THE death has taken place of prominent Newtownards industrialist Milan Mladek who for many years ran the Crepe Weavers factory.
Mr Mladek headed the successful family weaving firm which exported to Europe, Canada and the USA and provided employment for hundreds of local people.
Mr Mladek was born in 1930 into a Czechoslovakian family of prominent linen manufacturers. They owned a spinning mill in Sudetenland, an area in Czechoslovakia close to the border with Germany, that was taken over by the Germans when they annexed Sudetenland in 1938.
The family remained hopeful of regaining control of their factory, but after the Second World War when Czechoslovakia was taken over by communists, industries were nationalised and Mr Mladek’s father was thrown into prison.
Once he got out of prison the family fled, ending up in Northern Ireland. They took over a textile factory which had been set up three months earlier on the Comber Road by Zdenek Sochor, another Czech exile.
Milan Mladek combined a textile technology course at the technical college with a degree in mechanical engineering at Queen’s University. When he left university, Mr Mladek began working at the family firm eventually taking over the running of it.
Crepe Weavers initially produced crepe, a type of rayon cloth, but by the mid 1950s it moved onto a nylon fabric. Among the many innovations there, it was the first place in the world to use and develop water jet looms.
During the 1970s, when it was at its height, Crepe Weavers had 600 looms and was one of the main employers in the town with a workforce of 350 who manufactured half a million square metres of fabric every week. It had been taken over by Courtaulds and became one of the top producers of synthetic fabrics in the UK.
When Courtaulds closed their weaving plants in the early 1980s Milan Mladek continued on the Comber Road site on a smaller scale after buying back a controlling interest. The firm finally closed its doors in 2005.
Milan Mladek was chairman of Marm Properties Limited, the development company set up to develop the 25 acre site.
In 1966 the Mladek family presented a silver mace to Newtownards Borough Council which is still used by Ards and North council on civic occasions.
Mr Mládek served as a Czech Honorary Consul of Northern Ireland from 2007 to 2021 and during this time, he helped many Czech citizens and businesses.
Strangford MP, Jim Shannon, has paid tribute to Mr Mladek, describing him as a ‘visionary businessman’ who did much for the greater Newtownards area.
A service of thanksgiving for the life of Milan Mladek was held at St Mark’s Church, Dundela, Belfast on Wednesday, May 17, followed by a private family committal at Roselawn Crematorium.