Mary's Kinky Knickers

Kinky Knickers manufacturer Headen & Quarmby goes into administration

Set back for British manufacturing as one of the most high profile UK clothing factories calls in the administrators

UPDATE: On the 17th February 2014 it was announced that the factory had been saved by a management buyout deal and 12 of the original staff would be returning to work straight away, with more to follow shortly – Brilliant news!

Mary's Kinky Knickers

Mary Portas with the Kinky Knickers that brought Headen & Quarmby to prominence

Not long before Christmas I had a very positive conversation with David Moore, managing director of Middleton based clothing manufacturer Headen & Quarmby. “Business is great”, he said, “we’ve got orders coming in from some well known brands and a couple of large High Street retailers. We’re up to 33 staff in the UK now”.  He also told me about exciting plans for a training academy for machinists, to be run in conjunction with Oldham College, and I was due to go to its launch in a couple of weeks time.

So I was absolutely shocked when I read today that Headen & Quarmby had gone into administration and that all of the staff had been laid off.

The business is probably best known by most as the factory that in 2012 featured on Mary’s Bottom Line, the Channel 4 show in which Mary Portas re-opened a production line, filled it with apprentices and started making her lace Kinky Knickers.

Headen & Quarmby was first established in 1935 and once employed over 60 machinists, but when clothing production started going overseas a couple of decades ago, Headen & Quarmby had closed down its UK manufacturing operation and followed everyone else into offshore production. Its high profile revival on National TV had made many think about the viability of manufacturing textiles in the UK again, and had made Headen & Quarmby, along with the Kinky Knickers that it produced, a household name.

Since launching Kinky Knickers, Headen & Quarmby had picked up a lot of other orders to manufacture not just womens underwear but a whole variety of jersey based clothing including loungewear and nightwear. It was also producing underwear for Carol Smillie and Annabel Croft’s Diary Doll brand, and I know from speaking to Carol last year that they were very pleased with the way things were working out with the Middleton factory, having previously made their production overseas.

Carol Smillie with the ladies at the Headen & Quarmby factory

Carol Smillie with the ladies at the Headen & Quarmby factory

Headen & Quarmby had also recently secured a six-figure sum from the Greater Manchester Investment Fund to invest in its factory and to launch the textile training academy which would train up 20 students in a newly established premises next door to the existing factory. The fate of the training academy is now also looking a little uncertain – a terrible shame when skills are needed in the industry so badly.

So how did it all go so wrong for Headen & Quarmby?

An announcement on Mary Portas’ Facebook page when the news broke yesterday said

“the problems have been caused by cashflow shortfalls due to bad debts arising from some smaller retailers going bust over Christmas and a large retailer cancelling an order”

A large retailer cancelling an order is every suppliers worst nightmare, but sadly is one of the downsides of working with big High Street stores. Lengthy payment terms and tough price negotiation are some of the other issues that also come with selling to these types of shops. I know, I used to work as a buyer for some of them. It’s the reason many UK manufacturers went under in the last twenty years, and also one of the reasons that I now do what I do, because I found it very unethical working like that.

Unfortunately, large retailers are where the majority of shoppers buy their clothes, and taking orders from this type of business is something that is necessary if British-made product is to reach the most people, and in turn help see a revival in mass manufacturing in the UK again.

I wonder whether the buyer at the retailer that cancelled that order with Headen & Quarmby stopped to think about the likely impact on a small manufacturer of such an action? And more importantly the 33 workers at the Middleton factory?

Cancelling an order on a small factory in England making just 20,000 is very different to cancelling one on an overseas supplier making half a million garments month. There will need to be a big change in mindset amongst the buyers at these type of stores, many of which are too young to have worked with UK manufacturers before, for something like this not to happen again. It is one of the main reasons that I am holding my event for UK buyers & manufacturers to get together this Summer.

 

Kinky Knickers

Headen & Quarmby made the Kinky Knickers brand under licence for Mary Portas

At this stage we don’t know what will happen to the staff, or the machinery at the Headen & Quarmby factory, or whether the Kinky Knickers brand will survive. Hopefully a buyer will be found for the whole concern, although if it is anything like when the Aquascutum factory went into administration a couple of years ago much of the machinery was snapped up by foreign buyers and taken overseas.

Let’s hope that someone out there will rescue Headen & Quarmby and this will be a small blip in the return of clothing & textile manufacturing in the UK.

UPDATE: On the 17th February 2014 it was announced that the factory had been saved by a management buyout deal and 12 of the original staff would be returning to work straight away, with more to follow shortly – Brilliant news!

19 Responses

  1. I was so inspired by this story and the program on the TV, this is tragic. Our thoughts are with all the staff at the factory and the suppliers.

