Why the new era of British fashion is all about the factory | Fashion industry

OMarta, Gabbie, and Gabriella are collaborating on a new product at Pittards in Yeovil. They attach strengthening layers of leather to a cylindrical handbag base, attach a shiny brass zipper, and handpaint seams to match the lipstick red surface.

Pittards employs more than 150 people and does brisk business in baseball gloves, dog leads and walking boots, but the bag being made today comes with a waiting list and a £350 price tag. The Somerset Love Bag, designed by Alice Temperley. It is named after Somerset County. fashion industry. Designers and models are now sharing the spotlight alongside the people who make the clothes, bags, shoes.

Alice Temperley bags
Alice Temperley bags. ‘Working with Alice gives us visibility,’ says Pittards’ chief executive, Reg Hankey. Photograph: Alice Temperley

Consumer awareness is increasing about the environmental impacts of fashion and the welfare of the world’s garment workers – the awareness that clothes do not appear in a puff of smoke, direct from a sketchpad and on to Kate Moss – scrutiny is shifting away from the designing of clothes and on to the making of them. While the benefits of shorter supply chain are challenging the centrifugal forces that drive globalization, they also encourage more fashionDesigners will switch to local manufacturing The catwalk is over; the new era in British manufacturing fashionIt’s all about the factory.

Pittards, a glove manufacturer that was established in 1826, is a solidly tradition establishment. There are more computers than calculators and ledgers at the desks of Pittards. Diana, the front desk employee, has been with the company for 54 year.

“Working with Alice gives us visibility,” says Pittards’ chief executive, Reg Hankey. “There is a very real sense of ownership of what we make, and it’s nice for our staff to go home to their families and be able to show them the handbag they are making on Instagram.”

Temperley moved manufacturing of accessories and outerwear from London after 18 years of designing and living in London. SomersetWith the goal of establishing “a more sustainable way of working, partnering with local factories and building a more efficient and more transparent supply chain.” Accessories, outerwear and wedding dress embroidery are now being produced at factories within a few miles of Temperley’s Ilminster headquarters, which houses her studio, a shop and a cocktail bar whose signature drinks are made with local cider brandy.

For decades, the fashionIndustry chased the cheapest needle in the world, abandoning British manufacturing along the way. Garments are distributed across the globe by supply chains. Linen from Europe is sent to Asia to dye before being returned to Europe to make shirts. Plastic buttons made in China are shipped from China to Italy, where they are wrapped in fabric and attached to clothes. This adds to the high carbon cost of such journeys. Because of the long lead time, the finished product may be out of date by time the label is added.

Complex and opaque supply chains have enabled abuse of the basic human rights of many of the world’s 85 million garment workers, by allowing the industry to evade responsibility. Brands often outsource production to locations where there is little oversight. However, consumers are not able to know the origin of their clothes beyond what is printed on a label. Last year, revelations of conditions in Leicester’s garment district, where employees were denied the minimum wage and faced unsafe working conditions during the pandemic, exposed the global scale of the scandal.

But consumer pressure, and increasing political heat in the wake of Keir Starmer’s pledgeA Labour government would “buy British”They are interested in local manufacturing that is responsible and transparent. John Lewis, the British high-street giant and a beacon of British public opinion has just started selling men’swear. Community ClothingPatrick Grant founded a social enterprise called ”, a brand dedicated to social responsibility. The Community Clothing pieces are made entirely in the UK and provide employment in 31 factories across the country.

“Fifteen years ago I visited a fashion factory in Nicaragua which was guarded by a man with a machine gun,”Deborah Bee, an ex-wife, recallsfashionEditor and founder of the knitwear business Bee & Sons. “The women worked from 8am until 6pm and were only allowed a short lunch break and one toilet break.” When Bee launched her label, making cardigans in natural yarn designed to be fully recyclable, she partnered with Mansfield’s Corah Textiles factory, which employs about 20 people. “It is manufacturing, but on a craftsmanship scale. It’s important to me that I can turn up unannounced and have a chat and a relationship with the people making my clothes.”

Pittards leather goods factory
Inside Pittards. ‘There is a very real sense of ownership of what we make,’Hankey.Photograph: Jim Wileman/The Guardian

Corah Textiles’ employees at work on their knitting machines are the stars of a video on the Bee & Sons website, while Temperley dreams of putting the Swiss Tulle factory in Chard, which she employs for wedding dress production, in the spotlight as a catwalk venue. “It feels like a magical place – like a fairytale. Wouldn’t this be an incredible location for a show?”Temperley asks this question, as she walks across a darkened building in which 180-year old steam engines crank and whine.

