also supporting the next generation of textile specialists by co-creating design and manufacturing apprenticeships.
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 Keon Hee, to the U.K. for a state visit in November.
The upcoming state visit may mean an exciting fashion moment is on the horizon for Princess Kate. It's likely that she will join other royals in sporting a tiara and ballgown for a state banquet during the visit.
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