sewing factories in the UK

Why are more women setting up sewing factories in the UK?

Despite sewing traditionally being seen as a ‘woman’s job’ there are still few women running sewing factories in the UK. On International Women’s Day we take a look at some of the inspiring women that are changing the face of garment manufacturing in Britain

sewing factories in the UKI received a call a while ago from a TV researcher asking if I could recommend any female sewing factory owners for a programme they were planning.

I know A LOT of sewing factories in the UK. I mean hundreds, if not thousands. And how many could I think of that were owned and run by women? It was less than a dozen. Which is disappointing when you consider that the vast majority of workers in sewing factories are women.

This low rate of women in top jobs in manufacturing reflects a survey carried out by EEF. They looked at the amount of women on the board of FTSE 100 manufacturing companies and found that the figure was 23%.

Yet I do think that the tide is turning.

This is in part due to the fact that as more small businesses look to manufacture in the UK, so they consider setting up their own small workshop to produce their products. It not only cuts out the cost of a manufacturers overheads, but also makes them the master of their own destiny.

Kate Holbrook Turtle Doves

Kate Holbrook, owner of Turtle Doves

Take for example Kate Holbrook, the founder of Turtle Doves. She set up her sewing studio three years ago and now has 30 people working for her, of which only two are men. Kate says of running her sewing factory,

“It may appear, from the outside, to be about the art of making things but I think that women make successful factory managers because it’s actually about communication and relationships above all and those are skills many women have.”

Kelly Dawson, co-founder of Dawson Denim

Kelly Dawson, co-founder of Dawson Denim

Another brand making it for themselves is Dawson Denim. Kelly Dawson runs a sewing workshop in Brighton with her husband Scott. Having worked in fashion for two decades Kelly could easily have chosen to outsource the manufacturing of her denim brand to a third party. But instead chose to make it all inhouse.

This personalised service means that her customers know the provenance of every garment that they buy from Dawson Denim, most of which has been made by her own fair hand.

Kate Dawson, founder of The All-in-One-Company

Kate Dawson, founder of The All-in-One-Company

Yet not all female factory owners go into the business because they have the sewing skills.

Kate Dawson, the founder of The All-in-One Company, set up her factory knowing nothing about garment production. She did so because she wanted to make a product that was bespoke to each customer, and realised that manufacturers were not keen on making orders of one! She now has a dedicated team of ladies working for her and is an inspiration to anyone who’s looking to make a unique product in Britain.

From my own experience of all the places that I have visited over the years, I do notice that women in sewing factories often run a tight ship. Manufacturing is, after all, all about managing people and timetables, something that women are very used to doing when they have to juggle the myriad of activities that modern children get up to after school.

Jenny Holloway, owner of Fashion Enter

Jenny Holloway, owner of Fashion Enter

“Manufacturing is so complicated but so rewarding,” says Jenny Holloway, the owner of Fashion Enter, a social enterprise factory which manufacturers for everyone from ASOS to M&S.

“I never set out to be a factory owner when I was a senior buyer for the Arcadia Group!  However now I am in this esteemed position I would never have it any other way – every day is different, every day is challenging and actually I now wonder how I was ever an effective Senior Buyer without knowing how to construct and cost a garment.”

But Jenny says that the path to running a successful sewing factory has not been easy. “Its taken 9 years to achieve the position of where I actually feel confident in all aspects of manufacturing but I am not arrogant enough to think that I could do this job without the wonderful team of the factory manager, production manager, QCs,  machinists and pressers.”

“I do think this is where woman have an advantage of being able to multi task, are not afraid to ask for advice and guidance when its required and actually just become so darn determined to make a job work.”

That hard work and determination have certainly paid off for Jenny. Today her factory has a leading status in the new Fast Forward audit, only two companies out of 360 have this accolade with ASOS.   

I hope that going forward we will see more and more woman taking the lead like those I’ve mentioned above, and start to set up or take over the running of sewing factories in the UK. It certainly seems like the modern woman has all the right skills for the job!

If you know of an inspiring woman running a manufacturing business in the UK in any sector then we’d love to feature them in a future article. Please leave just pop a mention of them  in the comments below

17 Responses

  1. Laura khot says:

    Yes!! Kirsty and Ros over at Molke make the most amazing bras and clothing. Theyre expanding rapidly from a home business to unit and demand is sky high
    http://Www.molke.co.uk
    http://Www.facebook.com/molkebf

  2. Ms M Nunes says:

    Hello there

    I’m actually looking for a factory that will produce small quantities of skirts.
    Please let me know where I might find a manufacturer in the UK that does this.

  3. Hi guys…. we’re a sewing business in Swansea, South Wales – making traditional sewn flags. Slightly unusual product as most sewing businesses make fashion or craft, but here we are anyway and doing really well! I set up the business three years ago – check out what we do at http://www.reddragonflagmakers.co.uk. We’re registered on Make It British too. Cheers, Jo

  4. Kemi Adeyemi - Wilson says:

    This is interesting and just what I need!

    I want to manufacture a small batch of capes/ponchos and clutch bags in ethnic fabrics and prints.

    Would love to hear from a business willing to work with me.

  5. Tony Port says:

    Wow!! Its so good 2 see u ladies starting own factories and doing great ! Well done
    Im just starting a new older mens brand .. TrueMonkey & looking for british tshirt & waistcoat makers & shirts/jackets a bit later
    As i want my brand to say made in England
    I think & beleave we should all stick together & get back to being a manufacturing country
    Like we were years ago !!!
    Good luck girls im 110% behind you
    Tony

  6. Jo Jenkins says:

    Love the article; it’s inspiring to read these success stories. I have been making children’s’ clothes for almost 2 years. I design them, create the patterns and hand cut all the garments. They are sewn by two brilliant seamstress outworkers. A big challenge has been finding anyone with the skills to sew and it’s good to see people training and employing staff in garment manufacture. It is essential to the future of the British textiles industry that practical skills become accepted and taught in mainstream education.

  7. Annabel Atkinson says:

    Great article and to see that so much excellent work is going on in the UK. I would love to go to the trade Meet the Manufacturer Show but the box would not take my email address – think it was too long. Please add me to your list.

  8. Sital says:

    I own Threads London and work with some brilliant British brands. We set up 3 years ago and have a small workshop on West London making women’s wear and children’s wear.

  9. Michelle says:

    Inspiring post!

    I’m actually looking for a manufacturer who can make me some very simple finger puppets for children – around 2500 of them (in the first instance).

    Would you possibly be able to point me in the right direction? I’d be every so grateful for any help.

    Many thanks,

    Michelle

  10. Liza says:

    Hi there! Seems like a great idea to tell a story about women running garment manufacutries and their success in this field, I believe it destroys stereotypes. Very nice to see Jenny Holloway from Fashion Enter featured in this article as well. I heard about this inspiring woman and about the success she achived.

    I am Liza, I and my partner run garment sampling and production studio based in North London and we aspire once to achive the same success as these women. We set up our business 1 year ago (we are quite new to this business) but doing reasonably well already. Among our clients are designers from London Fashion Week (check “Gallery” on our website – http://www.fabrika.london to see some examples of our works) and we are taking part in “Meet the Manufacturer” show this May.

    Best, Liza

  11. Hi! Delphine McNeil and Beth Pollak at Livotte are making the most wonderful tops, all produced in London.

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