The designer Lauren Grant’s S.A.R.K.Small London factories make silk shirts with ring pulls and fake nails. “When I’ve got a new pattern I take pastries in to the team and we problem-solve together, working out how to minimise waste. Then once production has started I can try a shirt on to check the fit and make any adjustments. I like the practicality of that, and my customers appreciate the sustainability,”Grant.

O PioneersSlow. fashionLabel, whose prairie-style clothes are made from “deadstock”(fabric that is not used or unsold from previous season) were worn by Carrie Johnson and partners with small factories. “When we go to the factory to pick up our finished dresses, we take all the bits and pieces of fabric offcuts home and then we use them to make our patchwork dresses,”Clara Francis, Clara Francis was the co-founder.

However, not everyone agrees with the notion that local manufacturing is a win for sustainability. Amy Powney is the designer of the upscale British brand. Mother of PearlA prominent advocate for sustainable development. fashion, prefers to manufacture in another country, close to the place where her fabric is sourced. “My primary concern is the environment, and that is a global issue. Manufacturing in the UK has obvious benefits for jobs and industry and community, but not necessarily for the environment.”

British weather is not warm enough for cotton cultivation. The majority of British wool is intended for the carpet trade. “In food there is a field-to-table supply chain that consumers can understand. If you buy a potato that has been grown in Britain, it hasn’t been abroad before it appeared in that shop. But the fashion supply chain is so much more complicated. You could buy a jumper that says “made in Scotland”, but the wool may have come from Australia and been sent to China to be woven into yarn before it got to Scotland.”

Most upscale “Scottish cashmere”Companies import yarn from Mongolian goats, which is then processed in Scotland. Merino sheep were originally from Spain. However in the 19th Century, larger sheep became more important than the wool trade and smaller sheep became more lucrative. The small merino breed lost its popularity in Europe and was then exported to Australia, New Zealand and New Zealand. These two countries now produce 80% of the world’s merino wool, prized for its softness.

Patrick Grant, a fashion designer and co-presenter of BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee, took over Blackburn’s Cookson & Cleggfactory, five years before it was at serious risk of closing. He is “a huge believer in factories as a force for good. My first job was in a factory, and I’ve loved them ever since. They provide jobs, but also purpose and support and friendship to people of all ages and backgrounds, irrespective of academic achievement levels.”

Grant believes that increasing visibility and status of the recipient is key to enhancing their visibility. fashionManufacturing could also have an impact on consumer behavior. “If we reconnect the customer with what manufacturing looks like, that could help make people value clothes again – a mindset that fast fashion has very successfully destroyed for its own gain.”

A simple crew-neck cotton T-shirt by Community Clothing – knitted in Leicester, cut and sewn in Blackburn – costs £22. The high production costs and small scale of British production are a problem. fashionManufacturing is most affordable fashionBrands made in the United States. Consumers have come to expect eye-catchingly low prices after decades of high-street price wars. This is difficult to achieve with British factories.

At Albion Knitting, a knitting factory in London’s Haringey warehouse district, a skilled workforce of 50 produces about 7,000 garments a month for brands including Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy and Chloe. On the factory floor, Sissy is wielding a latch needle with surgical precision, correcting minuscule errors in a semi-sheer pointelle knit panel whose tiny stitches make up an all-over pattern of Givenchy’s “G”Logo. Ellie is attaching a sleeve and the body of a sweater by hooking individual loops over small needles at speed to create an flat, seamless join.

Albion Knitting factory in London
Albion Knitting factory, London. ‘I think some people imagine a dark satanic mill, but we’ve got a great workforce who are proud to work here,’ says co-founder Chris Murphy.Photograph by Martin Godwin/The Guardian

“In a cheaply produced garment, that seam would be overlocked, and much more bulky,”Chris Murphy, co-founder of the factory, explained that he was responding to a demand from luxury brands to move production from Asia into the UK. The building, which had one power point when Murphy moved in, now houses more than £1m worth of knitting machinery. “LONDON”It is written in metal vintage fairground letters, on one wall, next to an openwork spiral staircase that resembles a ball of yarn, with treads made from old knitting machines.

