Unibu says ‘pants’ to those who thought it couldn’t be done and successfully manufactures lingerie completely within the UK. Owner Shirley Crisp discusses her passion for making in Britain and offers her advice to other brands.
What prompted you to start your own brand?
Retail has always been my thing, but after years of being a buyer, l noticed that there was very little lingerie that was actually manufactured in the UK. I’ve always been a passionate Made in Britain supporter, so if l was going to launch my own brand, it had to be 100% Made in Britain. Everything l create is manufactured here, we don’t import anything what-so-ever, we’re truly British and very proud of it!
What is different about Unibu underwear?
Unibu stands for UNIQUE BRITISH UNDERWEAR so for me it has to be that we are 100% British! The fabric we use is knitted, dyed, printed and cut here, the elastic is woven here, the labels we use are woven and printed here, our packaging is printed and made here too, we used a UK pattern designer, graphic designer, manufacturer, and last but not least the sales team and customer service team are based here in the UK.
Quality, comfort and style are key to the brand. I’ve spoken to thousands of men and women over the years about their underwear and have got some fascinating information that l feed into the brand as it develops. The quality of our products is amazing, we know that only by using premium components do you achieve a premium product. The best thing of all is that the price actually does compete with other branded underwear made elsewhere, why wouldn’t you buy British?
You are very passionate about making in the UK and even sourcing all of your materials and components here too. Where does this passion come from?
My grandmother came from Lancashire and l have always been fascinated by Mill buildings there, what they stood for, what they produced and what the country achieved.
My parents have been a huge inspiration and unbelievable role models, they started in business when l was born and they always encouraged me to have a go! l suppose l served my apprenticeship in shop keeping and buying at a young age, this has given me the best of groundings. I have always been very single minded and determined but this is not a bad thing in business.
What challenges have you faced in keeping everything made and sourced here?
I make no secret of the fact that it hasn’t been a walk in the park. When l first started researching l would ask my suppliers why they didn’t make in Britain, but they said it could never happen again. l would contact endless amounts of people in textile production, they would be more than happy to talk about the “good old days” but sadly felt it couldn’t return. I persisted over a number of years, then one day someone actually said yes and, after a few more hundred calls, l had got my suppliers in place!
The hurdle l faced at the time was that there was no database of information. This was before Make It British was born so l think now it would be a whole lot easier to find a reliable manufacturer, that not only has the correct machinery, but also has the skills that go along with it to produce underwear.
What’s the best thing about Making in Britain? And what advice would you give to a new brand considering where to manufacture their products?
Know that what you are doing is directly supporting British jobs and skills. l love my chats with suppliers, they always have great stories to tell and are always more than happy to help if they can, the whole Made In Britain community are a very loyal bunch of inspirational people. My best advice is to do your research, talk and visit your suppliers, don’t be afraid to ask questions, if they are genuine they will be more than happy to answer. Enjoy the process, you’re doing an amazing thing not just for you, but for your country as well.
As an established brand of 10 years what has been your biggest challenge to date and how did you overcome it?
Building confidence and trust in a new brand – retailers can naturally be wary of something new. Don’t underestimate talking face to face, your passion will come through.
What would be the best piece of advice you could give on how to grow a brand once you have launched it?
Talk to as many people as you can about what you’re doing, finding industry experts and press is a great bonus. Don’t over promise anything if you can’t deliver, you won’t get a second chance. Remember people are still coming around to the idea that we can have Made in Britain again, so baby steps will pay off in the long run for us all. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to think that off shore manufacturing is the better option.
You offer Brand Ambassador opportunities, how successful is this in promoting your brand and would you recommend this as a way of getting your brand in front of customers?
This is just in its infancy for Unibu, but initial signs are good, finding people with passion, drive and excellent communication skills are key. At this stage it’s growing by word of mouth as the best endorsements are from our customers. The retail landscape is changing so we’re finding that the brand ambassador model offers the best of both worlds – modern online ordering platforms alongside good old fashioned face to face communication.
You joined us this year in the Make it British Brand Hall at the MTM show. How and why was this beneficial for your business?
I attended last year as a visitor, l had to come and see what it was all about. I spoke to loads of suppliers and l knew then l would be exhibiting in 2017, which l did and it was fantastic. It is so nice that the Made in Britain community now have a date where they can come together. l wish Kate and her amazing team the best of success, they are so warm and welcoming, nothing is a trouble. For Unibu, Meet the Manufacturer is a key date in our calendar.
Do you have any advice for brands exhibiting at MTM for the first time?
There is such a good mix of attendees at the event from high end to internet retailers, suppliers to brands. So make sure you have all of your information to hand and be clear as to what you want to get out of it to make the most of your time there.
Can you let us in on any Unibu secrets? Are there any famous people wearing Unibu pants that we should know about?
Well l can say l took Unibu to number 10 Downing Street last December as a winner of Small Business Saturday Top 100 small business. l do have a couple of names on my database of customers who are known on the music scene who support British manufacturing but l best not say their names, l want to keep them as customers!
What is next for Unibu?
I’ve got lots of ideas up my sleeve, but I’m keeping it very close to my chest, l can say the future is looking bright. I always refer to my saying in life “If you don’t cast your net, you will never catch a fish”.