Kate Hills

Kate Hills is the founder and editor of Make it British. After 20 years working as a designer and buyer for brands such as Burberry, Levis and M&S, she became disillusioned with the short term vision that many of them had about where their products were sourced. Determined to do something to promote British manufacturing and brands who's products are made in Britain, she set up the Make it British website, a leading source of information on products made in the UK> She lives in a mid-century bungalow in Surrey and in her spare time she is studying for a masters degree in internet retailing.

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Find out how Ruth Dent went from working in IT to becoming an artist and then turning that art into a printed scarf business

How I started my printed scarf business with Ruth Dent

Have you ever thought about having a career change because you wanted to follow your passion? That’s exactly what Ruth Dent did, when she went from working in IT to becoming an artist.

In this interview Ruth explains what inspires her work and the process involved in turning her artwork into wearable pieces of art.

She talks you through the process involved in  turning a painting into a printed piece of fabric, using the silk printer she works with in Macclesfield. Find out how long the whole process takes from start to finish and the advantages of working with a manufacturer in the UK.

If you’re interested in starting your own printed textile business you’re going to find Ruth’s advice invaluable.

To find out more about Ruth go to ruthdent.com

Ruth has been a member of Make it British for several years and we were delighted when she offered to be our first interview for a series of live member interviews we’ll be doing at 1pm every Tuesday on Facebook.

If you want to find out more about how Make it British can help your British-made business click here.

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Are you looking for a UK garment manufacturer? Thinking of starting with a Google search to find a factory to make your clothing brand? Let me stop you right there.

A search engine is not a good place to start in pursuit of your ideal UK garment manufacturing partner, and here’s why…

UK garment manufacturer searchDo a Google search for a UK garment manufacturer, and this is what you’ll find.

Amongst the listings on page one of the search results there are; several manufacturers who actually produce overseas, an advert for a company encouraging you to manufacturer in Poland, and an article from The Guardian entitled ‘Fashion entrepreneurs: How to find a factory to make your products‘, which is out of date.

Some of the imposters require quite a bit of digging on their website to actually uncover where their production process takes place.

Take for instance the company that is at number one in Google at the time of writing. The title of the link says ‘ Clothing Manufacturer UK ‘and the description includes the term ‘ clothing manufacturers UK based service’. If you were looking for a UK clothing manufacturer you’d probably have every reason to think that this company could be a good bet. They even promise to be fast, affordable, quality and a low MOQ (minimum order quantity). If you were someone starting up a clothing brand using Google to start your search you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d struck gold with this one.

So you click on the link and see phrases such as UK based clothing manufacturers and UK clothing manufacturing services.

You have to really dig into the small print to find out that this company is not actually making the garments in the UK. Buried deep on their About page you will just about find a single mention of a network of factories based in the Baltic region of Europe. How very disappointing if you are wanting to manufacture your garments solely in the UK.This example is not unique – there are lots of businesses, for all different types of apparel and accessory manufacturing, that have a high ranking website on Google for search terms that include the words British and UK but who carry out the production overseas.

So how can you avoid getting hoodwinked by these imposters when trying to find a UK garment manufacturer?

For a start, always read the small print and be aware of phrases often used to deceive, such as ‘UK-based’ (they have an office here) or ‘designed in the UK’ (they have a designer here), or probably the most confusing ‘developed in the UK’ (they make the first prototype here). If you can’t determine from the website exactly where the production is being done, ask questions.’How many machinists do you have in the UK?’ and ‘Where is your factory based?’ will usually weed them out.

And of course, make sure that you go and visit them! One of the advantages of making in the UK is that your manufacturer is on your doorstep.

If you’re looking to find UK manufacturers then you may be interested in an online course we are launching very soon which will help you do just that. Click the image below and we’ll send you all the details when they become available. Click here to find out more

If you’re looking for a UK manufacturer here are 3 things you need to know before you begin your search for one…

I get a lot of people contacting me at Make it British looking for a manufacturer to make garments or accessories for their brand. Often they are a start-up and have no experience of the fashion industry. They all ask the same question – can you find me a manufacturer to make my products in the UK?

Often they have a long list of different product types that they want to make – hoodies, caps, belts, trousers, backpacks – and would like to find one manufacturer that can make everything. I tell them that finding one manufacturer to make all of it is going to be impossible, and here’s why…

UK manufacturers are specialists in what they do

Let’s get this straight from the start – working with a UK manufacturer is going to be very different to outsourcing to an agent that works with overseas factories. In the case of the latter, you could brief them on all of the different product types in your range and they will go away and make it happen (at a cost). Whereas when you work directly with a UK manufacturer you will most probably need to work with a selection of different factories, depending on the type of products within your range.

For instance, a manufacturer may specialise in outerwear, which means they will only make coats. Or they will be a knitwear factory, in which case you are sorted if you want to make jumpers and cardigans. But even then they make not make childrens knitwear, or will only work with certain types of yarn.

You will also find that manufacturers who are specialists in making high-end products such as silk dresses are able to do so because they have skilled hand-stitchers on their production team, so you wouldn’t go to them if you wanted a pair of jeans made!

What a manufacturer can make is dictated by the machinery that they have

The types of machinery that a manufacturer has will dictate what they are able to make.

Say for instance you wanted to make activewear, you’re going to want a factory that has a coverstitch machine so that they can produce the type of flat seams that won’t rub when a garment is worn.

Similarly if it’s a woven garment with buttonholes you’re making you’ll need a manufacturer with a buttonhole machine. Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to ask this question!

The same goes for shoes and accessories – the construction of a trainer requires different machinery to a Goodyear welted brogue. And a small leather workshop may not have the press machine to cut leather in bulk, which is fine if you are only making small quantities but when it comes to volume production you’re going to want something more automated.

When it comes to fabric there are different types of factory too. A weaver will make their fabric on a loom, producing a non-stretchy fabric such as cotton canvas or denim, whereas a warp knitter is the type of mill you’re looking for if you want T-shirt material.

By the way, if you want to find out a little bit more about the different types of machinery so that you sound knowledgable when you visit a manufacturer I’d highly recommend looking on the AE Sewing website. They list all of the different types of machines and tell you what they are used for.

Similarly, DCR Machines is a good place to start if you want to find out more about machinery for the leather industry.

Manufacturers have different MOQs

How many of each style you want to make is also an important consideration. If you’re a start-up and only want to produce a few of each style, you would be far better suited to a smaller manufacturing unit or workshop where they are used to working with low MOQs (Minimum Order Quantities). Even if you did manage to persuade a larger factory to squeeze you in, you may find that when a bigger order comes in from an existing client your work gets pushed to the back of the queue. Not because the manufacturer doesn’t value your business, but because trying to timetable a larger order can be more difficult than a slotting in a smaller one, so will often take precedence.

Similarly, if you want to make 1000 T-shirts there is no point in approaching a small fashion studio with only 2 machinists, because it will take a very long time for them to make a big order quantity. And they are probably not used to working at the speed required to produce high volume orders.

If you’re looking to find UK manufacturers then you may be interested in an online course we are launching very soon which will help you do just that. Click the image below and we’ll send you all the details when they become available.

Click here to find out more

Here we round up our highlights of 2017 as we continue to celebrate another great year for UK manufacturing

2017 has been a great year for UK manufacturing and for us here at Make it British, as we continue our campaign to support British-brands that make in the UK.

Traffic to the Make it British website has doubled this year, and we now have over 300,000 page views a month. That shows the growing interest for making in the UK and buying British-made products.

Interest from overseas has also increased massively, and International visitors to the website now make up 30% of the site’s traffic. USA, Canada, Germany and Singapore have shown the biggest growth in our visitor demographics.

So as we reflect on 2017 we take a little look back at our highlights from the past year.

