Friday, 6 January 2017

Make It British

Way back last year October I think (before the unbridled craziness of Christmas kicked in) I went to the Make It British conference in Leicester.  Leicester the city decorated with images of Richard III their newest poster boy and home of an incredibly healthy textile industry.  It was a really interesting and inspiring day with several coffee breaks where you got to network with others trying to forge a way for their British based textile company.

When I was young (the seventies and early eighties) clothes were made in the UK and they were more expensive consequently lots of people made their own clothes.  I had a number of Clothkits outfits I loved.
Gradually throughout my lifetime things have changed.  Clothes have become significantly cheaper and even those of us who aren't regular shoppers don't tend to think twice about simply buying replacement clothing when what we have begins to wear out.  This is a massive shift.

During the nineties as a consequence of lots of different factors; changes to trading tariffs, increased globalisation, the opening up of various countries and so on British manufacturing started to move overseas in a big way.  Today as they have done for the last few decades most of the big players in the mass market manufacture their products overseas.  These brands may do some sampling in the UK to test the water but the big production runs will be done elsewhere.  Even those companies who very heavily market the fact that their fashion is British are very unlikely to actually get their clothing made in the UK. 

This shift abroad has had a massive impact on the textile industry and many, many factories have closed permanently over the last twenty years, cherished family businesses simply were not viable to be handed on, suppliers and merchants had no one to sell to and a lot of expertise was lost.  That said the textile industry did not disappear it just reduced in size.  Small business like ours helped it continue.  We make a lot of our own products but some items we sample and test initially and then hand production over in small runs to British factories. We did this for our Wax Cag. For small businesses like ours it makes sense to get items produced in this country where we can go and visit a factory, check on the samples and the quality in person and build a relationship with the people there.

What the conference made very clear is that we are reaching a very interesting period in British manufacturing. Whisper this but I think there may be a renaissance in British based manufacturing.

The reasons why there might be an upturn in the domestic textile industry are as complex as for it's demise but here are a few;
-post Brexit the pound is a lot weaker there is no way around it we are going to have to pay more for our clothing so the price differential between getting products made abroad or domestically is decreasing
-the key to incredibly successful brands like Inditex's Zara is thought to be the shortness of the supply chain they see a new trend and can get it from factory to shop floor in a speed only possible by cutting the number of miles that item has to travel.
-there seems to be a groundswell of feeling for British manufacturing at the moment.

One of the interesting things the manufacturers at the conference said is that they believed a return to high levels of British Manufacturing would require a shift in the prevailing retail culture.  Away from buyers over-ordering masses of cheap stock with the intention of discounting most of it to shift it halfway through the season to a much tighter operation where the shops are filled with items people really want to buy and sales are expected to shift a few awkward end of line items.  I for one welcome this and find the current Sales and Discounts culture incredibly depressing as a shopper.  Our philosophy here at Stabo has always been to operate as economically and sustainably as possible to try not to create unnecessary things and keep the mileage on our products as low as possible.  That said we are a very small, pragmatic family business who needed to be economically viable.  Although we make many of our products from start to finish in our workshop not all our materials come from the UK but we are constantly reviewing this.

If you're interested in reading more there is an open access facebook page for the Make It British Community.  I enjoy the posts although they do seem to attract a certain sort of amusing absolutist pedantry about making it British.  So take a look and discover lots of wonderful British made things.

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