“We want this to be a nice place to work. I think some people imagine a dark satanic mill, but we’ve got a great workforce who are proud to work here,”Murphy. Murphy says that among the many samples hanging on rails are a classic Chanel knitted cardigan jacket in navy with pale rose trim, an Alexander McQueen cream Cashmere sweater with hand-embroidered metallic beads at the neckline, and a Chloe sweater in recycled cashmere. “definitely on the uptick”Murphy says so.

One of the smaller brands on Albion’s client list is the boutique cashmere label AethelThe, which Tim Ewington founded last year, was co-founded by Stylist magazine. “I wanted to see if it was possible build a small, ethical, British luxury brand,”Ewington. “Our customers care about their clothes, and caring about how they were made is part of that.” Aethel’s knits are produced at Albion using Italian cashmere yarn; orders within London are delivered by bicycle.

At Fortis ClothingDemand from brands who want to place orders has increased in Axminster, which produces everything from Alice Temperley jackets in leopard-print to outerwear for Devon and Cornwall police officers. “British manufacturing has been tough for a long time, but things are changing,”Oliver MassyBirch is the company director. “In the last 12 to 18 months we’ve been getting 10 emails a week from brands asking us to produce for them.”

Fortis Clothing is known for its sustainability credentials. Fortis Clothing recently purchased woodland to offset carbon. This was in the hope of becoming the first European brand of carbon-negative clothing. Insulation used in jackets by own-brand brands is made of recycled ocean plastics.

MulberryThe UK’s largest luxury goods manufacturer,, is increasing production in its two Somerset factories, the Rookery and the Willows. Together, they employ 450 people. “The factories and the people who work there are the centre of who we are,”Rob Billington, director of supply chain, says so. “They are fantastic places. There is so much knowledge there.

“When we start producing a new bag, the person in the factory who’s been working with us for 20 years pretty much knows whether it will be a success of not.”Mulberry proves that responsible British are responsible fashionBillington says manufacturing is possible. “At Mulberry we compete with Louis Vuitton and Chanel and Gucci and we hold our own. But it would be great to have a government incentivising UK manufacturing beyond the big boys of the car industry.”

Factories that make handbags and cardigans do not have the hard-hat optics necessary to attract politicians for photo opportunities. “When the government talks about manufacturing they talk about Rolls-Royce and Jaguar,”Patrick Grant. “And people get excited about Savile Row tailors or by someone who sits in a shed for eight hours making a knife by hand. But fashion is an area in which Britain has historically punched above its weight and factories could be part of that, as they once were.”

The UK’s textile industry employed 1.5 million people at its peak in the 1950s. “We’re not going to get back to those numbers, but there could be 500,000 jobs – and many would be jobs in towns like Blackburn, towns which were decimated by factory closures and which don’t have much of a service industry.”

According to Fashion United’s latest data, 39,000 people are employed in the UK in the production of clothes and footwear. Last year Cookson & Clegg was one of many British factories that pivoted to producing PPE for health workers during lockdown, highlighting that government spending on uniforms and utility wear has largely been outsourced overseas.

Georgiana HUDART, co-founder of the cult brand of swimwear Hunza GTwo London factories are used to produce her unique crinkle-fabric bikinis and swimsuits. “British factories do tend to be slightly old fashioned,”She said. “They like a phone call and a handshake and to eat lunch with you. It’s lovely to have that relationship. At the beginning of this summer we sent each of the 35 workers in one of the factories a scrunchie and some hand cream, because we had so many orders and we knew they would be really busy. But it’s hard when you come to scale up. Our business is growing and it’s getting tricky to find UK manufacturing that works.”

Temperley is one British designer who feels a responsibility to workers overseas, despite the fact that UK manufacturing is a great boost for domestic jobs. “I’ve been back to London maybe six times in the last year, and I don’t miss it at all,”She said. “But I do worry about some of the Indian embroidery workshops that I’ve had long relationships with. I’ve been trying to place orders with them as well, because I know they are in need of work.”

While shorter supply chains can reduce carbon emissions and help to lower carbon emissions, manufacturing and sustainability will always be in conflict. “Consumers are looking for a green light to purchase without guilt, and the reality is that there is no such thing as a zero-impact clothing brand,”Chris Murphy. “What we believe in is making high-quality clothes which people value and buy less of.”

Although British production is not guaranteed to be of a higher standard than American, Patrick Grant believes that it will tip the odds in favor. “If you are spending more in order to have your jacket made in the UK, it doesn’t make sense to save 50p on buying a cheaper fabric, so the overall quality does tend to be a better product.”

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