January

 

February

Make it British team

The Independent ran an article about the Make it British story in March 2017

March

April

May

  • Meet the Manufacturer, the only 100% British sourcing event, is declared a resounding success, as 185 exhibitors and 5,000 visitors from 27 different countries attended our yearly trade show at the Truman Brewery in London
  • – We got something we didn’t bargain for when a fire alarm went off during a Facebook Live broadcast on the second day of Meet the Manufacturer
Highlights from Meet the Manufacturer 2017

Our biggest ever event took place in May 2017, as MTM opened the doors to 5000 visitors

June

  • – Our interview with womenswear designer Justine Tabak, who left corporate life to launch her own label struck a cord with many and was our most popular post on Facebook that month

July

August

September

October

November

The Make it British Forum in November welcomed 250 delegates

December

UK textile manufacturing made primetime news on Boxing Day

Make it British helped put together this piece for  BBC News about the regeneration of the UK cotton supply chain

Cotton industry feature on BBC News

The film follows the journey of raw cotton from bale to rail – the first time that this has happened in the UK for decades.

First the raw cotton is spun at English Fine Cottons, a brand new cotton spinning plant in greater Manchester.

Then it makes it’s way to Blackburn Yarn Dyers to be dyed pink.

The coloured yarn then makes its way to Burnley to be woven into cloth at John Spencer Textiles.

And finally the cloth is stitched into a shirt at Manchester garment manufacturers Private White V.C. who recently opened a shirt making unit.

This is a fantastic example of how textiles manufacturing is coming back to Britain and I’m extremely proud to have been a part of it.

To see the Make it British textile manufacturers survey results which this piece is based on click here.

The annual Make it British survey of fashion and textile manufacturers has revealed that 2017 has been another great year for the sector.  This comes despite economic uncertainty with issues surrounding the availability of skills for an industry that just a few years ago everyone considered to be dead.

The Make it British survey of UK fashion and textile manufacturers

The Make it British survey of UK fashion and textile manufacturers – click image to download the full survey results

Half of UK textile manufacturers saw turnover increase in 2017

Nearly 100 manufacturers from across the fashion and textile sector were surveyed, ranging from small workshops producing luxury womenswear to textile mills producing millions of metres a year. The results showed that despite economic uncertainty and issues surrounding the availability of skills, nearly half were seeing an increase in turnover on the previous year. One manufacturer reported that “this year has been an exceptional year”.
Enquiries are increasing too, with 58% of manufacturers receiving more interest than they were a year ago, as more companies look to source locally and restore their production back to the UK.

Production is up more that 25% for booming UK textile industry

Textile manufacturers reported that on average production was up by 25%, and many are now running double shifts to keep up with the demand. Yet others were reporting that production volume had stayed the same as “we are focusing on clients with higher margins and less bulk turnover”.
The increase in production and turnover is being helped in part by the exchange rate working in UK manufacturers favour. One manufacturer reported “as the pound loses its value our turnover has increased by 30%”. 30% of UK textile manufacturers are exporting more than they were in 2016, yet still a third of those surveyed said that they weren’t yet exporting – a massive opportunity going forward.

Young people coming into the industry increases as manufacturers take on apprentices

An ageing workforce is still a concern for many, with nearly 50% saying that they are worried about the age of their staff. Two thirds have an average workforce age of over 40 at their factories, but many are taking on young people through apprenticeships. Yet attracting young people into the industry is still a struggle with young people not coming into the industry quick enough – the average employer only having taken on one young person in the last year.

What does 2018 hold in store for UK textile manufacturers?

So what does the future hold for UK textile manufacturers in 2018? It’s looking pretty good – with respondents scoring 3.2 on a scale of 1 to 5 when asked how optimistic they feel about the future of their industry.
Are you a UK textile manufacturer? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Either in the comments below or contact us here.

Think you can launch a fashion brand with £500? I’m sorry to break this to you, but that amount of money might not even going to touch the sides!

We asked Make it British members to reveal how much it cost them to launch their brand and the results may surprise you…

How much does it cost to start a fashion brand?

How much does it cost to launch a British-made brand?

I’m sure many of you have heard the Cambridge Satchel story  – how it’s founder Julie Deane launched a multi-million pound handbag brand with just £600 from her kitchen table? That story has a lot to answer for! Not a day goes by that I don’t get a keen new business owner contacting me looking for a UK manufacturer that can help them get their brand off the ground with just a few pounds in their pocket.

Sorry to break your bubble, but you’ll most likely need a five figure sum to start a fashion brand in the UK

You’ll most likely need a five figure sum to start a fashion brand in the UKClick To Tweet

We surveyed members of the Make it British Community and asked them how much it had cost them to get their brand off the ground. Over 50% of them had spent more than £15,000. That’s just to launch – up to the point where the product can go on sale – you’ll still need a buffer of cash to cover more stock and ongoing marketing and overheads.

The true cost will obviously depend on various factors – how many products you have in your range, what level of the market you’re aiming at (luxury will cost more) and what the product type is. Luxury leathergoods will cost a lot more to launch than a casual T-shirt business for instance.

Rebecca Barton had over twenty years of design experience before she launched utility-inspired clothing brand Pajotten. In her case she says, “We spent about £8,000 but really could have done with double that.

At the other end of the scale, Isabelle Ugochuckwu, founder of handbag brand Isabella Queen, said “Mine is a luxury brand and the costs involved in sampling, trade shows and showrooms in the first two years is almost £200,000! And I’m frugal. I could have easily well spent £500k if I had it

How do these costs break down?

  • Prototyping

This is the cost involved in producing your samples. It will include research and development, materials, manufacturing, and design costs (either your own or a designer you employ). Bear in mind that a manufacturers costs to produce a prototype will be higher than the normal production costs – often at least double. If you have any branded trims there will be mould charges too. You may also have to pay a pattern cutter and someone to help with fitting. Most importantly you’ll need to produce some samples that can be used for trialling (to check that they are fit for purpose) and testing (which many retailers expect). Cut this stage out and you may end up with some disgruntled customers.

  • Stock

The cost to make your first batch of stock is very much dictated by what your manufacturers minimum order quantities are and the price of your garments. I’d always advise investing as little as possible in stock until you’ve tested out your idea.

The cost of your stock will comprise of the total cost of all of your materials, manufacturing and packaging. Materials can include, but is not exclusive to: yarn, fabric or leather, hardware, components such as lining and stiffenings, trims and labels, and boxes and bags. Plus the shipping costs of any of the raw materials.

There’s then your bulk production costs to take into account, which includes the cutting, making and finishing of the garments or accessories. And there’s packing costs to be added in here too! If you’re making the product yourself then you’ll probably have to invest heavily in machinery, but this will cut your manufacturing costs down.

  • Marketing

Now let’s consider the cost of getting your new brand out there in front of potential customers. For a start, you’ll need a good website – I can’t emphasise enough how important this is. You’ll also want to pay someone to design your branding, plus there’s business cards and any other printed promotional material.

You also need good photography to show off your product in its best light. Zalina Denis, founder of womenswear label Zalinah White, offers this tip for designers based in London  – “Photography services are expensive so opting for a Manchester-based photoshoot is another option to produce quality photographs and save money.”

If you want to get your brand into retail stores, especially overseas, you may also need to budget for a sales person or distributor. Plus there’s the cost of trade shows, which may be considerable if you’re travelling abroad.

For raising brand awareness social media is a great tool, and mostly free for now. And for British-made brands, platforms like Instagram can really help you to tell the story behind the label. But with video starting to dominate these channels you may want to set aside some budget for producing a quality short film about your brand.

Finally you should think about PR, and how you might achieve press coverage for your new business. It’s easy to spend thousands on a PR agency and the results can be varied to say the least. Sarah Watkinson-Yull, founder of Yull Shoes, offers this advice for designers starting out: “There are many things that you can learn yourself and do for free. No one will be better able to market your business other than yourself. Passion and enthusiasm sells!