  2. Mike says:

    This does seem very odd as the trend is quite clearly going the other way, thanks in no small part to all your hard work Kate. I wonder if some form of crowd funding (for want of a better term) could be used as this does just seem like a cash flow issue, and it would be a terrible shame for them to not be able to continue as they were once refinanced. Obviously the imortant thing is to save the jobs but it would still be a shame if it was a foreign buyer. I know I would contribute and with them being so high profile I feel a lot of people giving a small amount should be enough, if it is shown to be a sustainable business model once the cashflow is sorted out. Perhaps Mary Portas could lead this effort.

  3. Sad news for the staff of Headen & Quarmby and UK manufacturing in general, especially as it sounds like the business was doing so well. I hope a buyer will be found to save the jobs and investment.

  4. Neil Pithouse says:

    My thoughts are with the staff at Kinky Knickers.

    I note that Ms Portas does not name and shame the large retailer involved.

  5. Richard Ayling says:

    I’m with Mike on his earlier comment, charity begins at home. Like many, the story inspired me to re enter business after a ten yr layoff. We need inspiration and success stories in the UK to get us productive again. Crowd fund….I like the idea

  6. anon says:

    Do you thing the machinists will be able to work with leather as I do have a need for a machinist for leather bag manufacturing.

  7. Rachel says:

    Is there anything that can be done? can the public buy the order that got cancelled direct from the administrators and thus improve cash flow again? i would buy an order in advance of manufacture to ensure that this place survived?

  8. Ruth Shaw says:

    Such an inspirational story and so very sad to hear this news. I do hope someone saves this business. I personally love the product.

  9. Myles Dexter says:

    Typical of British industry thinking things can be achieved by a know nothing so called celebrity to lead them to success, not investment and looking after the workers properly.

  10. James Smith says:

    Sadly this is what ‘did for’ Bedford Trucks in the 80s. Production was down, things weren’t so great, but the next big order from the British Army would shore it up for years – in fact the army loved Bedfords, always have done, and selling to them alone may have kept the business alive to this very day.

    A certain British Prime Minister from 1979-90 vetoed the decision, made them choose Leyland, Leyland then went bust, so no more Leylands. By which time Bedford had gone into administration. No more Bedfords.

    Though often the maths gets distilled into – ‘if we don’t buy, then the factories close’ – actually this is case in point that if the RETAILERS don’t buy (perhaps they have found a similar item, but made cheaper abroad = higher profits, I merely speculate) that is a third link in the chain… factory – retailer – customer

    Genuinely hope this isn’t the end, as this company has become somewhat well known in recent years. All the very best to the workers, too.

  11. Cash flow is the biggest concern. How often have viable businesses collapsed through no fault of their own? It only needs one big buyer pulling out to topple the dominoes…..and without a second thought of the consequences.
    Perhaps the factory should leave the fickle High Street to their own practices and look for business in the higher-end sector? After all, Mary secured orders from Liberty etc. I firmly believe this is where Britain should look for its manufacturing growth – after all, it’s what we’ve always done best, isn’t it?
    Wish I could help but I’m just a one-(wo)man band doing the whole caboodle alone. Plenty of orders and often having to decline more unless they can wait weeks. I cannot be alone!!
    It needs some co-ordination somehow, from somewhere…..
    Changes take time and time must be financed. Where are all the risk-takers???? I pray that someone will come to the rescue…..now…..today!

  12. Caroline says:

    This is so sad to read and not just this factory but the chap who bought more looms to make the lace, where does that leave him and his staff, the list is endless.

    Large companies have got to be held responsible when cancelling an order in the future if our industry is going to survive. Consumers have also got to stand firm and get behind the made in Britain campaign.

  13. Sue Rigby says:

    Cash flow is the biggest dread for businesses, however good your product and however hard you work to bring new orders they just cannot be processed and wages paid without the security of cash in the bank. Lack of cash inhibits growth and forward planning surely there is some bright spark somewhere with ideas of how to help keep us alive in these recovering times.

  14. Like others I am saddened by this but would also encourage them to consider crowdfunding. We had success getting our product into production by using the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.com It also opens up a great fan base all over the world! But of course I don’t know the sums involved and they may have considered this option already.

  15. keith says:

    who was the retailer that cancell the order

  16. Ruth Alder says:

    This is very bad news, with all that publicity which most small companies can only dream of, and to still go under, yikes! Maybe more to this than meets the eye?

    I would love to source as much product as possible in UK, not easy if you are not top end. The government should pour funding into promoting UK manufacture starting with a database that’s easy to navigate and find exactly what your looking for.

    I’m afraid until we get away from the pile em high,
    sell em cheap mentality it a losing battle.

  17. richard ayling says:

    I totally agree Ruth – now the database is a good idea….something for make it british to do if its not been done already???

  18. Mike says:

    Great news indeed about the buy out. Hope it is all onwards and upwards for them now. Just read about it here too.
    http://www.themanufacturer.com/articles/reprieve-for-kinky-knickers-manufacturer-after-admin-buyout/

    Good luck to all concerned.

Leave a Reply to Mike Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *