Old Aquascutum Factory

Old Aquascutum factory is reinvented as The Clothing Works

One of the UK’s largest clothing manufacturing units is now under new ownership and ready to take on fresh challenges

The Clothing Works

The Clothing Works

Last Friday I had the pleasure of being invited to the old Aquascutum factory in Corby, Northamptonshire; now open for business again under new owners, and re-inventing itself as one of the biggest CMT* units in Britain. Here is a how it went:

When the administrators were called into Aquascutum a year ago one of the first things that they did was close down the company’s UK manufacturing base in Corby. On the morning of Thursday 19th April 2012 over 100 highly skilled clothing workers were told that not only were they losing their jobs, but also that they would not be paid for the work that they had done that month. In fact I wrote an article at the time saying how short sighted I thought it was of the administrators to instantly discard one of the company’s biggest assets, especially given the increasing demand for UK clothing production.

When the business was subsequently sold to the Chinese they didn’t want the factory either, and so it was put up for sale separately, many thinking that the machinery would be sold off and shipped abroad. So it was marvellous to hear 3 months later that the entire factory and all of its contents had been bought by Swaine Adeney Brigg, the British luxury leathergoods company. Just a few weeks later, nearly 30 of the original staff walked back through the doors of the building; ready to start work on making clothing again. “It was like nothing had changed, and yet everything was different”, says Alison Gardener, now reinstated as production and technical supervisor. “I had worked for Aquascutum for 28 years, and like many it was all I had ever known. I did find work after I was laid off, but it was not in garment manufacturing”. Alison is now one of 35 staff back at work and ready to take on new challenges.

The Clothing Works

Machines in the factory’s design room still have their auction tickets on

Now producing for other clients, as well as for Aquascutum, the new owners have renamed the factory The Clothing Works, and it is managed by Alistair Rowan, a former technical director for Jaeger, who knew the factory well, having spent three years there just before it closed when Aquascutum was owned by Jaeger. Alistair has been charged with breathing life back into the business, and that includes finding new clients in order to keep the machines buzzing and to be able to take back more of the original machinists. He invited me down to have a look, having been told of the work that I do helping find factories for designers to work with, and when I walked into the place last Friday I was gobsmacked by its sheer scale and potential. The production floor occupies 32,000 square feet, with machines as far as the eye can see, and is possibly one, if not THE, largest single-floor clothing manufacturing units in the country. Not only that, but the machinery and technology that the company has at its disposable is incredible, much of which is currently not even put to use.

As I take a walk around I meet many of the original Aquascutum staff – Sue Parker, a line supervisor who had worked for the business for 42 years, tells me that my visit coincides with the first anniversary of the very day that the administrators walked in and put an end to the career that she had had for over four decades. Sue, who had completed a computer course whilst taking a break from the garment industry, is glad to be back at a sewing machine, despite the fact that many of her former colleagues had not returned when the factory re-opened its doors – those that had found permanent work elsewhere had been reluctant to return to an industry whose future they considered uncertain.

The Clothing Works

Stuart Robertson, one of the pressers reinstated at the factory

And yet, under its ownership of Swaine Adeney Brigg, and its re-invention as The Clothing Works, the future of the UK clothing manufacturer is looking pretty rosy. Now no longer just making garments for Aquascutum, Alistair Rowan and his team are speaking to lots of potential new customers who are keen to make their garments in the UK. And whilst the factory was originally solely a raincoat factory, they are now able to make a much wider range of garments, including soft tailoring, trousers, dresses and skirts.

Just as I was leaving the Corby-based factory after my two hour visit, I was fortunate to bump into Roger Gawn, Swaine Adeney Briggs’s chairman, and the man who had the foresight to snap up the factory and get it back up and running again. I shake his hand and commend him for saving this small part of British manufacturing history, and ask him why he decided to do (what many would consider) such a crazy thing?

“I have watched British manufacturing unfold for many years, starting with a local shoe factory in Norwich called Norvic, which was bought out in the ‘70s and asset stripped, with the subsequent loss of 2000 workers”, Roger tells me. “When I saw the opportunity to save the Aquascutum factory and put it back into British ownership, I jumped at the chance….something disappears when a company is not British-owned anymore, something intangible, but it does make a difference”.