Whatever you do, don’t try to skimp on the marketing. Otherwise you’ll find that the stock that you’ve invested in just sits there gathering dust and you won’t build up the cashflow needed to pay for your next collection.

  • Admin costs

Let’s not forget some of the less exciting, but essential costs, of setting up a new brand – legal fees for contracts, trademarks and NDAs don’t come cheap. And you may also want to have some form of insurance cover too. Will you also need any staff to help you? And who is going to pick and pack the orders going out to customers? You may also want to rent a studio space or workshop, and depending on your location that doesn’t come cheap.

What if you don’t have £15,000 in your back pocket?

If the above has frightened you somewhat, and you don’t have that sort of cash to invest to get something off the ground, there are ways of raising money upfront to help.

One of the ways that I see many British brands launching these days is via crowd-funding platforms such as Kickstarter. It’s not only a great way to raise initial cash but also to validate your idea and test the market. But it’s not without hard work, and you’ll still need to drive potential customers to your crowd-funding page in some way. Brant Richards, co-founder of the Hebden Trouser Company says “We launched on Kickstarter for £1000 and two months of hard work. First year total marketing spend was circa £25k.”

Crowdfunding is a great way to raise the cash to launch a British-made fashion brand Click To Tweet

Is the cost of starting a fashion brand cheaper if you manufacturer overseas?

Given all of the above, I still think that launching a brand that is made here is going to be cheaper that making overseas. If you did that you’d also need to include additional costs such as flights to visit factories, International courier charges for samples, and possibly also an agent’s fees to handle everything for you. Plus you’ll have to invest in a lot more stock if MOQ’s are higher. Heaven forbid the costs involved if there’s been some miscommunication with the factory and everything has been made wrong!

Click here to find out more

It’s been 9 years this month since I left my well-paid job as a fashion buyer with a mission to do something about the decline in UK manufacturing. As the year comes to an end it has made me reflect on my former career and how far I’ve come in the last nine years.

If you’re currently in an unrewarding job and want to do something different in 2018 then read on for some inspiration…

Why I quit my corporate job to save UK manufacturing

At our Meet the Manufacturer trade show in 2017

The dream job?

In 2008 I had what many would consider a dream job. In one year I had travelled to Hong Kong, China, India, Brazil, San Tropez and Los Angeles developing products for the large high street retailer that I worked for. Yet life was tough. I had a three year old daughter that I never saw, a team that kept leaving because they weren’t paid enough, and an unsupportive boss who refused my request to reduce my hours to a nine day fortnight. What’s more I was told to drop the last of my ‘local’ suppliers ( a swimwear supplier in Portugal) because their cost prices were higher than those from China. To top it all off my mum passed away that year too.

Handing my notice in without a plan

Life was suddenly looking very short…and I knew that I didn’t want to be beholden to someone else’s strategy any more. I wanted to spend more time with my family. I also had this inkling at the back of my mind that local manufacturing was going to come back again, and I wanted to be at the forefront of it. I hadn’t decided HOW I was going to save UK manufacturing, but I had three months notice in which to hatch a plan. So I walked into my boss’s office and handed my notice in…and I’ve never looked back!

Starting the Make it British blog

It took me 3 years to get Make it British off the ground. In that time I had another baby (an unplanned surprise!), got myself a masters degree (one can never stop learning) and nearly started a handbag brand with a crazy American lady I met on the internet (that was a close call). In that time I was researching and visiting UK factories and going through several ideas for how I could make some sort of business out of what I was discovering. At one point the idea was to set up an Amazon-style marketplace for British-made goods. But I soon realised that I was going to have to sink my life savings into getting that one off the ground (this was in the days before you could buy the software to build such a platform off the shelf). So instead I launched a little blog called ‘Make it British’ and started to write about all of the great brands and UK manufacturers that I was discovering. That was February 2011.

Supporting British-made brands and UK manufacturers

By January 2013 I was appearing on the BBC talking about buying British. In June 2014 I had launched a trade show so that UK fashion and textile manufacturers could meet buyers and designers wanting to make in Britain again. In May 2017 that same trade show welcomed 5,000 visitors through the door. Now not a week goes by that I don’t get a UK manufacturer or British-made brand thanking me for the support that we give their businesses.

A more rewarding life

Could I have predicted all of this when I decided to leave my job at the end of 2008? No. Am I making as much money as I was in my previous career? Definitely not! But I’m a ton happier 😃 I get to spend more time with my kids and doing the things that I love, and life is so much more rewarding.

My advice to you

So my advice to you if you’re thinking of a career change is just got for it!! Especially if it’s something to do with making in the UK.

In fact, if it involves making in the UK, we can definitely help you. At the beginning of next year we’ll be announcing lots of new resources that we’re working on which will help you to launch a British-made brand. If you’d like to be kept in the loop please click here.

The Make it British Forum helps you to build a made in Britain brand. Why should you attend the event? Here are 7 reasons…

WHAT COULD ATTENDING THE MAKE IT BRITISH FORUM DO FOR YOUR BUSINESS?

yearly conference,  Make it British Forum, can help you to build a Made in Britain brand – even if you’ve never been to a factory.

Not sure whether it’s right for you? Here are 7 reasons why you might want to take time out to attend:

If you need convincing as to WHY you should be making in the UK

You might currently be making overseas but want to look into the validity of making closer to home. Has the UK textile industry got anything to offer your business? How are other businesses making it work? Our experts will show you how.

If you want to know whether customers appreciate a product being made in Britain

What does ‘made in the UK’ mean to your customers? Hotter Shoes MD Sara Prowse will be divulging the latest research into the value of a ‘made in Britain’ label to consumers both here and abroad.

If you’d like to make contact with other businesses that manufacture here

The Make it British Forum provides an excellent opportunity to network and make contacts from within the UK textile industry. With brands, buyers and manufacturers in attendance, as well as members of the press, the connections made at this event can prove invaluable to building your business, as many of the attendees at the Leicester version of the Forum will attest.

If you’re launching a brand and know nothing about developing a product

The Make it British Forum gathers together a room full of experts with hundreds of years experience between them. The amount of useful product development information that you will pick up at this event will be invaluable if you are launching a new fashion business.

If you’re concerned about how Brexit might effect your business

Many of the speakers at the event have seen exports rise since the referendum. Find out how they are making the most of the current demand for made in Britain products in the wake of Brexit

If you want some fantastically sound business advice from those that make in the UK

Where else would you get the opportunity to pick the brains so many UK textile experts all in one place? The Make it British Forum allows lots of opportunity for delegates to ask questions of all of the speakers, which includes British brand owners and manufacturers in the apparel, homeware and leathergoods sectors.

If you are a student studying fashion, business or marketing

Particularly if you are interested in local and ethical supply chains, you’ll find the information you gain at this event will set you well above your fellow students…there’s a special price on tickets for students too!

Want to find out more about the event? Visit makeitbritishforum.com to book your ticket

 

WHAT COULD ATTENDING THE MAKE IT BRITISH FORUM DO FOR YOUR BUSINESS?

Industry experts will tell you all you need to know to build a ‘Made in Britain’ brand at our second Make it British Forum

Make it British has announced the speaker line up for its second Make it British Forum on 2nd November 2017. The event is kindly being hosted by the Manchester Fashion Institute in the stunning location of the Manchester Business School in central Manchester.

Speakers for the one day event include:

Sara Prowse, CEO of Hotter Shoes, the largest footwear manufacturer in the UK, will be talking about what made in Britain really means to her customers

Mat Booth, founder of Both Barrels, will focus on why simplicity is key when building a brand made in the UK

English Fine Cottons will be on hand to talk about how the first cotton spinning mill in the UK for decades now affords businesses the opportunity to have a totally British supply chain

David Collinge of John Spencer Textiles in Lancashire, who will be joining English Fine Cottons to share his part in the renovation of a completely British supply chain.

Isabelle Ugochukwu, the inspirational founder behind the Isabella Queen handbag brand, will give an honest account of what it’s really like to launch a British-made brand. She will explain how her brand is disrupting the status quo, and aims to educate the world away from fast fashion and unethical manufacture

Mike Stoll, co-owner of Manchester-based brand and factory Private White, will be giving the low-down on what it takes to develop a great partnership with your manufacturer

Denise Pearson, of leathergoods manufacturer Deni-Deni will be joining our manufacturing panel – which is your opportunity to quiz some of the UK’s best fashion and accessory manufacturers

Charlotte Meek from The Stitch Society will be imparting some great advice for those wanting to go down the route of setting up their own manufacturing unit

Ross Barr-Hoyland, will explain how his award winning British label label Ross Barr has got off to such a flying start with the press and buyers

Bruce Montgomery, a menswear consultant and professor in design craftsmanship, will be bringing his years of design experience to our panel to answer your questions on design and brand identity.

We’re delighted to have such a knowledgable line-up of experts for our second Make it British Forum. This one-day event will provide you with all you need to know to develop a made in Britain brand, from design, product development and manufacturing to funding, promotion and selling the product.

The Agenda for the Make it British Forum on 2nd November:

9:00 – Registration

9:30 – Welcome – Colin Renfrew, Director of Manchester Fashion Institute

9:45 – Intro – Kate Hills, Make it British

10:00 – Session 1 – Keynote. Mat Booth, Both Barrels

10:30 – Session 2 – Keynote. Sara Prowse, Hotter Shoes

11:00 – Coffee Break

11:30- Session 3 – Regenerating the UK textile supply chain

English Fine Cottons; David Collinge, John Spencer Textiles

12:15- Session 4 – Ask the Experts – Manufacturing Q&A

Chair – Kate Hills, Make it British; Mike Stoll, Private White V.C.; Denise Pearson, Deni-Deni; Special Guest (TBC)

1:15 – Lunch

2:15 – Session 5 – Barbara Shepherd , Manchester Fashion Institute

2:45 Session 6 – Ask the Experts – Brand Q&A

Chair – Kate Hills, Make it British; Bruce Montgomery, Menswear Consultant; Ross Barr-Hoyland, Ross Barr; Charlotte Meek, The Stitch Society

3:45 – Coffee Break

4:00 Session 7 – Isabelle Ugochuckwu, Isabella Queen

4:45 – Closing Remarks

5:00 – Close

The sessions will be interactive with plenty of time for Q&As and networking.  And with such a diverse mix of opinions across a broad range of product areas, from menswear, womenswear, accessories and textiles  – we’re expecting some lively debates!

The Make it British Forum will be held in association with the Manchester Fashion Institute

Go here to book tickets and find out more details about the event

Over 60 businesses and stakeholders came together in Leicester last week to develop a plan to support the growing demand for UK garment manufacturing. Read on to find out why now, why Leicester and what’s next…

Leicester Clothes the World

Can Leicester get back to it’s garment manufacturing heyday?

A ground-breaking meeting was held at Leicester City Hall on the 6th October 2017 to look at ways in which retailers and manufacturers in Leicester can work together better, and to address concerns around bad practice by some manufacturers in the area.

The assembly of retailers, manufacturers and regulatory organisations was chaired by Leicester City Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby. Attended by senior leaders from several High Street retailers including ASOS, New Look, Dunelm and Next,  there were also several manufacturers present, including Jenny Holloway from ethical London-based garment factory Fashion Enter.

Representatives from the British Retail Consortium, Citizens Advice, HMRC, Fire Brigade and Trading Standards also attended, as well members of the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership.

The meeting was called after management at Asos and New Look, who both manufacture garments in Leicester, said they would like to increase the amount of products that they make in the UK but were worried about the unethical credentials of some Leicester manufacturers.

Why is this in the spotlight now?

More and more retailers are waking up to the fact that making locally can help to reduce markdowns and therefore increase profitability.

In the meeting Nick Beighton, CEO of ASOS, said that his business already makes 3% of its products in the UK (with the majority in Leicester) and planned to triple UK production in the next five years. Mr Beighton said: “Our goal is to bring customers the best fashion as quickly as possible, and there’s nothing faster than manufacturing in the UK.”

Why is all of the focus on Leicester?

Leicester has the largest amount of garment workers in the UK – there are 1500 garment manufacturing businesses in Leicester employing over 10,000 people. Textiles is estimated to be worth half a billion pounds to the Leicestershire economy.

If there is to be a significant revival in UK garment manufacturing Leicester is the obvious place for it to be.

What are the challenges?

According to recent reports in the press, there are some manufacturers in Leicester who are flouting the law in order to produce garments at lower prices. Staff being paid below the minimum wage, and factories operating from unsound buildings are amongst the concerns.

It’s a problem not unique to the textile industry – other industries such as nail bars and car washes also suffered from similar issues according to HMRC – but with high profile brands involved in fashion it means it is much more likely to hit the headlines.

Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, acknowledges that there are unethical and illegal working practices in the textile industry in Leicester, which prevents retailers from making more in the region.

“This is not just an issue for Leicester, but a national one.” he says. “However, in Leicester we want to make sure that we have the highest standards of employment; that workers are properly paid, well trained and work in safe environments. We want to support our factories to be the best they can and to set an example that others can follow.”

If everyone knows there are some wrong-doers out there, why aren’t they shutting them down?

As is often the case when so many different stakeholders are involved, no individual regulatory organisation has the power (or the resources) to take action. Unlike in the US where the equivalent of HMRC has the power to embargo goods if they are believed to have been made outside of the law, there is no such ruling in the UK.

Sadly it takes something bad to happen – such as a fire – for anyone to take action on the bad guys. That is why the meeting in Leicester was so ground-breaking, as finally it brought all of the key stakeholders together to come up with a plan to make things better.

What are the views of the manufacturers?

According Saeed Khilji, owner of Figure8Fashion, a garment manufacturer in Leicester and founder of The Textile Manufacturer Association of Leicestershire, retailers need to be paying an ethical price in order to avoid driving ethical manufacturers out of business.

Mr Khilji said that the Fast Forward initiative asked for factories to provide 40 hours a week contracts to their workers, but with no commitment from retailers it was impossible to keep staff in constant work. In his view, manufacturers in Leicester would all love to pay not only a minimum wage but a living wage, they just need some longer term commitments from retailers than most of them currently provide.

Buyers lacking an understanding of manufacturing and costings was also one of the reasons cited for creating issues. This is not surprising given that many buyers only have experience of working with overseas manufacturers and may never have stepped foot in a factory.

Jenny Holloway, owner of London garment manufacturer Fashion Enter, suggested that one of the ways that Leicester manufacturers could address the issue with wages would be to use her model of paying staff a performance related pay. Her great partnerships with retailers have been built on ‘open books and transparent costings’ and this model could be used in Leicester to overcome some of the issues around supplier/retailer relationships.

What are the plans going forward?

One suggestion is that a guiding coalition should be formed, with key stakeholders exchanging information and working together to overcome the current issues.

It’s too early to say what impact the meeting at City Hall may have on Leicester garment manufacturing going forward. What is revolutionary is that so many people actually came together to look at the issues and to find ways to address them.

With local manufacturing in such demand, now is definitely the time to return Leicester manufacturing to its heyday!

How much do you know about the wool industry and British wool? We bring you 10 amazing facts about British Wool and find out more about this unique fibre

British Wool stand at Meet the Manufacturer

British Wool stand at Meet the Manufacturer

Dispelling the myth that British Wool is only suitable for carpets

Bridgette Kelly from the British Wool is keen to dispel the myth that the fleece from our homegrown sheep breeds is unsuitable for anything other than carpets. In fact, it’s all a bit more complicated than that, as she explains…

“British wool is usually what we call ‘strong’ as it has quite a high micron. The best use of it is often for interior textiles, such as carpets, rugs and upholstery fabrics, but it’s also well-known for being used in tweed.”

“It depends on which breed the wool comes from and where that breed is located. The Northern & Scottish breeds, which produce the coarser yarn, are used for tweed and interior textiles, whereas the download breeds in Devon and Dorset produce a much softer wool and this is often used my hand spinners to produce yarn for clothing. The finest wool produced in the UK is from the Blue Faced Leicester.

“Weather and the geographical location of the flock also influence wool in terms of its quality and micron. For instance, if you are a Welsh mountain sheep your fleece is going to be strong and robust as it has responded to the harsh weather, whereas sheep on the Lowlands don’t need quite such strong fleece, so it is softer and finer and used for blankets and fabrics.”

British wool

British Wool is used in a huge variety of different products

 

10 facts about British wool

  1. Britain is one of the largest wool producers in the world, yielding nearly 22,000 tonnes per year
  2. Farmers receive up to £1.50 per kilo for their wool, a 300% increase on the price paid back in 2009
  3. There is only one farmer in the UK that produces Merino wool (a type of very fine fibre used for clothing). She is Lesley Prior of Bowmont UK
  4. There are 45,000 sheep farmers in the UK
  5. 34 million sheep reside in the British Isles
  6. Britain has more than 60 different breeds of sheep, 25 of which are rare breeds. That’s more than any other country in the world
  7. There are only two wool scourers left in the UK
  8. The British Wool Show is held yearly in Yorkshire and displays the products made by the many cottage industries and craft workers that produce wool products here
  9. It takes at least ten processes to get wool from sheep to cloth. They are shearing, grading, auction, scouring, carding, combing, spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing
  10. Companies such as Cherchbi, Romney Marsh Wool and Izzy Lane commit to using British wool from flock to finished product ensuring a truly 100% British wool product.

Who buys British wool?

So, how much British wool stays in the UK, and what percentage was exported? It appears that this is not an easy formula to calculate, as Bridgette explains:

“There is not a simple answer to this question because of how wool is sold in the UK.”

“The wools from a region will be collected from farmers and will go for grading. It is graded first by hand and eye and then put into a ‘type’. It is the types that are sold at auction – there are about 130 types of wool. The merchants that buy the wool fortnightly at auctions in Bradford will buy a ‘type’. Although the bidding is now done by a computerised system, they still have to physically go to the auction and bid.”

“The merchants trade the wool all over the world.  Between fifty and sixty percent goes to China, a market that has grown considerably over the last four or five years. The rest is bought by other countries, including the UK.”

“Because of many processes involved in getting wool from fleece to finished product, such as scouring (cleaning), spinning and weaving, very little British wool stays in the UK for the entire supply chain. It may be scoured and spun in China but then return back to the UK for weaving. At that point it is difficult to know what percentage of the wool included within the product has come from a British flock.”

“Some companies, such as Cherchbi who uses the Herdwick wool, are now choosing to buy from a certain flock and keep the whole supply chain in the UK. We’re also seeing more British wool being used for bed fillings and bedding now too.”

“British wool is not a fast fibre, it is a slow production” concludes Bridgette.

If you want to find out more about British yarn you may be interested in this article on 20 of The Best British Yarn Producers

British yarn producers

We’ve teamed up with contemporary menswear brand Realm and Empire to offer you the chance to win one of their knitted accessory sets.

This luxury prize contains a Realm and Empire Knitted Commando Beanie & Knitted Rib Scarf in a branded R+E gym bag – worth £100

Made from British Wool and Hand-crafted in Leicestershire – this chunky rib scarf and hat set will keep you toasty now that the weather has turned colder ❄️

To enter simply visit our Instagram page here

Enter our competition on Instagram to win a luxury baby sleeping bag from Superlove Merino

We’ve teamed up with baby and childrenswear brand Superlove Merino to offer you the chance to win one of their award-winning baby sleeping bags.

Natural and Luxurious, each sleeping bag is generously lined with 240gsm double knitted merino for optimal comfort and thanks to the unique power of merino wool, improved sleep quality all year round. The outer of the sleep bag is made from 100% Organic Cotton – natural, pure and cloud soft to snuggle into.

Superlove Merino baby sleeping bags can be worn from summer to deepest winter without the need for different tog value bags or the use of fillers or padding. Ideal for use in nursery temperatures ranging from 16 to 27°C. The winner will be able to choose from two prints and two sizes (0-2, 2-5 years).

To enter simply visit our Instagram page here

Going camping? We’ve got you covered. In our ultimate guide to British-made camping equipment.

We bring you our Top 20 of British-made products and accessories to make your camping trip as comfortable, stylish and enjoyable as possible. We just can’t guarantee you the weather!

Shackleton

Shackleton British camping

Shackleton men’s clothing

Shackleton offer mens clothing that is both stylish and durable, perfect if you want to look good whilst camping.

The All in One Company

The All in One Company

The All in One Company

If you are camping in the UK there is one thing for sure, the nights will get chilly. We wouldn’t dream of camping without our All in One Company onesies!

Alpkit

Alpkit Backpack British Camping

Alpkit Backpack – british camping equipment

Alpkit make technical clothing and equipment in their own UK factory. The brand was started by four friends with a love for the Alps and a knowledge of the kind of equipment they need for their pursuits.

Aquapac

 

Aquapac British Camping

Aquapac waterproof phone pouches

Aquapac has been a leading light in the waterproof bag world for well over 30 years now. Perfect for keeping your phone dry if the UK weather lets you down on your camping trip!

Bailey Caravans

Bailey British Caravans

Bailey Caravans

Bailey of Bristol are manufacturers of caravans and motorhomes in the UK.

Barefoot Caravans

Barefoot British Caravans

Barefoot Caravans

A modern classic with retro styling, Barefoot caravans will accommodate you in style wherever you dream of going.

Blue Diamond

UK manufacturer of effective cleaning solutions, caravan care products and convenient accessories.

Buffalo

Buffalo British Sleeping Bag

Buffalo Sleeping Bag – British equipment equipment

Outdoor clothing and sleeping bags for the serious outdoor activist.

Caranex

Caranex British Awning

Caranex Awning

A unique vehicle tent – a car annex – to exploit the space and convenience of your own vehicle.

Elddis

Elddis British Caravans

Elddis Caravans

A leading UK manufacturer of caravans and motorhomes for some seriously luxurious camping.

Field Candy

Field Candy Tent

Field Candy Tent

FieldCandy is a brand of outdoor products created to add some stylish flair to the outdoor space. Their range includes a variety of printed tents and event matching ponchos!

Romney’s Kendal Cake

Romneys’ have been making their world famous Mint Cake in the heart of Kendal for 100 years. It is a popular choice of snack and energy for explorers and campers alike.

Lunar Caravans

Lunar British Caravans

Lunar Caravans

Lightweight caravans and luxury motorhomes made in the UK for over 50 years.

Mess Tins

MBritish Army mess tins manufactured in the UK. Perfect for eating your campsite-cooked meals!

Multimat

Multi MatMulitmat are makers of the world’s best sleeping mats for outdoor enthusiasts.

Terra Nova

Terra Nove British-made tent

Terra Nova Tent

Designer and Manufacturer of Outdoor clothing and equipment, including these fabulous tents.

The Ghillie Kettle Company

The Ghillie Kettle Company British camping

The Ghillie Kettle Company

The Ghillie Kettle has produced camping kettles for centuries and they still manufacture them in the age old traditional way.

 

Enter our competition on Instagram to WIN a pair of personalised Egyptian Cotton socks by Pantherella 

We’ve teamed up with Pantherella to give you the chance to win a pair of personalised Egyptian cotton socks.

The lucky winner can choose from 12 colours and then select up to 7 characters in gold or pewter stitching to go on the socks.

Pantherella have been making the world’s finest socks since 1937 from the most luxurious fibres. From their early beginnings in the hosiery business Pantherella has strived to be at the forefront of technology, innovation and designs that surpass even the highest of expectations.

All of Pantherella socks are still made in their family owned factory in Leicester by highly skilled craftspeople whom have passed their expertise down from generation to generation to help set Pantherella apart from other brands.

To enter simply visit this post on our Instagram page here.

Enter our competition on Instagram to win a beautiful pair of wedding shoes for a lucky bride-to-be

We’ve teamed up with Freed of London to give you the chance to win a pair of their hand-crafted wedding shoes.

When you step into a pair of Freed of London shoes, your feet will touch years of history, experience and expertise in making the finest handcrafted shoes.

Their experience in the world of dance ensures their shoes are engineered to bring you the utmost comfort and support on your special day.

Designed with exquisite details and made in England from the finest components, your will cherish your comfortable wedding shoes that were not only the perfect accessory to a memorable day, but a joy to wear; providing you with the comfort to stand all day and dance all night without the worry of tired feet.

The lucky bride-to-be can choose from one of three styles (Rose, Penny or Olivia) in off-white satin and a 2.5″ heel.

To enter simply visit this post on our Instagram page here

We recently interviewed Adam Mansell, CEO of the UK Fashion & Textile Association. Read the interview to find out how his organisation helps fashion brands and what they are doing to support UK manufacturers

Hi Adam, can you tell us a little about the UKFT and what your organisation does?

The UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) is the leading network for fashion in the UK. We do a significant amount of work in business development for small fashion brands. We take 700 companies to overseas trade shows every year; help brands break into overseas markets such as Japan and the US; introduce them to the best buyers and retailers in those markets; help them understand the legalities to internationalise their websites and help with the technical aspects of building up a fashion brand. One of the things we also do for fashion brands is introduce them to UK manufacturers. We have a lot of manufacturers in membership, both garment and textiles. We help broker relationships, making sure that both sides understand the needs of the other one. We offer a very specific matchmaking service making sure that the manufacturer that we put the brand in contact with can actually work with that particular brand, whether it be a need for a small production run or specialist technical textiles for example.

You also have a database of manufacturers, can you tell us about that?

We have a free to use database at letsmakeithere.org. It includes around 350 manufacturers, everything from yarn spinners through to cut make and trim. It covers manufacturers from the very North of Scotland, down to Devon and Dorset. It’s got a huge range of manufacturers you can search for by category and specialism.

If I was starting a small fashion brand and wanted to find out about things like finance, would you be able to help with that?

Absolutely. You can either join us as a member or you can come along to our seminars. We run about 50 seminars every year, predominantly in our offices in Central London. They cover everything from how to prepare your business for finance to how to protect your intellectual property rights. We also do round tables on how to work with the Scandinavian market. There’s a huge amount of information that the UKFT supply to both members and non-members because we’re here to help the industry within the UK grow.

Can you tell me more about the manufacturers that the UKFT represents?

We have a number of different manufacturers in membership. We have about 20 in London, and we look after them as a specialist cluster because they have particular issues around premises needs, but we also have textile manufacturers elsewhere in the UK that are members, such as in Yorkshire and Scotland, and we help them through all sorts of different avenues. Some of it is linking with brands and retailers, but we also get heavily involved in environmental issues, so we’re helping big manufacturing companies reduce their carbon footprint.

How do you think Brexit is going to affect UK manufacturers and brands and how is the UKFT helping?

We are lobbying very hard with the government and the European Union to make sure they understand the needs of our industry. UK manufacturing has been growing for the past four or five years. We produce over £9 billion worth of product here in the UK and we employ over 105,000 people in manufacturing. One of the things that is driving that growth is the fantastic skill base that we bring in, predominantly to the cut make and trim manufacturers, from Eastern Europe. We need to make sure that the government understands that whatever immigration system comes in, it’s not just for the doctors and the lawyers, but also for the people that are actually driving the manufacturing economy in the UK and that includes those incredibly talented seamstresses and cutters. We’re also talking about tariffs, because although UK manufacturing will grow as a result of Brexit, the uncertainty about tariff rates means that retailers and brands are beginning to look at how we can we bring some of our manufacturing back to the UK. We need to make sure that the government understands that there is a skills need and that there is investment in UK manufacturing to make sure that there is the capacity to meet the needs of the retailers.

Occasionally there is some bad press about UK manufacturing, and there was one such article yesterday in The Times recently. Can you give me your thoughts on this?

The article in The Times had a chief executive from a leading retailer brand the vast majority of UK manufacturers as working unethically. I would absolutely 100% categorically refute that claim. There are some bad apples, as unfortunately there are some companies who completely flout the law. The UKFT utterly condemn those practices. However, there are absolutely fantastic manufacturers in the UK who pay way above national minimum wage. The London manufacturers we work with mostly pay the London living wage, which is even higher. We have companies up in Scotland who have over 100 apprentices in their businesses. There are some wonderful businesses doing everything they can to raise the profile of UK manufacturing and it is completely wrong to condemn all of UK manufacturing by the disgusting practices of one or two.

adam mansell ukftIf someone wants to find out about a career in manufacturing how would you recommend they do that

You can get into manufacturing either through a degree route and then finding your local manufacturer, or through the apprenticeship route. I think if I had my time again I’d be looking at apprenticeships, you get you earn while you learn and get a whole range of fantastic skills. Most of it is learnt on the job, not in classes, you’re actually on the factory floor and there are apprenticeships in all different parts of manufacturing. One of the issues that we have is the huge disconnect of the perceived attractiveness of careers in manufacturing as opposed to careers in design. There’s around 15,000 people on fashion design courses in the UK, and they’re not all going to become the next Stella McCartney. What we need to do is make UK manufacturing a much more attractive career. At the Meet the Manufacturer event, we did an interview panel with three young people, all under the age of 30 and all of whom had chosen to work in manufacturing because they understood it was a long-term career where they could have a huge knowledge base and a huge number of skills. They absolutely love working in manufacturing and they love dealing with designers and solving problems.

Can young people contact you if they’re interested?

We can certainly help place young people into all sorts of different manufacturing careers. The easiest way to contact us is via our website at ukft.org.

If you would like to find out more about becoming a member of the UKFT click here.

Enter our competition on Instagram to win this stunning, high-neck black British-made swimsuit by swimwear brand To Dive For

british-made swimsuit

Simply go to our Instagram and follow the instructions to enter the competition.

You will need an Instagram account to take part. Closing date: 12th August at 11am. Entries received after the closing date will not be included in the prize draw.

*Competition is only open to UK residents. See our terms and conditions for full details.

Missed the competition? No problem, we have other competitions you can enter here

Recent figures show that UK exports of British-made products are at their highest for 7 years. If you are a British-made brand or UK manufacturer and you’re not exporting then you’re missing out.

exporting your British-made brand

11 Reasons why you should be exporting your British-made brand

The latest Purchasing Managers Index shows that exports of UK made products are increasing.

We’ve seen a big increase in overseas visitors to the Make it British website since the Brexit vote in 2016. Check out the graphs at the bottom of this post to see the growth in our visitors from the USA and Asia as evidence.

The IHS Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI August 2017

The IHS Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI August 2017

If you’re a British-made brand and not taking advantage of this then you should be!

Here are our 11 reasons why all British-made brands should have an export strategy.

1. Overseas shoppers associate British products with quality There is data to prove that shoppers in other countries see British-made products as better quality. In fact, the Made in UK label is one of the most respected in the world.

2. British design is world-renowned You can capitalise on this by showing off your product’s design credentials overseas.

3. Different seasons around the world helps to sell seasonal product all year round If you sell a product such as swimwear exporting can help you sell to countries that are much sunnier than the UK. The same goes for cold weather products too.

4. Selling worldwide offers a much larger customer base to tap into The British Isles are relatively small – when you export the world is your oyster!

5. Having customers in different countries spreads your risk If all of your customers are in the UK and our economy goes down the toilet then you’ll still have overseas customers to sell your products to.

exporting British-made brand

Increase in visitors from the US to the Make it British website since the Brexit vote in 2016

6. You’ll sell more products Expanding your customer base you’ll sell more products which in turn means you can increase the size of the orders that you place with your manufacturer.

7. It could give you the edge over your competitors If your competitors are not already exporting then you can bet that they are thinking about it. You want to get your product to those all-important International buyers as soon as you can.

8. You can make more profit on each product Often selling to International markets can command higher ticket prices than selling at home. You are, after all, selling a luxury British-made product.

9. Exporting increases a product’s lifespan Most products have a certain amount of time that the customer is interested in buying them. By reaching out to new markets you’ll extend the longevity for each product as trends come and go in different countries.

10. You can describe your company as an ‘International Brand’ This puts your business into great company and in turn increases your brand profile.

11. Exporting helps the UK economy This one needs no explanation…

exporting british brand

Increase in visitors from Asia to the Make it British website since the Brexit vote in 2016

If you are looking to export then there are several places you can go for help such as the UKTI. The UK Fashion & Textile Association is also very useful if you are a fashion brand.

Below is a video of a talk by Paul Alger from the UKFT at our Make it British Forum in 2016. Full of lots of useful information about exporting a British-made fashion brand.

The following article appeared in Drapers Magazine, July 2017

A return of manufacturing to the UK was only a matter of time

Drapers July 2017

‘A return of manufacturing to the UK was only a matter of time’

As interest in reshoring grows, Make it British founder Kate Hills says retailers that really want to make it happen should invest in their own factories.

Clarks plans to open a brand new factory to bring its shoe production back to the UK may be considered a brave move, but to me it seems like a logical step that will pave the way for others to follow suit.

When I first had the idea for Make it British in 2008 it was apparent to me that brands and high street retailers would not be able to continue relying so heavily on the Far East to source clothing and textiles. A return of some manufacturing to the UK was only a matter of time.

Any buyer will have seen cost prices rise during the course of their career, and the weakness of sterling and exchange rate issues since the Brexit vote has compounded this difficult situation. Once all undue overheads have been stripped out of the supply chain, the only way for prices to go now is up.

Also take into account the fact that the growing Chinese middle class don’t want to buy product made in China anymore, while customers are becoming more savvy about ‘British brands’ that don’t actually make in Britain.

Together with an increasing interest in sustainable and transparent supply chains, and a demand for faster turnaround of product, makes UK manufacturing once more a very viable prospect.

Over the last few years I’ve had many conversations – with everyone from small start-ups to big retailers – UK sourcing. Everyone is looking for local factories so that they are no longer entirely reliant on overseas sourcing, especially since Brexit.

Not only does making in the UK protect against the unpredictability of exchange rates, but orders placed closer to the season help to ensure that a business is not holding unwanted stock. Fashion retailers such as Boohoo and ASOS react quickly to trends and customer demand, and they do that in part by manufacturing some of their product closer to home – Boohoo source 50% of its product from UK factories.

However, the big issue is that big sewing factories with rows and rows of machinists, like those in China, just don’t exist in the UK. The largest sewing factory here has probably no more than 150 machinists, and they make furniture covers not clothes. Finding skilled machinists is one of the biggest barriers to growth, and the training of staff is not going to happen over night.

When it comes to clothing factories, those with the most machinists are generally making exclusively for their own brand – for example, David Nieper and Barbour. Even those that once made exclusively for others, are now creating their own in-house brands, such as Private White V.C. in Manchester.

The solution for brands that want to resume volume manufacturing in the UK is to open their own factory. This cuts out the costs of intermediaries and allows them to put what they want on the production line, when they (and their customer) want it. It does of course mean a larger investment at the beginning, but will reap rewards in the long run.

Clarks has announced that they will be concentrating on making its Desert Boot at its new UK factory, which makes sense. Not only is it an iconic product worthy of a ‘made in Britain’ stamp, but manufacturing just one style of product simplifies the production line and improves factory efficiency.

The new Clarks factory will apparently be using robot-assisted technology, which negates the need for skilled labour, which in the UK is in such short supply. Automation has worked wonders for the UK car industry, where companies such as Toyota and Nissan use robots on the production line.

The use of state-of-the-art technology to make production efficient is something that is already working for some of the UK knitwear factories, as well as enabling cotton spinning to return to the UK at English Fine Cottons mill in Manchester.

Let’s not pretend that there is going to be a sudden influx of brands and retailers opening factories in the UK. Clarks have no doubt be planning this for a long time, and opening a factory on this scale is not opened overnight. However, what I hope that what it will do is give any of those businesses that are wondering how they are going to increase their UK manufacturing the courage to think that investing in their own factory could now be a viable option.

As Clarks announces plans for a factory to bring its shoe production back to the UK, we look at why and how other retailers and brands can follow suit

david nieper factory

The David Nieper factory in Alfreton is currently one of the largest in the UK

Shoemakers Clarks have announced that they will shortly be resuming the production of shoes in the UK by opening a brand new factory in Somerset. They last made shoes in the UK in 2006.

What has brought on the turnaround? And should others look at doing the same?

Since I first had the idea for Make it British in 2008 it was apparent to me that the British high street would not be able to continue sourcing everything from the Far East with the rate that prices were going up in China. Having been a buyer for some of the big store groups I had seen cost prices double in a decade. And I knew that once all undue overheads had been stripped out of the supply chain the only way for prices to go was up.

It knew that in the next ten or even twenty years, as the cost of overseas production continued to rise, that UK manufacturing would return. That’s why I set up Make it British in 2011, as a platform for supporting and promoting the manufacturing that we had left in the UK.

Since I launched Make it British I’ve had many conversations with big retailers right through to start-ups about their UK sourcing strategies. Everyone is looking for local factories so that they are no longer entirely reliant on overseas sourcing, especially since Brexit.  Not only does making in the UK protect against the unpredictability of foreign currency rates, but it also helps to ensure that a business is not holding loads of stock, as orders can be place closer to when your customer wants the product.

Fashion retailers such as ASOS and BooHoo have gone from strength to strength by making more in Britain. In fact, BooHoo source 50% of their product from UK factories.

However, the problem is that big sewing factories with rows and rows of machinists, like those in China, just don’t exist in the UK. The largest sewing factory here has probably no more than 150 machinists, and they make furniture covers not clothes! When it comes to clothing factories, those with the most machinists are generally making exclusively for their own brand, such as David Nieper and Barbour. And even those that once made exclusively for others, are now creating their own in-house brands, such as Private White V.C. in Manchester.

So what is the solution?

There are three aspects to what Clarks are doing that other retailers and brands should take note of…

  1. Open your own factory. Don’t look for one that already exists, because it most probably doesn’t. That’s why what Clarks is doing is spot on. They’ve realised that if they are to resume any volume manufacturing in the UK they need to own their own factory.  This cuts out the costs of intermediaries and means they can put what they want on the production line, when they (and their customer) want it. It does of course mean a larger investment at the beginning, but will pay reap rewards in the long run.
  2. Keep things simple. Clarks have announced that they will be concentrating on making their iconic desert boot in their new UK factory. They know that in order to set up a brand new factory and train up a whole team on the production line, it’s best to stick to one product at first. A variety of different styles would most likely require a host of different processes and machines. This would take a new team longer to learn and make production inefficient. Sticking to less styles that you know you can produce in high volumes simplifies production and makes a factory more efficient
  3. Use innovation to automate. As skilled labour is now in such short supply, one of the best ways that UK factories can set themselves up for the future is by investing in the latest technology. Automation has worked wonders for the UK car industry, where companies such as Toyota and Nissan use robots on the production line. Clarks will apparently use robot-assisted technology in their new factory in Somerset, and will employ technical managers to oversee production. This use of state-of-the-art technology to make production efficient is something that is already working for some of the UK knitwear factories, as well as enabling cotton spinning to return to the UK at English Fine Cottons.