The Clothing Works

The Clothing Works

With that I leave The Clothing Works feeling pretty secure in the knowledge that I think Roger and Alistair will be able to fulfill their aim of getting the factory back up to full capacity again; and given the amount of people that contact me looking for British clothing manufacturers at the moment, I think that they will be able to do that in a very short space of time.

If you are interested in talking to The Clothing Works about garment manufacturing you can contact them here.

*The acronym CMT in the UK clothing manufacturing industry stands for Cut, Make and Trim – referring to the 3 processes that the factory carries out upon receipt of the fabric and trimmings with which to make the garment.

The Clothing Works

The Clothing Works

21 Responses

  1. There’s another process to google – other than CMT – called hosiery
    Or weaving hose-shaped things.
    Manchester Hosiery at Palmunderwear.co.uk was bought out of administration last year and continues to sell through the wholesalers M Holt of Manchester and to a few direct customers who buy something like £300 minimum order for free delivery. Lux Lux Ltd at http://www.luxluxltd.com is another hosiery company; there are several others and anyone who could type an online list would help all of them.

  2. This is fantastic news Kate for the industry and the former workers at the factory.
    Great article!
    Tracy
    KTL Ltd

  3. Steve says:

    Great news, My family and friends worked in textiles for generations but alas none of them any more. This news gladdens my heart.

  4. It’s so encouraging to hear about companies being revived and retaining traditional skills, and proof that clothing manufacturing in the UK is viable and worth supporting. Good luck to The Clothing Works and its new team!

  5. Ken Craig says:

    Great news, Kate. Originally pte white vc were trying to acquire the company, which would also have meant made in England continued. But this is just as good, & there is a definite trend of returning manufacturing to the uk.
    Doubtless you will be pleased to keep us all informed of where we can purchase the final products?Simply brilliant!

  6. Mary Moran says:

    I’d love to talk to Alistair about whether The Clothing Works can handle stretch fabrics for fitness wear. We’re looking for uk manufacturers for women’s fashion/fitness wear. Would it be possible to put me on touch with him? Many thanks, Mary

    • Kate Hills says:

      Hi Mary
      The Clothing Works are just set up for wovens and not jerseywear at the moment.
      Contact us through the Find a Factory form and we will be able to put you in touch with the right manufacturers.
      Thanks
      Kate

  7. Kate Collins says:

    Could you please provide contact details as I’m very keen to discuss manufacturing options
    Thanks
    Kate

  8. Russell moss says:

    Very good news,for u.k manufactureing I would love to chat to Alistair please could you provide contact details of the clothing works.

    Kind regards,

    Russell.

  9. Paul B says:

    Hi does any1 know the number of the factory as i cant find it anywhere

    Thanks in advance Paul

  10. E Dunn says:

    Shame they don’t pay the workers when they should, or when the wages do come its the correct amount.

  11. Corby Born says:

    I agree with E.Dunn ,if he took an interest in the welfare of his workforce and actually paid them what he owes them, this factory could have a good future. If not it will be short lived.

  12. Great th see U.K. garment industry making a come back

  13. Venus Cow says:

    How lovely to read this article again as we go into the New Year. We make the Venus Cow PBL, perfect black leggings in the Midlands and the skill of the UK manufacturing talent is second to none. If you want quality and to sustain ethical values buy Made in England.

  14. Chris Hoyle says:

    This is just the best news,

  15. E Dunn says:

    I wish James Eden had won the bid to buy this company,

  16. Corby Born says:

    I wish someone would actually show some real commitment to this company, apart from the work force. Yet again they produce quality work for high end companies and haven’t been paid for over a month even though they are weekly paid. It’s no wonder all manufacturing is going out of the UK if this is how a “British” company treat their workforce.

  17. Hi Kate,

    We are about to launch Quantock Clothing having spent the last 6 months quietly soldiering away, working with our suppliers to get our range prepared. All made in England. Like all things, we have no idea where this could go, but we have high hopes.

    It would be great to get hold of Alastair Rowan’s details, so that I can contact him with regard to increasing our supplier base, which is becoming broader.

    If the initial reception to our selvedge denim jeans, polos, t shirts and knitwear is positive, we will want to look at broadening and deepening our offer.

    My background is in logistics and that is where this all stems from – my experience of having set up Karen Millen’s web operation and developing their global supply chain gave me this idea…..

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind regards,

    Grev

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