Clarks have taken a brave move, and I hope that it will encourage others to follow suit. It takes courage to make such a big investment, but I think it will pay huge dividends in the end.

I believe that the current demand for UK manufacturing will only continue to rise.Click To Tweet

The growing Chinese middle class don’t want to buy product made in China anymore, and the customer is getting more savvy to ‘British brands’ that don’t actually make in Britain. That, together with an increasing interest in sustainable and transparent supply chains, and a demand for faster turnaround of product, makes UK manufacturing once more a very viable prospect.

Long may it continue!

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Find out why Justine turned her back on corporate life to launch her eponymous label. What were the challenges? and what tips would she give others planning to do the same?

Justine Tabak Womenswear SS2017

Justine Tabak Womenswear SS2017

Can you tell us a bit about your professional background prior to launching your own brand?

I went through the British design school system, first studying fashion and textiles at Leicester Polytechnic and then an MA in fashion at the Royal College of Art.

After leaving college in the 1980’s I worked in Italy for Fendi. I then wanted to come back to the UK, and found myself in the midst of the British high street designing lingerie for M&S, then on to Jigsaw and Laura Ashley.  I then got a job as the first ever designer for Boden. After that I joined LK Bennett, where I started the first in-house womenswear range and after 7 years there I went back to Boden and became their creative director.

What gave you the inspiration to take the leap from working for a company to starting your own brand?

When I turned 50 I realised that working for big companies I was becoming less involved with the creative side and the design, which is my main love. It got to the stage where I thought ‘it’s now or never’, so I took the leap.

Justine Tabak Womenswear SS2017

Justine Tabak Womenswear SS2017

Why did you decide to manufacture the collection in the UK?

All the companies that I have worked for, except Fendi, have a strong British heritage, and I am naturally attracted to that. I had worked on the British Icons collection for Boden, which sadly never got made in the UK, and whilst researching manufacturers for it I found that we still have some strong manufacturing here. I also wanted to put back into the industry. For me, it feels important that I am supporting something that has helped me throughout my career.

You sought advice from Kate (founder of Make it British) in the early days to help get your brand off the ground. How did you find her and how did she help you?

I Googled manufacturing in Britain and found Kate! I made an enquiry via the website and we got chatting and then I realised that we had both worked at M&S at a similar time. I used the contacts that she gave me to make my first samples and production orders.

Setting up my own brand has been so different to working for the big companies. One of the biggest differences has been placing orders for just a few pieces rather than hundreds.  And doing the whole thing yourself – it’s been like starting from scratch as you can’t use the contact book that you originally had. I feel like I have just come out of college again. It is much more like when I worked for Fendi, which was making very small order quantities when I was there. Working closely with pattern cutters and sample makers it feels like I have come full circle.

Justine Tabak Womenswear SS2017

Justine Tabak Womenswear SS2017

What hurdles have faced since launching the business?

I never realised how hard launching a brand was going to be. Not making a profit for the first 2 or 3 years is hard. It’s a 7 day a week job – and you can’t afford staff! You find yourself multi-tasking doing things like social media or adding things to the website. Actually finding the time to design takes real determination.

What would be your top tips for another start-up brand that wants to make in the UK?

As a small company it’s important to work within the parameters of what we can make in the UK.

'As a small company it's important to work within the parameters of what we can make in the UK' Click To Tweet

That means designing really simple shapes and making the most of the fabric. This also helps with the cost.

You need to be realistic about your price points and work within the factory’s limitations. I see a lot of designers that don’t have the realisation of what everything costs to make in the UK, and who don’t bear in mind that a good factory needs to pay the minimum wage.

As a designer it is easy to get distracted, and think ‘I could do this, this or this’, but you need to keep really focused on what you set out to do in the first place. My advice would be to not try and do everything. Use your talents well and find someone else to do the rest. For instance, if you’re not good at tech then find someone that can help you.

Justine Tabak Womenswear SS2017

Justine Tabak Womenswear SS2017

How has social media helped your business?

I find that Instagram is the best platform for me because it is so visual. I have started to write more content on each post, and having more of a conversation about the product, and people are engaging a lot more with that. I’m picking up sales because of this too.

For a start-up brand you have received a lot of press coverage. What is your secret to getting the attention of the press?

Persistence!!!! Whilst I had a list of press contacts from working at Boden and LK Bennett, when you are only making 10 pieces of something they aren’t really interested.

You have to remember that the press are busy people and they don’t have the time to research a small brand so you need to give them something on a plate. Something that you have really thought about and that reflects your brand. So I wrote the story for them, and spent some money on getting some lovely images taken, rather than just studio shots.

One bit of advice I always give to other designers is to not try not to compete with the big guys. Don’t make your press pack look too corporate. As I work from my kitchen table my press pack reflects that – I send a handwritten letter, wrapping it in string, and putting it in a stripy envelope to make it stand out, and also reflect the brand.

In this digital world you can get 100 emails a day but something through the post is really special and stands out from the crowd.

Justine Tabak Womenswear SS2017

Justine Tabak Womenswear SS2017

Where can people find you?

We are currently running a pop-up shop, which will become permanent soon. Increasingly I am becoming more passionate about helping other people who are going through the same journey. So there are three of us working together and we are also giving space to other designers. Mostly made in Britain, but not exclusively; the rule is that you have to have met the makers personally.

If you are selling product with a story and a price tag attached to it then it is important that the customers can feel it and try it on. The shop somehow makes it more ‘real life’ and I am getting much better sales from being out there.

The shop is at 99 Essex Road N1, Islington, London. 

Find Justine Tabak in the Make it British directory here, or on her own website and Instagram.

Justine was one of the speakers at our Make it British Forum. You can see the talk that she gave below. It’s full of loads more great tips from her about how to start  a womenswear brand made in the UK. 

Every year Make it British holds a trade show in London to bring together UK manufacturers with businesses that want to make their products in the UK. #MTM2017 was our fourth edition…here are the highlights.

Highlights from Meet the Manufacturer 2017Our 2017 show was the fourth edition and saw thousands of people from all over the country, as well as from as far away as America and Japan, flock to the Truman Brewery in East London.

This is a clear indication of the rising demand for UK manufacturing and makes us more enthusiastic than ever about manufacturing in the UK.

Here is Meet the Manufacturer 2017 in numbers….

50% More attendees than in 2016 – making for a packed house on both days

27 Countries were represented amongst our visitors, with every continent covered and International visitors double that of last year. Japanese and Scandinavian buyers were particularly keen on looking for UK manufacturers and British-made product at the show

1249 Delegates attended the free seminars over 2 days to learn more about partnerships, production and provenance in UK manufacturing.

43 British-made brands exhibited in our new Make it British brand hall, where there was a fantastic networking atmosphere amongst the Make it British members

41 Machines in action at the show – including sewing machines, heat-transfer printing, machine knitting, screen printing and leather embossing.

186 Glasses Three Choirs English sparkling wine, 200 Sipsmith gin with Fever Tree tonics and 408 bottles of Meantime beer were served at the evening reception courtesy of UK Fashion & Textile Association.

9 Dogs including two guide dogs and a dancing Maltese in a Union Jack coat

6 Sheep (of the multi-coloured kind) in the British Wool Sheepish Studio

1 Fire alarm! Caused by a random smoke machine being let off in a photo shoot taking place in on the floor above the show. It may have interrupted our Facebook Live broadcast at the time, but it didn’t dampen spirits at the show.